Introduction to American Government

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Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Description:

This course will examine the foundations, principles, institutions, and processes of American government. Through the examination of the Constitution, federalism, and the American creed, we will gain an appreciation for the political institutions that have sustained the United States for more than two hundred years. We will examine in detail the characteristics of the three major branches of government, and how separation of powers has worked and works in today’s polity. We will then discuss the various extra-governmental institutions, which have an influence on governmental decisions, such as interest groups, political parties, and the media. Finally, we will explore American elections, political participation, and public opinion in order to better understand the processes which give American politics its very life. The course will conclude with a discussion of domestic and foreign policy, with reference to current political events.


Required Text

  • Wilson, James Q. and John J. DiIulio, Jr. 2007. American Government: Institutions and Policies, The Essentials. (Eleventh Edition). Houghton Mifflin Publishers.
  • University of Texas at Austin Online Project

Texas Government Website



  • 'Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay. The Federalist Papers ed. George W. Carey and James McClellan, The Gideon Edition.
  • Other readings will be journal articles, or selected chapters from other books. These will be marked with an * below in the appropriate week. They can provide useful additional insight that the textbook does not cover. They can be found via ERes (Electronic Reserves System) at


Newspapers and Online Sources

  • Students should read a major newspaper, such as the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal daily in order to monitor American politics. We will discuss current events in class and during discussion sections as they relate to the course material.


Course Grading

Grades will be computed as follows:

  1. Exam I (October 1) 25%
  2. Exam II (November 5) 25%
  3. Exam III (December 5) 30%
  4. Attendance/Section Performance 20%
  5. Total 100%

The following scale will be used to calculate final grades:

90-100 = A 80- 89 = B 70-79 = C 60-69 = D 0- 59 = F



The exams will test your knowledge of the readings and lectures. Make up exams will not be granted unless there is a verified illness or family emergency.


Attendance Policy

  • If you are habitually late and/or absent, your grade will suffer because 20 percent of the final grade is composed of section performance.
  • Excused Absences can be granted for an illness certified by a doctor, for family emergencies approved by the Dean, or for official university events with documentation (i.e., a letter from the coach). In the case of planned events, advance notice of at least one week must be given. DO NOT miss class and then arrive the next time with a letter documenting the reason for the absence.


Discussion Sections

  • You will be required to attend your scheduled discussion section once weekly. The discussions will be led by one of my teaching assistants, and will pertain to the lectures given on Mondays and Wednesdays. Each week you will generally read two chapters from the textbook, which I hope will provoke some discussion in the sections.
  • You will be graded by my teaching assistant on the quantity and quality of your participation in the discussion sections. Your teaching assistant will inform you how he or she will assess your section performance (20 percent of the final grade) at the beginning of the semester. Please note that teaching assistants may require lecture attendance and/or short response papers as part of their expectations. Additionally, they may assign or require additional, minimal readings to their sections.


Cancelled Classes

At times, classes may be cancelled. The class will be informed of these dates by email and/or blackboard and will be held responsible for any readings or assignments.


Religious Holy Days

Students are expected to notify the professor if absence is necessitated due to a religious observance. Every effort will be made to accommodate your request, provided ample notice is given.


Special Needs

If you need special assistance due to a disability, please notify me before the need arises. Information is available from the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities at 471-6259.


Course Changes

I reserve the right to change the contents of this syllabus as the needs of the course develop.

Copyright notice from the Professor: I have taken steps to ensure that all course material, including this syllabus and the lectures associated with this class, are protected by copyright law as my own original expression. Students are authorized to take notes in class and thus create their own "derivative work" from my lecture, but this authorization extends only to your personal use. Reproduction, distribution, or publication (on-line or otherwise) of transcribed or taped versions of my lecture are not permitted without my express written consent.


Course Schedule (For Mondays and Wednesdays)

  1. Introduction
    1. This document
  2. Who Governs? To What Ends?
    1. Chapter 1 (Wilson and DiIulio)
    2. The Declaration of Independence (7/4/1776)
  3. Constitution and the Founding Chapter 2
    1. U.S. Constitution (in Wilson and DiIulio)
    2. Federalist Papers #10
    3. Knott, Stephen. “What the Anti-Federalists Can Teach Us.”
  4. Federalism and Texas
    1. Chapter 3
    2. Federalist Papers #51
  5. American Creed
    1. Chapter 4
    2. Putnam, Robert, “The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America”
  6. Legislative Branch
    1. Chapter 13
  7. Legislative Branch/Texas
    1. Legislature
    2. Mayhew, David R., Congress: The Electoral Connection (excerpt)
  8. Executive Branch
    1. Chapter 14
  9. Executive Branch
    1. Federalist Papers #70
    2. Lincoln, Abraham, First Inaugural Address
  10. Exam One
  11. Judicial Branch
    1. Chapter 16
  12. Judicial Branch
    1. Lincoln, Abraham, “The Authority of the Supreme Court”
    2. George, Robert P. “Lincoln on Judicial Despotism”
  13. Interest Groups
    1. Chapter 9
    2. Wright, John, “The Evolution of Interest Groups”
  14. Bureaucracy
    1. Chapter 15
    2. Wilson, James Q. Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (excerpt)
  15. Elections
    1. Chapter 10
  16. Parties
    1. Chapter 11
    2. Aldrich, John H. Why Parties? (excerpt)
  17. Media
    1. Chapter 12
  18. Media
    1. Groseclose, Tim and J. Milyo, “A Measure of Media Bias.” Read introduction, skim data, and read conclusion. Look at tables. You can find it here:
  19. Public Opinion
    1. Chapter 7
    2. McClosky and Zaller, “The Foundations of the American Ethos: Capitalism and Democracy.” (excerpt)
  20. Exam Two
  21. Participation
    1. Chapter 8
  22. Participation
    2. Green, Donald and Gerber, Alan. “The Effects of Canvassing, Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment” APSR
  23. Civil Liberties
    1. Chapter 5
  24. Civil Liberties
    1. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)
    2. Planned Parenthood of SEPA v. Casey (1992)
  25. Civil Rights
    1. Chapter 6
  26. Civil Rights Lincoln, Abraham, “The Emancipation Proclamation”
    1. King Jr., Rev. Martin Luther, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
  27. Public Policy
    1. Chapter 17
  28. Public Policy
    1. Economic and Foreign Policy
  29. Exam Three