Explanation of Squatter Sovereignty

Many people associate squatter sovereignty with squatter's rights, but the two concepts are very different. Squatters who take up residence in an abandoned home, pay the utilities, and maybe even pay the property taxes will eventually have the right to claim the property as their own if they aren't evicted by the rightful owner. Squatter sovereignty, on the other hand, is a political doctrine from the 19th century that was practiced in the United States.

Squatter Sovereignty Involved Civil War State Admission

The process of becoming a state can be a complicated one in the US. In the 19th century, as the nation was pushing towards the West, the settled areas were becoming territories. When enough people settled into a territory, they could petition to become a state. During the decade or so prior to the Civil War, the doctrine of squatter sovereignty gave each state a choice: they could become a slave state or a free state. The first application of squatter sovereignty came in 1850 when New Mexico and Utah were organized. It could be argued that this principle even became part of the foundations that would lead to the Civil War as violent struggles would often break out, especially in Kansas, between those who were for slavery and those who were against it. The goal of squatter sovereignty was to save the United States from the growing polarization of slavery and state's rights. It was seen as a compromise because it let the people choose, but the people fought each other instead.

Squatter Sovereignty Is Often Seen As the Voice of the People

There are many instances throughout history when squatter sovereignty has been used to create meaningful change. The Revolutionary War in the US would be another instance where this political concept was used. By having the ability to choose, the people may decide to choose to be completely independent. That's the choice that the colonies made and it created a nation. It can also be used as a process for modern social issues. Politicians are calling for a form of squatter sovereignty in the US for issues like Medicare and same-sex marriage. By leaving decisions up to the states and the people in those states, in theory a greater sense of independence can be achieved. Squatter sovereignty should never be confused with the rights of squatters. It is ruling by a majority, not the occupation of a home that isn't being actively occupied by someone else.

Posted on Jan 13, 2015


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