Popular sovereignty in the United States was one part of the limited government system used before the Civil War. Before the Civil War, the United States federal government was more limited, and states were allowed to make more decisions regarding laws in their territories. Popular sovereignty was a political doctrine built around the idea that individual states should be able to decide whether they were free or slave states.
One of the most contentious issues concerning limited government in the United States was slavery. Before the Civil War, territories and states already in the union as well as newly forming states were more loosely controlled by federal regulations. While some compromises had been made and states had been forced to work together during the American Revolution, many citizens and politicians still believed in a great deal of state government autonomy. The idea of limited government, however, was not shared by all, and slavery in new states fueled the issue. The belief of popular sovereignty adhered to the old ideas of limited government regarding slavery. Under popular sovereignty, a state's citizens and local government should be able to decide whether that state would be a free state or allow slavery. The debate over limited government and popular sovereignty eventually sparked the Civil War.