Introduction to Political Science

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Course Level:
Course Length:
16 weeks

Course Description

This course presents an introduction to the study of political science through a close and critical examination of the foundations of American government. By looking at debates over the essential meaning and purpose of the U.S. Constitution, we can gain a greater understanding of the competing concepts of government power, personal liberty, justice, democracy and equality that form the basis of American politics. We will also gain a greater insight into the connections of theory, rhetoric and statesmanship to the practice of political decision-making.

A few notes about this course: the reading list is quite heavy and difficult, you will complete a significant amount of writing, you will be required to participate in class regularly, and you will participate in a class debate this November. I will be happy to respond to any questions you have about the readings, assignments and expectations. But you are ultimately responsible for doing the reading before the class session it is discussed, for asking questions about readings or concepts you find unclear or revealing, and for keeping up with all deadlines.

Required and optional texts

  • Kessler, The Federalist Papers
  • Ketcham, The Anti-Federalist Papers
  • Selected Writings of Abraham Lincoln (Library of America edition)
  • Lincoln-Douglas debates (Dover edition)
  • additional readings posted on eCourses or available on internet


Papers: You will write three 3 to 6 page papers over the course of the semester. Each paper will investigate a question raised in the readings, and your answer should incorporate direct references to the texts in support of your arguments. Papers will be graded on style as well as content, because how you express your ideas is just as important as the ideas themselves. More details will be distributed with each assignment.

Participation: Your participation grade will include two components--classroom attendance and participation and debate participation during October and November.

Classroom Attendance and participation: I will take attendance at every class. Your attendance is mandatory. Consider each class to be a business meeting. You are expected to attend class on time, behave appropriately and keep up with the reading schedule Class sessions will cover material not included in the readings, and this material will be essential for successful completion of required assignments.

Students who have four unexcused absences will see their grade drop by one-half grade (i.e. from B to B-minus). Further absences will cause your grade to drop by one additional half-grade per absence. If you have difficulties with class attendance, drop this course now. Students with excessive absences will NOT be allowed to take class exams.

Attendance alone will not give you full points for participation. I assume all students have completed the assigned reading before class and are prepared to discuss the issues raised. Do not hesitate to ask questions or to offer comments based on readings or class discussion. I value quality of participation over quantity: informed comments and questions are especially appreciated.

I reserve the following rights: (1) to call on students even when they do not volunteer (2) to give in-class surprise quizzes that test your knowledge of the readings. I hope never to have to do either. So keep up with the readings and be prepared to participate in class.

Debate participation: Each student will read at least one debate and prepare to answer at least one question in the class presentation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in November. More details will be distributed before midterm. If you do not participate in the debate, there is no chance to make this work up.


  • Paper 1: 20 percent
  • Paper 2: 25 percent
  • Paper 3: 30 percent
  • Class and debate participation: 25 percent

Course Schedule

  • readings available by Internet link or on class web site

I. Foundations of a New Nation

Week 1

Class 1: Introduction to a new science of politics

Class 2: Rights, government and revolution

  • Read: Declaration of Independence (appendix of Federalist papers)
  • Jefferson's first draft of Declaration and note on debate in Congress
  • Jefferson letter to Henry Lee
  • Jefferson letter to Weightman
  • Martin Luther King, March on Washington speech (1963)

Week 2


Class 2: God, rights and the purpose of government

  • Read: Mayflower Compact
  • Winthrop, Model of Christian Charity
  • Articles of Confederation
also in Ketcham (pp. 357-364) and appendix of Federalist Papers

II. Designing a Constitution

Week 3

Class 1: Forming a government

  • Read: Madison, "Vices of the Political System of the U.S."
  • U.S. Constitution (appendix of Federalist Papers) Do not include
  • Federalist 1

Class 2: A new Constitution?

  • Read: Federalist 2, 45
  • Ketcham, pp. 190-194
  • Chronology of ratification debate:
Week 4

Class 1: Energy in government

  • Read: Federalist 9, 23
  • Ketcham, pp. 58-62, 70-79, 194-198

Class2: The above continued

  • Read: Federalist 37, 39
  • Ketcham, pp. 199-226
Week 5

Class 1: The nature of man--and how to control it

  • Read: Federalist 10, 49, 51

Class 2: The Anti-Federalist view of human nature

  • Read: Ketcham, pp. 227-237, 237-256, 264-269
Week 6

Class 1: Designing a representative Congress

  • Read: Federalist 53, 55, 62, 63

Class 2: The above continued

  • Read: Ketcham, pp. 325-335, 337-356
Week 7

Class 1: Presidency

  • Read: Federalist 68, 70, 71, 72, 73
  • Ketcham pp. 317-324
  • Jefferson letters to Adams, Madison and Donald

Class 2: Judiciary

  • Read: Federalist 78
  • Ketcham, pp. 120-124, 293-309
Week 8

Class 1: Bill of Rights and concluding arguments

  • Read: Federalist 84, 85
  • Madison on Bill of Rights
  • Jefferson on Bill of Rights (1st paragraph)

Class 2: The above continued

  • Read: Ketcham, pp. 171-180
  • U.S. Constitution: Amendments 1-10
  • Ketcham, pp. 216-227

III. Slavery and the threat to Union

Week 9

Class 1: Slavery and the limits of constitutional loyalty

  • Read: F. Douglass, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"…
(focus on section after THE PRESENT)
  • Garrison, "The American Union"
  • Lincoln, pp. 9-10, 13-21, 85-90, 91-92

Class 2: The above continued

  • Read: F. Douglass, "The True Ground Which to Meet Slavery"…

Week 10

Class 1: Lincoln-Douglas debates

  • Read: Lincoln address, Debates pp. 1-9
  • Douglas address, Debates, pp. 10-25

Class 2: Lincoln-Douglas debates

Group meetings
Week 11

Class 1: Lincoln-Douglas debates

Group meetings

Class 2: Lincoln's rise to national prominence

  • Read: Lincoln, pp. 215-216, 240-252, 253-261, 282-283, 284-293
  • Lincoln, Fragment on Constitution and Union
Week 12

Class 1: Preparation for debate

Group meetings

Class 2: Preparation for debate

Group meetings
Week 13


Class 2: Framing the Civil War

  • Read: Lincoln, pp. 309-315, 317-319, 329-330, 335-337, 338-344
Week 14

Class 1: A New War

  • Read: Lincoln, pp. 345-347, 348, 368-369, 370, 386, 405


Week 15

Class 1: A New Nation

  • Read: Lincoln, pp. 419-421, 422-424, 430-431, 437, 438-439

Class 2: Lincoln's greatest speech?

  • Read: Lincoln, pp. 449-451
  • U.S. Constitution: Amendments 13, 14, 15
Week 16

Class 1: