American Political Development

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Course Length:
15 weeks

Course description:

An examination of the development and reform of political institutions and practices over the course of American History.


Required Texts:

  1. James W. Ceaser. Presidential Selection: Theory and Development (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979).
  2. David R. Mayhew. Electoral Realignments: A Critique of an American Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002)
  3. Michael Nelson. The Evolving Presidency: Addresses, Cases, Essays, Letters, Reports, Resolutions, Transcripts, and Other Landmark Documents, 1787-2004, 2nd edition (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2004)
  4. Sidney M. Milkis, The President and the Parties: The Transformation of the American Party System Since the New Deal (Oxford University Press, 1993)
  5. Stephen Skowronek. The Politics President’s Make: Leadership from John Adams to Bill Clinton (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1997)
  6. Byron Shafer, ed., The End of Realignment? Interpreting American Electoral Eras, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991)


Online Sources:

  1. The Avalon Project at Yale Law School: Documents on Law, History and Diplomacy (Cited as AP)
  2. Great Books online (Cited as Bartleby)
  3. Legal Information Institute: Cornell University Law School (Cited as LLI)
  4. Teaching American History (Cited as TAH)
  5. The Founder’s Constitution, Philip Kurland and Ralph Lerner, eds., (Cited as FC)


Course Goals and Objectives:

  • This course will provide an introduction to field of American Political Development which has emerged as an important field of study in American politics over the last ten to fifteen years. Its focus is the growth and development of American political institutions over time and the extent to which political institutions shape one another and political history. Through an examination of the interaction of variables such as political thought, social and economic interests, political actors, and institutional structures and ways in which these variables shape political outcomes, the course will seek to identify patterns of political development, an provide a complex understanding of the causes of political change in American politics.
  • The principle objectives of the course are to:
  1. Familiarize students with the theoretical assumptions underlying the field of American political development
  2. Encourage students to consider different approaches to the study of political change
  3. Provide students with a historical context in which to understand contemporary political institutions
  4. Develop the skills necessary to undertake a research project in this field



  • Students will be evaluated according to the following criteria:
  1. A research paper focusing on a particular political period of American political development (30%)
  2. A research paper focusing on the development of a particular political institution (30%)
  3. A final examination (30%)
  4. Class attendance and participation (10%)


Topics and readings

  • Week 1—What is American Political Development?
    • Karen Orren and Steve Skowronek, "The Study Of American Political Development," in Ira Katznelson and Helen Milner, eds., Political Science: The State of the Discipline (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002)
    • Karen Orren, and Stephen Skowronek, 'Beyond the Iconography of Order: Notes for a "New Institutionalism," in Lawrence C. Dodd and Calvin Jillson (eds.), The Dynamics of American Politics: Approaches and Interpretations (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994)
    • Skowronek, Chapters 1-3
  • Week 2—Political Development and Political Change
    • Sameul Lubell, "A New Theory of Political Parties" from Samuel Lubell, The Future of American Politics, (New York: Doubleday, 1952). (On Reserve)
    • V. O. Key "A Theory of Critical Elections." Journal of Politics (1955) 17: 3-18.
    • V. O. Key "Secular Realignment and the Party System." (1959) Journal of Politics” 21: 198-210.
    • E. C. Ladd, "Like Waiting for Godot” in Shafer.
    • Walter Dean Burnham, "Critical Realignment: Dead or Alive" in Shafer
    • Mayhew, Chapters1-4
  • Week3—Institutionalizing Democracy
    • Ceaser, Introduction & Chapter1
    • “The Constitution: Provisions Concerning the Presidency” (1787) in Nelson
    • The Federalist Papers, Nos. 4 & 5 (1787) in Nelson
    • George Washington, “First Inaugural” (1789) in Nelson
    • James Madison, “Defense of the President’s Removal Power” (1789) in Nelson
    • “The Pacificus-Helvidius Letters” (1796) in Nelson
  • Week 4—Federalism, Legislative Supremacy, and Practical Politics -- The Jeffersonian Party System
    • Ceaser, Chapter 2
    • Skowronek, Chapter 4
    • The Alien Act (1798) (AP)
    • The Sedition Act (1798) (AP)
    • Virginia Resolution (1798) (AP)
    • Kentucky Resolution (1799) (AP)
    • Alexander Hamilton’s “Report on Manufactures” (1791) (FC)
    • Alexander Hamilton’s “Report on Public Credit” (1790) (FC)
    • Alexander Hamilton's “Opinion as to the Constitutionality of the Bank of the United States” (1791) (AP)
    • Thomas Jefferson's “Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank” (1791) (AP)
    • Thomas Jefferson’s “First Inaugural” (1801) in Nelson
    • Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 19 (1784) (FC)
    • Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell (1816) (FC)
    • Thomas Jefferson to John Adams (1813) (FC)
  • Week 5—Jacksonian Democracy—Limited Government, Political Parties and Presidential Power
    • Ceaser, Chapter 3
    • Skowronek, Chapter 5
    • “The Tennessee General Assembly’s Protest Against the Caucus System” (1823) in Nelson
    • Andrew Jackson, “First Message to Congress” (1829) in Nelson
    • Andrew Jackson, “Veto of the Bank Bill” (1832) in Nelson
    • Henry Clay, “On Andrew Jackson’s Veto of the Bank Bill” (1832)
    • Andrew Jackson,“Message to the Senate and House Regarding South Carolina's Nullification Ordinance” (1833) (AP)
    • Andrew Jackson, “Message to the Senate Regarding the Renomination of the Directors of the Bank of the United States” (1834) (AP)
    • Andrew Jackson, “Message of Protest to the Senate” (1834) (AP)
    • Andrew Jackson, “Message to the Senate Clarifying the Protest Message” (1834) (AP)
    • Andrew Jackson, “Veto Message Regarding the Bank of the United States” (1832) (AP)
    • Silbey, "Beyond Realignment…” in Shafer
  • Week 6—The Slavery Debate and the Constitutional Basis of Union
    • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Chapter VII (1854) (TAH)
    • Frederick Douglass, “Independence Day Speech at Rochester” (1854) (TAH)
    • Frederick Douglass, “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision” (1857) (TAH)
    • John C. Calhoun, “Slavery A Positive Good” (1837) (TAH)
    • John C. Calhoun, “Disquisition on Government” (1840) (TAH)
    • William Lloyd Garrison, “On the Constitution and the Union” (1832) (TAH)
    • William Lloyd Garrison, “The War-- Its Cause and Cure” (1861) (TAH)
    • Dred Scott v. Sanford (19 How. 393) (1857) (LLI)
    • Stephen A. Douglas, “Speech at Springfield, Illinois” (1858) (TAH)
  • Week 7—Lincoln’s Republicanism
    • Skowronek, Chapter 6, Part One
    • Abraham Lincoln, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions” (1832) (TAH)
    • Abraham Lincoln, “Temperance Address” (1842) (TAH)
    • Abraham Lincoln, “Speech on Dred Scott Decision” (1857) (TAH)
    • Abraham Lincoln, “House Divided Speech” (1858) (TAH)
    • Abraham Lincoln, “Speech in Reply to Douglas” (1858) (TAH)
    • Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address” (1861) (TAH)
    • Abraham Lincoln, “Emancipation Proclamation” (1863) (TAH)
    • Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address” (1863) in Nelson
    • Abraham Lincoln, “Annual Message to Congress” (1863) (TAH)
    • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Albert G. Hodges” (1864) in Nelson
    • Abraham Lincoln, “Second Inaugural” (1865) in Nelson
    • Ex Parte Milligan (71 U.S. 2) (1866) in Nelson
  • Week 8—The Peak of Partisanship: Spoils, Laissez-Faire, and Populist Reform
    • George Washington Plunkitt, “The Curse of Civil Service Reform” in Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. Riordon, William L. (New York: 1903)
    • Rutherford B. Hayes, “Inaugural Address” (1877) (Bartleby)
    • (Theodore Roosevelt, “Applied Idealism” from Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography (1913) (Bartleby)
    • William Graham Sumner, What The Social Classes Owe Each Other, Chapter 1 (1883)
    • Slaughterhouse Cases (83 U.S. 36) (1872) (LLI)
    • Munn v. Illinois (94 U.S. 114) (1876) (LLI)
    • U.S. v. E. C. Knight (156 U.S. 1) (1895) (LLI)
    • Lochner v. U.S. (198 U.S. 45) (1905) (LLI)
    • “Populist Party Platform” (1892)…
    • William Jennings Bryan, “Cross of Gold” (1896) (TAH)
  • Week 9—The 1896 Election: Change and Continuity
    • Walter Dean Burnham, “The Changing Shape of the American Political Universe” in The American Political Science Review, Vol. 59, No. 1. (Mar., 1965), pp. 7-28
    • Jerrold G. Rusk, “Comment: The American Electoral Universe: Speculation and Evidence”in The American Political Science Review, Vol. 68, No. 3. (Sep., 1974), pp. 1010-28
    • James Sundquist, The Dynamics of the Party System (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Press, 1973). (Chapter 7 on reserve)
    • Richard Jensen, "Democracy, Republicanism and Efficiency: The Values of American Politics, 1885-1930" in Shafer & Badger, ed. Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775–2000 (Kansas, 2001) (On Reserve)
  • Week 10—Progressive Reform
    • Ceaser, Chapter 4
    • Skowronek, Chapter 6, Part Two
    • Theodore Roosevelt, “The Strenuous Life” (1899) (TAH)
    • Theodore Roosevelt, “The New Nationalism” (1910) (TAH)
    • Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, “Theories of Presidential Power” (1913, 1916) in Nelson
    • Woodrow Wilson, “The Study of Administration” (1886) (TAH)
    • Woodrow Wilson, “Leaders of Men” (1890) (Excerpts at TAH)
    • Woodrow Wilson, “Selections” from Constitutional Government (1908) (TAH)
    • Woodrow Wilson, “Selections” from Congressional Government (1885) (TAH)
    • Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life (1909) (Selections on Reserve)
  • Week 11—Defining the New Deal
    • Milkis, Chapters 1-4
    • Skowronek, Chapter 6, Part Three; Chapter 7, Part One
    • Franklin D. Roosevelt, “First Inaugural” (1933) in Nelson
    • Humphrey’s Executor v. United States (295 U.S. 602) (1935) in Nelson
    • United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation (299 U.S. 304) (1936) in Nelson
    • Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Court Packing Address” (1937) in Nelson
    • “Report of the Brownlow Committee” (1937) in Nelson
  • Week 12-Aftershocks of the New Deal
    • Milkis, Chapters 5-7
    • Skowronek, Chapter 7, Part Two
    • Youngstown Sheet and Tube v . Sawyer
    • Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Little Rock Executive Order” (1957) in Nelson
    • Lyndon Johnson, “Great Society Speech” (1964) in Nelson
    • Lyndon Johnson, “State of the Union Address” (1964) (TAH)
    • Lyndon Johnson, “To Fulfill These Rights” (1965) (TAH)
  • Week 13—Institutional Fragmentation
    • Ceaser, Chapters 5-6 & Conclusion
    • Milkis, Chapter 8
    • Skowronek, Chapter 7, Part Three
    • “The McGovern-Fraser Commission Report” (1971) in Nelson
    • “The War Powers Resolution” (1973) in Nelson
    • United States v. Nixon (418 U.S. 683) (1974) in Nelson
    • Jimmy Carter, “Crisis of Confidence Speech” (1979) in Nelson
  • Week 14—Institutional Resurgence
    • Milkis, Chapters 8&9
    • Skowronek, Chapter 8
    • Ronald Reagan, “First Inaugural” (1981) in Nelson
    • Ronald Reagan, “Speech to the House of Commmons” (1982) (TAH)
    • I.N.S. v. Chadha 462 U.S. 919 (1983) in Nelson
    • Bowsher v. Synar (478 U.S. 714) (1986) (LLI)
    • Ronald Reagan, “Speech at the Brandenberg Gate” (1987) (TAH)
    • William Jefferson Clinton, “State of the Union Address” (1996) in Nelson
  • Week 15—The Future of American Politics
    • Milkis, Chapters 11 & 12
    • Mayhew, Chapters 5-7
    • George W. Bush, “War on Terrorism Address” (2001) in Nelson
    • George W. Bush, “The Bush Doctrine” (2002) in Nelson

Additional Readings will be added each semester