Some modern Americans venerate the Constitution for allegedly securing liberty by placing limits on government power. Others struggle even to associate liberty with a document that for many years denied basic civil rights to women and African Americans. This seminar will examine the creation of the federal Constitution and that document’s ambivalent relationship to American liberty.
This ambivalence was also present during the Founding Era. Supporters of the Constitution saw it as necessary for the preservation of the Union, which in their minds was essential for the survival of liberty itself. Critics, on the other hand, saw the establishment of a strong federal government as a threat, both to the sovereignty of the states and to individual rights. Even amongst those who agreed that a new central government was necessary, there was bitter disagreement over the form it should take and how to hold its powers in check. And over all these deliberations, the specter of slavery cast its ugly shadow.
This seminar will examine the failings of the Articles of Confederation, the Annapolis and Philadelphia Conventions, the ratification debates, and the creation of the Bill of Rights. Primary sources will be used to uncover what key figures in the Constitution story really thought about such timely issues as states’ rights, federal power, and the protection of individual liberty.
Your grade for this course will be determined by two papers (5000 words each) and class participation.
Paper 1: 30%
Paper 2: 50%
I will assign grades as follows: A (100-90); B (89-80); C (79-70); D (69-60); F (59-0)
This seminar will be based on discussions of primary-source materials. Students will be expected to participate in every session and to arrive conversant in the case law assigned for the week.
- Bernard Bailyn, ed. The Debate on the Constitution: Federalist and Antifederalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification, Vols. 1-2 (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1993)
- James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (New York: Norton, 1987).
- Leonard W. Levy, Origins of the Bill of Rights (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).
- Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).
Regular attendance is essential for successful completion of this course, as a significant proportion of the grade comes from class participation. If for any reason regular attendance becomes difficult, inform me as soon as possible.
Students requiring special accommodations because of documented disabilities should see me as soon as possible to arrange these accommodations though the Office of Disability Services.
This course demands the highest standard of conduct. Plagiarism of any kind is absolutely not tolerated. Violation of this code will be met with an automatic failing grade and be reported to the Honor Committee.
The Failings of the Articles of Confederation, Part I
- The Creation of the American Republic, ch. 10
The Failings of the Articles of Confederation, Part II, and the Annapolis Convention
- The Creation of the American Republic, chapters 11-12
The Philadelphia Convention: The Virginia Plan
- Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787: May 29 - June 13
Paper 1 Assigned
The Philadelphia Convention: The New Jersey Plan
- Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787: June 14 - July 15
The Philadelphia Convention: The Great Compromise
- Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787: July 16 - July 23; September 17
The Necessity of Union
- Federalist 1, 6
- Cato 3
- Federalist 44-46
- Brutus 5, 7
- Federalist 30, 36
- Brutus 6; Federal Farmer 1-2
Paper 1 Due
Checks and Balances
- Federalist 10 & 51
- Centinal 1
The House of Representatives
- Federalist 52-53
- Brutus 4
Paper 2 Assigned
- Federalist 62-63
- Brutus 16
- Federalist 67
- Cato 5
- Federalist 78
- Brutus 11 & 12
The Need for a Bill of Rights
- Federalist 84
- Brutus 1, John DeWitt 2
Adoption of the Bill of Rights
- Origins of the Bill of Rights, chapters 1, 2, 4, 7, 11, 12
Paper 2 Due