American Government

  • 0/5 Stars
Course Level:
Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Description

This course is an introductory course in American government and politics.  We will discuss American political culture and the founding principles of our government. We will also examine the workings of governmental institutions and non-governmental groups, such as the media and interest groups, as well as public policy issues. We will also look at the relationship between religion and politics.


In this course students will:

  • become more aware of your political philosophy and how faith and politics interact.
  • gain an understanding of the founding principles of this country.
  • gain an understanding of this country’s political culture.
  • gain insight into the actual operation of our national political system.
  • appreciate the importance of public life.
  • develop critical thinking and writing skills through class discussion and written assignments.

Required Texts

Christine Barbour and Gerald C. Wright, Keeping the Republic, 3rd Brief Edition (CQ Press: 9781608716579)

George Carey and James McClellan, ed., The Federalist (Liberty Fund: 0865972885)


Quizzes                       20%

Midterm #1                 20%

Midterm #2                 20%

Paper                          20%

Final                            20%


Grading Scale           

93-100 A         83-86   B         73-76   C         63-66   D

90-92   A-        80-82   B-        70-72   C-        60-62   D-

87-89   B+       77-79   C+       67-69   D+       0-60     F


There will be periodic quizzes throughout the semester.  These quizzes will be based solely on the readings and they will be unannounced.  There will be at least 5 quizzes—there may be more—and I will count your 4 highest scores.


There will be two in-class midterms.  We will discuss how to prepare for each exam one week ahead of time.


Students will be required to write a five-page paper on a controversial topic in American political science.  Topics and further instructions will be provided by the instructor.

Final Exam

The final exam will be closed book and cumulative, although it will focus heavily on the last part of the course.  We will discuss how to prepare for the exam during the final class period.


Section I: Introduction

In this section, we will review the outline of the course, as well as assignments, class policies, etc.  We will also introduce the general themes of the course and discuss some basic concepts of political science.

Class 1:  Syllabus Review & Introduction to the Course

Class 2:  Introduction to Political Science

Readings: Barbour & Wright, chapter 1; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics & Politics, selections

Reading Questions: How do the definitions of politics offered by your textbook and Aristotle differ?  Which one do you think is more accurate?  Why, according to Aristotle, is political science the master science?  What kind of knowledge does he think the political scientist should seek?

Section II: The American Founding

In this section, we will examine the historical and ideological facets of the American Founding.  In addition, we will discuss several key principles that are contained with the Constitution and study the reasons that were offered for and against those principles at the time.

Class 3: Founding Documents

Readings: Barbour & Wright, chapter 2; Declaration of Independence & Constitution of the United States (Appendix in Barbour & Wright)

Reading Questions: How is the Constitution a response to the failures of the Articles of Confederation?  How does the Constitution reflect the ideology expressed in the Declaration of Independence?

Class 4: Representation

Readings: Federalist Nos. 1, 6, 9, 10

Reading Questions: What is Publius’ view of human nature?  What does Madison mean by “faction”?  What is his “republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government”? 

Class 5: Separation of Powers

Readings: Federalist Nos. 47, 48, 49, 50, 51

Reading Questions: Why does Publius argue that “parchment barriers” are insufficient to ensure liberty?  Does this undermine the importance of constitutional government?  What does Madison mean when he says, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition”?

Class 6: Federalism

Readings: Barbour & Wright, chapter 3; Federalist Nos. 23, 39, 44, 45 & 46

Reading Questions: How is the federal arrangement under the Constitution different from that under the Articles of Confederation?  Why does Publius support the proposed increase in the powers of the national government?  In light of history, were the Anti-Federalists right to be concerned for the powers of the state governments?

Class 7: The Bill of Rights

Readings: Federalist Nos. 84 & 85, the Anti-Federalists, selections

Reading Questions: Why did the Anti-Federalists insist on a Bill of Rights?  Why were the Federalists skeptical about the idea?

Class 8: Special Topic: Religion during the Founding Era

Readings: “Religion and Political Culture in America: The Historical Legacy,” in Robert Booth Fowler, et. al., Religion and Politics in America

Reading Questions: How should we describe the religious character of early American society?  Is there a distinction to be made between the religion of the Founding Fathers and the religion of American culture at the time in general?  Is America a Christian nation?

