Nitrogen is one of the most important ecosystem nutrients and often its availability limits net primary production as well as stabilization of soil organic matter. The long-term storage of nitrogen-containing organic matter in soils was classically attributed to chemical complexity of plant and microbial residues that retarded microbial degradation. Recent advances have revised this framework, with the understanding that persistent soil organic matter consists largely of chemically labile, microbially processed organic compounds. Chemical bonding to minerals and physical protection in aggregates are more important to long-term (i.e., centuries to millennia) preservation of these organic compounds that contain the bulk of soil nitrogen rather than molecular complexity, with the exception of nitrogen in pyrogenic organic matter. This review examines for the first time the factors and mechanisms at each stage of movement into long-term storage that influence the sequestration of organic nitrogen in the mineral soil of natural temperate ecosystems. Because the factors which govern persistence are different under this newly accepted paradigm we examine the policy and management implications that are altered, such as critical load considerations, nitrogen saturation and mitigation consequences. Finally, it emphasizes how essential it is for this important but underappreciated pool to be better quantified and incorporated into policy and management decisions, especially given the lack of evidence for many soils having a finite capacity to sequester nitrogen.