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Course Level:
Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Objectives:

In this course we will examine the institutions of American government in the order that they are presented in the United States Constitution. The Constitution itself will thus be our guide. We will read the relevant numbers from The Federalist as well in order to gain a full appreciation of the aims of the Founders in terms of the design and intent of the governing institutions. We will complete our consideration by delving into a good deal of relevant literature, both primary and secondary in nature.


Course Requirements:

  • There will be three formal writing assignments in this class. The first paper will be a short (4-5 pages) essay on an assigned topic. This paper will be worth 15% of your course grade. You will have roughly two weeks to complete this paper.
  • A second, longer paper (7-8 pages) will be assigned at roughly the halfway point in the term. This paper will be worth 20% of your course grade. You will have three weeks to a month to complete this essay.
  • Finally, there will be a take home final exam. The question for this exam will be given at least a month before it is due. The final will be due when your in-class final is scheduled to conclude. This paper will account for 35% of your course grade.
  • The remaining 30% of your grade will be reflective of your attendance and participation and of your performance on a number of quizzes which will be given throughout the term. Please be aware that you can (and will) fail this class as a result of poor attendance. To be clear, every absence after your second will cost you half of a letter grade on your course grade. Further, you will receive no credit if you do not participate in the class. I expect you to be in class on time. Cell phones and electronic devices are not allowed in class at any time. If your phone rings, you will be asked to remove yourself and you will be marked absent for the day. You will also need to schedule an appointment with me during office hours to explain yourself, and you will have to complete a 20 page paper on a topic of my choosing.
  • Learning begins with reading and thinking, but is greatly enhanced by argument and debate with others who hold dissimilar views. While argument and debate is expected and encouraged, so too is respect for your fellow students with whom you will invariably disagree. Discussion is the fastest way to master the material at hand. Once you have spent time reading and thinking, your writing assignments and exams will become much easier. It is important, and thus required, that you keep up with your reading. We will be reading in class extensively. It is important that you bring the assigned texts with you for each session. If you come to class without the assigned readings or having not read you will be asked to leave and you will be marked absent for the day.
  • Please note that this syllabus is not a contract, and should not be understood as such. I reserve the right to alter any of the terms and conditions contained herein as I deem necessary.


Academic Honesty:

The following paragraph is included in your student handbook:

Saint Vincent College assumes that all students come for a serious purpose and expects them to be responsible individuals who demand of themselves high standards of honesty and personal conduct. Therefore, it is College policy to have as few rules and regulations as are consistent with efficient administration and general welfare. Fundamental to the principle of independent learning and professional growth is the requirement of honesty and integrity in the performance of academic assignments, both in the classroom and outside, and in the conduct of personal life. Accordingly, Saint Vincent College holds its students to the highest standards of intellectual integrity and thus the attempt of any student to present as his or her own any work which he or she has not performed or to pass any examinations by improper means is regarded by the faculty as a most serious offense.

It is your responsibility to know and follow the rules of academic honesty. There are a number of forms of plagiarism, and some of them might surprise you. Please be sure you understand this matter fully before writing, as no excuse will be accepted after the fact…not even ignorance of the rules. I take plagiarism very seriously, and you should too. If you plagiarize an assignment in this, or in any of my classes, you will fail the course. There will be no exceptions.


Required Texts:

  1. The Federalist, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2001). ISBN: 0-86597-289-3.
  2. David O’Brien, Storm Center: The Supreme Court in American Politics, 7th Edition, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005). ISBN: 0393927040.
  3. Nelson W. Polsby, How Congress Evolves, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). ISBN: 0-19-518296-0.
  • All other readings on this syllabus will be made available to you in the form of PDF files distributed via Blackboard. Please verify that you can access these long before they are due to be read. You must bring all assigned readings to class with you.