Class 9: Special Topic: Religion during the Founding Era

Readings: Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 275-288, 417-426, 500-511

Reading Questions: How does Tocqueville describe the religious character of Americans?  How does religion influence politics in America, according to Tocqueville?  Why does Tocqueville believe that religion is the first American political institution?

Class 10: Midterm #1

Section III: Institutions

In this section, we will study the original views on the major branches of the national government and then investigate the historical evolution of those branches and their powers in relation to one another.  Students will be asked to reflect on how the major branches of government continue (or fail to continue) to reflect the original intent of the Founders.

Class 11: The Congress and The Federalist

Readings: Federalist Nos. 55, 57, 62, 63

Reading Questions: Against what arguments does Publius defend the design of the Congress?  What was the original understanding of the role of the Congress in the American political system?

Class 12: The Congress

Readings: Barbour & Wright, chapter 6

Reading Questions: How has Congressional power vis-à-vis the other branches of government evolved over time?  Has the Congress adhered to the vision of the Founders? 

Class 13: The Presidency and The Federalist

Readings: Federalist Nos. 70, 71, 73

Reading Questions: Why, according to Publius, should the executive power be unified in one person?  Why does the Union require a “vigorous executive”?

Class 14: The Presidency

Readings: Barbour & Wright, chapter 7

Reading Questions: What is distinctive about the modern presidency?  How and why has presidential power increased through time?  Is the enlarged role of the presidency a good thing?

Class 15: The Courts and The Federalist

Readings: Federalist No. 78, Marbury v. Madison

Reading Questions: Did the Founders expect the Supreme Court to possess the power of judicial review?  Why, according to Hamilton, is the Judiciary the “least dangerous” branch?  How does John Marshall argue for the power of judicial review?

Class 16: The Courts

Readings: Barbour & Wright, chapter 9

Reading Questions: How has the role of the Supreme Court evolved over time?  In what sense can it be said that the Supreme Court is a political actor?  Was Hamilton right to call the judiciary the “least dangerous” branch?

Class 17: Special Topic: Religion and the Courts: The Free Exercise Clause

Readings: John Witte, “Modern Free Exercise Law”

Reading Questions: What was the original intent behind the Free Exercise Clause?  How has the Courts’ understanding of that clause evolved over time?

Class 18: Special Topic: Religion and the Courts: The Establishment Clause

Readings: John Witte, “Modern Disestablishment Law”

Reading Questions: What was the original intent behind the Establishment Clause?  How has the Courts’ understanding of that clause evolved over time?

Class 19: Midterm #2

Section IV: Political Behavior

In this section, we will investigate how political actors and citizens mobilize and seek to influence government policies in contemporary America.  At the same time, we will think about whether or not political behavior in contemporary American reflects the expectation and/or hopes of the founders.

Class 20: Public Opinion

Readings: Barbour & Wright, chapter 10

Reading Questions: What is public opinion?  How is it measured?  What role does public opinion play in contemporary American politics?  What role should it play?

Class 21: Political Parties and Interest Groups

Readings: Barbour & Wright, chapter 11

Reading Questions: How did political parties evolve in the United States?  Do they play an essential role in the political system?  What role to interest groups play?  Are parties and interest groups “factions” as Madison uses the term in Federalist No. 10?  

Class 22: Elections

Readings: Barbour & Wright, chapter 12

Reading Questions: Why is there an Electoral College?  How have election campaigns evolved over time?  What is the “permanent campaign”?

Class 23: The Media

Readings: Barbour & Wright, chapter 13

Reading Questions: Is the media a political actor?  How does the media influence public opinion?

[Term paper due in class]

Class 24: Special Topic: Religion and Politics in America Today

Readings: None (we will review various surveys and public opinion polls in class)

Break – No Class

Class 25: Special Topic: Religion and Politics in America Today

Readings: Morris Fiorina, Culture War?  The Myth of a polarized America, selections; John K. White, The Values Divide, selections

Reading Questions: Is there a culture war in America?  Is America a Christian nation?  How does religion influence political behavior in contemporary America?

Class 26: Conclusion & Review

Final Exam (2 hours)