American National Politics

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Course Level:
Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Objectives:

In this course we will examine the theoretical underpinnings of American government and the unique brand of democracy which that thought has brought about. We will do this by first examining the foundations of American government, then the institutions of American government, and finally present day American politics. By the end of the course students should be well acquainted with the history of the American regime, the institutions of governance, and the trends and problems in contemporary American government.


Course Requirements:

  • There will be three mid-term paper assignments in this class. The first paper will be very short, and it will answer the simple question “What is plagiarism.” This paper will be assigned during the first week of class, and will be worth only 5% of your grade. You will not be allowed to hand in further work, though, until this paper is completed to “C” level. Your next paper will be approximately five pages in length, and will be a response to a question concerning the material we cover in the first weeks of the class. This paper will be worth 20% of your total grade. The second paper will be somewhat longer, and will be a response to a more expansive question. This paper will be worth 30% of your total grade. Late papers will be accepted, but will suffer a one grade per day penalty. I fully expect all papers to be perfect in terms of spelling and grammar. If you are incapable of writing at an appropriate level, please see me early and often for help. I am happy to read drafts of your work ahead of time, and there is help available through the college.
  • You will also have a take-home final which will be worth 35% of your final grade. The topic for this essay will be handed out well in advance of the due date. This assignment will be due at the scheduled ending time for your in-class final exam.
  • The remaining 10% of your grade will be reflective of your participation in the class. Please be aware that although participation is only worth 10% of your grade I will penalize you in excess of 10% of your final grade for excessive absences. Any more than three absences will most certainly impact your grade. If you are having trouble with attendance, please see me about it early, because I will not accept any excuses late. You can (and will) fail this class for excessive absences. I expect you to be in class on time. I also expect you to be prepared. Please read at least one major American newspaper every day. Cell phones and pagers are not allowed in class at any time. If yours goes off, you will be asked to remove yourself.
  • Learning begins with reading and thinking, but is greatly enhanced by argument and debate with others who share dissimilar views. While argument and debate is expected and encouraged, so too is respect for your fellow students with whom you will invariably disagree. In a class this large, meaningful discussion may seem to be an impossibility, but I assure you that it 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.
  • 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:

Plagiarism will not be tolerated in this class. I urge you to familiarize yourself with the rules of academic honesty immediately. As students it is your responsibility to know and follow the rules. Any instance of cheating will be met by automatic failure in this class and referral to the Dean of Academic Affairs for further sanctions. Please note that ignorance of the rules is no excuse for this sort of behavior. If you have any questions, please see me in office hours or ask them in class. I am always happy to address this issue before it becomes a problem. No excuse will be sufficient after the fact.


Required Texts:

  1. American Government: Brief Version, Sixth Edition, James Q. Wilson. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. ISBN: 0-618-22145-X.
  2. Perspectives on American Politics, Fourth Edition, William Lasser, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. ISBN: 0-618-31200-5.
  3. The Federalist, George W. Carey and James McClellan, eds., Liberty Fund, 2001. ISBN: 0-86597-289-3.
  • All other readings on this syllabus will be made available to you on Blackboard. You must print these supplementary readings and bring them to class with you. You will be asked to leave the room if you do not have all of your assigned readings with you. I have included publishers’ information above for those of you who might want to consider buying your textbooks someplace other than the university bookstore. has been known to offer significant discounts that you might not otherwise be able to get. You can also purchase used books from Amazon. The required texts are available at the bookstore.


Course Outline:

  • I Introduction.
No Readings.
  • First Paper Due.
  • II The Coming of the American Revolution and the Political Thought of the Time.
Readings: Thomas Jefferson, Summary View of the Rights of British America. Thomas Paine, Common Sense. The Declaration of Independence, (in Wilson). Wilson, Chapter 1.
  • III The Principles and Foundations of the American Constitutional System.
Readings: The Constitution of the United States (in Wilson). The Federalist, Nos. 1, 9, 10, 37, 47-51. Wilson, Chapter 2. Lasser pages 18-26. Charles Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States 152-188.
  • IV Federalism.
Readings: Wilson, Chapter 3, The Federalist, Nos. 17, 39, 45. Lasser, 51-56, 65-78. McCulloch v. Maryland. Brutus: Essays I, VI, X.
  • Second Paper Due.
  • V Separation of Powers and the Governing Institutions.
    • Congress.
      • Readings: Wilson, Chapter 7. The Federalist, Nos. 52, 53, 55-58, 62-66. Lasser, 265-286.
    • The Presidency.
      • Readings: Wilson, Chapter 8. The Federalist, Nos. 67-77. Lasser, 294-318.
    • The Judiciary.
      • Readings: Wilson, Chapter 10. The Federalist Nos. 78-83. Lasser, 353-374.
  • VI Civil Liberties and Civil Rights.
Readings: Wilson, Chapter 11. The Federalist No. 84. J.S. Mill, “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.” Lasser, 113-127. Martin Luther King, “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail.”
  • VII Campaigns, Elections, and Political Participation.
Readings: Wilson, Chapter 6. Lasser, 227-256.
  • VIII Politics and Public Policy.
Readings: Wilson, Chapter 12. Lasser, 375-402.
  • Third Paper Due.
  • IX Public Opinion and the Media.
Readings: Wilson, Chapter 4. Lasser, 142-174.
  • X Political Parties and Interest Groups.
Readings: Wilson, Chapter 5. Lasser, 175-190, 197-203.
  • XI The Bureaucracy.
Readings: Wilson, Chapter 9, Lasser, 319-344.
  • XII Continuity and Change.
Readings: Wilson, Chapter 13.
  • Final Exam Due.