Course Outline:

  1. Week One: Introduction.
    1. The Separation of Powers Principle.
    2. Readings: The Federalist 47-51.
  2. Week Two: Congress.
    1. The Constitutional Design of Congress.
    2. Readings: The United States Constitution, Article One. The Federalist 52-66; Brutus III; Lee Hamilton, “What I Wish Political Scientists Would Teach about Congress"; Davidson and Oleszek, Congress and Its Members, chs. 1-2.
  3. Week Three: Congress.
    1. The Evolution of Congress, part 2.
    2. Reading: Polsby, pp 3-74.
  4. Week Four: Congress.
    1. The Evolution of Congress, part 3.
    2. Reading: Polsby, pp 75-155.
  5. Week Five: Congress.
    1. The Dual Nature of Congress.
    2. Readings: Davidson and Oleszek, ch. 16. Kenneth A. Shepsle, “The Changing Textbook Congress.”
  6. Week Six: The Presidency.
    1. The Constitutional Design of the Presidency.
    2. Readings: The United States Constitution, Article Two. The Federalist 67-77; Milkis and Nelson, The American Presidency: Origins and Development, chs. 1-2. Jeffrey K. Tullis, “The Two Constitutional Presidencies.”
  7. Week Seven: The Presidency.
    1. The View From the Executive.
    2. Readings: George Washington, First Inaugural, First Annual Message to Congress, Farewell Address, Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural, July 4th Message to Congress (1861), Public Letter to James Conkling (August 26, 1863), Second Inaugural.
  8. Week Eight: The Presidency.
    1. The View From the Executive, continued.
    2. Readings: Theodore Roosevelt, State of the Union (1901), State of the Union (1904). Woodrow Wilson, The Fourteen Points. Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural, Fireside Chat 3 (July 24, 1933), Fireside Chat 6 (September 30, 1934), Second Inaugural, Fireside Chat 14 (September 3, 1939), Requesting A Declaration of War (December 8, 1941), Third Inaugural, Fourth Inaugural.
  9. Week Nine: The Presidency.
    1. Readings: Harry Truman, Announcing the Truman Doctrine (March 12, 1947), On Korea and Relieving MacArthur from Command (April 11, 1951). John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address. Lyndon B. Johnson, Great Society Speech, Remarks Upon Signing the Civil Rights Bill. Richard Nixon, Resignation Speech. Gerald Ford, On Pardoning Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural, Evil Empire Speech (March 8, 1983), Second Inaugural, Farewell Address.
  10. Week Ten: Presidential-Congressional Relations
    1. Readings: Matthew J. Dickinson, “The President and Congress.” Charles O. Jones, “Presidents and Lawmaking in a Separated System.” Thomas C. Mans, “Leadership: The presidency and Congress.” Roger H. Davidson, “Presidential Relations with Congress.”
    2. Parties and the Presidency
    3. Reading: Sidney M. Milkis, “The Presidency and Political Parties.”
  11. Week Eleven: The Supreme Court.
    1. The Constitutional Design of the Supreme Court.
    2. Readings: The United States Constitution, Article 3, The Federalist 78-83.
    3. The Anti-Federalist View.
    4. Reading: Brutus XI.
  12. Week Twelve: The Supreme Court.
    1. The Least Dangerous Branch? The Marshall Court, Judicial Review, and Federal Supremacy.
    2. Readings: The Judiciary Act of 1789, Marbury v. Madison, McCulloch v. Maryland.
    3. An Overview of the Modern Court.
    4. Reading: O’Brien, chs. 3-6.
  13. Week Thirteen: The Supreme Court.
    1. The Power to Decide.
    2. Readings: O’Brien, ch 1. Griswold v. Connecticut, Roe v. Wade.
  14. Week Fourteen: The Supreme Court.
    1. The Lowest Ebb: The Taney Court, Dred Scott, and the Civil War.
    2. Readings: Dred Scott v. Sandford.
  15. Week Fourteen: The Supreme Court.
    1. Dred Scott continued.
    2. Readings: Abraham Lincoln, Speech on the Dred Scott Decision. Paul Finkelman, “Introduction: The Dred Scott Case, Slavery, and the Politics of Law,” pp 1-26.
    3. The New Deal Court.
    4. Readings: Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Court-Packing” Address. William Rehnquist, “The Court Packing Plan,” “The New Deal Court.” O’Brien, ch. 2.
  16. Week Fifteen: The Supreme Court.
    1. The Warren Court.
    2. Readings: Rehnquist, “The Warren Court.” Brown v. Board of Education, Bolling v. Sharpe.
  17. Final Exam Due: December 11, 2007, 6p.