American Political Thought & Practice I: The American Republic

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Course Level:
Course Length:
14 weeks

Course Description

This course is an introductory investigation of the fundamental principles of American politics and their relationship to our national political institutions and, as such, introduces students to the most challenging issues that face us as a political community.  In the investigation, we study the history of the American settlement and the American Founding, pre-revolutionary documents such as the Mayflower Compact, and then the Declaration, the debate over the Christian character of the Founding, the debate between the Federalists & the Anti-federalists, the Constitution as defended by Publius, and the building of both the American Republic and the American Nation.

Required Books:

  • Theodore Lowi & Isaac Kramnick.  American Political Thought (New York, NY:  Norton, 2009).
  • Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, ed. [Alexis de Tocqueville’s] Democracy in America (Chicago, IL:  The University of Chicago Press, 2000).
  • Walter A. McDougall. Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828 (New York, NY:  Harper Collins, 2004).

Course Objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

1.  Understand and analyze the following important themes that run through early American politics and history: 

  • The Self-understanding of the American people
  • The Colonial antecedents to the American Republic
  • The Christian and Philosophic underpinnings of the American Republic
  • The Federalist Vision
  • The Jeffersonian Vision
  • The Emergence of American Nationalism

2. Describe, debate, and evaluate on biblical grounds the key political principles that inform the American regime as originally established by the American founders.

3. Apply those principles to contemporary questions of law and public policy in writing op-ed essays and engaging in class discussion.

4. Describe and explain the significance of the key people, ideas, and events in the development of early American political thought and culture. 

Relationship to Biblical Principles:

Any course in the intellectual, cultural, and political history of a people will require students to reflect upon some of the most fundamental questions human beings ask: what is the best form of government? What is the nature of freedom? What is the best way of life? Because of the unusual degree to which early Americans were aware both of the significance of these questions and of their answers to them, this is especially so in this class. That many early Americans sought earnestly to answer these questions through the light of Scripture provides students with frequent opportunities to appraise critically their efforts and the fruits that followed. Key biblical ideas like human depravity, the nature of submission, the role of the church, the role of the government, the nature of virtue, Christian liberty, and Christian love will be discussed regularly in the context of our historical review of American political thought and practice. While there are many passages from Scripture that speak to these and related topics, some keys texts for this course include: Genesis 1-3, 39-46; Deuteronomy 28-30; the book of Daniel; John 10, 13; Romans 13, 1 Corinthians 13.

The development of the American republic took place over two centuries during which there were several successive waves of challenges to historic Christianity, culminating with the 18th century rationalist and 19th century romantic movements. In evaluating the influence of these ideas on both early Americans and contemporary understandings of the American regime, students will be asked to consider a Christian’s proper stance toward the institutions and principles that continue to define American government.

Course Format, Sequence, and Prerequisites:

The class meets for two hours and forty minutes each week and will follow a Socratic-method format. 

Course Sequence:  This course is part of the second year common core curriculum; it is required for all King’s students. It is the first course in a three-semester study of American political thought and practice.

Prerequisite: none


New York City and The American Republic

New York City has many sites of interest to students of early American history. Of particular note:

Hamilton Grange National Memorial (lower Manhattan; home of Alexander Hamilton)

Battery Park (site of forts protecting NYC in colonial and early republican period)

Federal Hall National Memorial (Financial District; on site where First Congress met)

Rufus King Mansion (Jamaica, Queens; home of early Federalist leader)

Fort Schuyler (Bronx; War of 1812-era fort)

St. Paul’s Chapel (colonial-era church)

African Burial Ground National Monument (lower Manhattan; on site where 1000s of Africans - mostly slaves - were buried during the 17th and 18th centuries)


Course Organization and Requirements:

Attendance and Tardiness:  Students are expected to attend punctually all regularly-scheduled sessions of each course. Attendance will be taken using quiz submissions and a post-quiz attendance sign-in sheet. Students who arrive late or leave early will be recorded as absent.  Students may not attend another section of the course without my prior permission.  A student who misses seven class periods for any reason will be academically withdrawn from the course with an Administrative Withdrawal (AW) grade recorded on the transcript (calculated as an F in the GPA).  Guard your days carefully.  If you add this class after the first day of class, you are still responsible for all missed work.  Any absences prior to your enrollment will count as part of your total attendance/absence allowance.

Class Cancellation:  If class is canceled, you will receive official word from me or another representative of the college. Do not assume that if I am late that class has been canceled. I may only have been delayed by my administrative responsibilities.  


Grading Scale:

Grade (pts.)   Range                         Grade (pts.)   Range

A (4.00)           93.5 – 100%                C (2.00)           73.5 – 77.4%

A- (3.70)         89.5 – 93.4%               C- (1.70)          69.5 – 73.4%

B+ (3.30)         87.5 – 89.4%               D+ (1.30)        67.5 – 69.4%

B (3.00)           83.5 – 87.4%               D (1.00)           63.5 – 67.4%

B- (2.70)          79.5 – 83.4%               D- (0.70)         59.5 – 63.4%

C+ (2.30)         77.5 – 79.4%               F (0.00)           00.0 – 59.4%


Summary of Assignments:

Quizzes                                                                       40%    

Two 600 word Opinion Editorials                           20%

Final Synthesis Essays                                                25%

Participation in In-Class Debates                              10%

Participation in Class Discussion                                5%


Assignment Detail:

Quizzes:  A 7-minute quiz will be given at the beginning of each class with assigned reading (a total of 27 quizzes; the two lowest quiz grades will be dropped). Quiz questions will include true/false, short answer, and short essay items. The quizzes will cover material in the assigned reading for that day. Quizzes will be worth a total of 10 points and organized as follows:

Questions 1-4:Grammar (Four questions requiring students to identify the major concepts, ideas, and points of reference from the reading); total value: 4 points

Questions 5-6:Logic (Two questions requiring students to piece together and analyze the major concepts, ideas, and points of reference from the reading); total value: 4 points

Question 7:Rhetoric (One question requiring students to write persuasively on a major theme within the reading); total value: 2 points


600 word opinion-editorials: Students must write two op-ed essays that connect the ideas and/or events studied in class to a contemporary political controversy. At the beginning of the semester, students will choose two due dates for their op-eds from among four choices: September 29, October 24, November 7, and November 28. Once chosen, the due dates are final. Because you may submit your op-eds at any time before the due dates you have chosen, NO LATE PAPERS WILL BE ACCEPTED. Op-eds must be turned in by 12:00 noon on the date they are due and must be uploaded to to count as having been submitted.    

Final Synthesis Essays: Student will have a take-home final exam in the form of four synthesis essays (max. 500 words each). Questions will be distributed on the last day of class (Wednesday, December 7) and must be submitted in one file to by 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, December 14.

Participation in In-Class Debates:During two class periods, we will hold debates on important questions in American history: a. whether the United States should have declared independence in July, 1776 and b. whether Thomas Jefferson or John Adams should have been elected president in 1800. Each student will serve as a debater or a judge for one debate and as an advisor for the other. Details on format and grading will be reviewed in class prior to each debate.

Class Participation:Students are expected to come to class prepared not only for a quiz, but to engage in class discussion, which will be an integral part of each meeting. Students who participate in a cogent way at least once/week (on average) will earn 4-5 points; students who participate in a cogent way at least once/month (on average) will earn 2-3 points; students who participate rarely or not at all will earn 0-1 points; extraordinary class participation may earn 6 points; negative participation may earn -1 points.  

Extra Credit: I am very eager to work with you to help you succeed. However, as a matter of fairness to all students, I do not grant individual students opportunities for extra credit. At my discretion, a small number of extra credit opportunities available to all students in the class may be offered in conjunction with politics- or history-related speaking events and the like.

Make-up Quizzes: Given that your two lowest quiz grades will be dropped, there will be no make-up quizzes allowed except in cases of documented illness (doctor’s note normally required) or documented family emergency/death in the family (obituary notice normally required).

The Honor Code & Plagiarism: In accordance with the King’s College honor code, you are expected to maintain the highest degree of integrity in all your assigned work. Academic dishonesty of any kind –and plagiarism in particular - will not be tolerated and may lead to failure of the course and dismissal from the institution.  In the MLA Style Manual (New York: MLA, 1998), Joseph Gibaldi writes “to plagiarize is to give the impression that you wrote or thought something that you in fact borrowed from someone, and to do so is a violation of professional ethics.” It is understood that student participation in this and all courses at the college implies a knowledge of and agreement with the TKC Honor Code.

Duplicate work: You may NOT submit work prepared for other classes in completion of assignments for this class.

Classroom Behavior:

  • Arrive on time and remain until the end of the class.
  • No use of computers or any other electronic device at any time and for any reason.
  • Pay attention in class.
  • Raise your hand.
  • Communicate both with me and your fellow students in a friendly, civil and pleasant manner.

Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance:

This college, in compliance with Sections 503 & 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehabilitation Act”), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), New York State Executive Law §296, and the New York City Human Rights Law, provides students with disabilities the opportunity to participate in programs, activities, or employment. Disabilities may include physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more of a person’s major life activities, and which necessitate modifications to the facilities, programs, or services of the college. The college is committed to making reasonable accommodations for qualifying students, faculty, and employees with disabilities are required by the aforementioned applicable laws. The college cannot make accommodations that are unduly burdensome or that fundamentally alter the nature of the college’s programs. An ADA Compliance Coordinator certifies eligibility for accommodation(s) under the ADA for students presenting documented evidence of qualifying disabilities, reviews, and acts upon all student requests for reasonable accommodations. Any individual with special needs (i.e. lecture materials, testing procedures, etc.) should see the ADA coordinator within the first week of the semester to discuss needed accommodations.

Use of Technology

In class:Multi-media resources will be used to aid in the visual representation of important events and ideas.

Electronic submission of work: Students should turn in papers and essays through The necessary class code and password will be distributed to students.

Course Calendar:

APT ~ American Political Thought

DIA ~ Democracy in America

FJAC ~ Freedom Just Around the Corner

POR ~ Portal

RESERVE ~ Available at library reserve desk



TH, A25:                     Class 1: America and the World

Reading #1:  FJAC, preface, 1-16.

Reading #2: DIA, 3-15.

Reading #3: Aristotle, The Politics, Book III, chapters 7-8 [POR/handout].


MO, A29:                    Class 2: British North America

                                    Reading #1:  FJAC, 17-37.

Reading #2:  DIA, 27-45, 292-295.


TH, S1:                                    Class 3: Planters – The Aristocratic Republic

                                    Reading #1: APT, 74-75.

                                    Reading #2: James Harrington, Oceana, selections [POR].

                                    Reading #3: John Locke, “The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina” [POR].

                                    Reading #4: FJAC, 38-49, 71-78, 148-151.


MO, S5:                       NO CLASS – Labor Day


TH, S8:                                    Class 4: Pilgrims & Puritans – The Covenantal Republic

Reading #1:  APT, 11-31, 76-80.

                                    Reading #2: Deuteronomy 28-30 (KJV) [POR].

                                    Reading #3: Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (selections [POR].

                                    Reading #4: FJAC, 52-70, 142-146.


MO, S12:                     Class 5: Dutch - The Commercial Republic

Reading #1: Russell Shorto, “The General and the Princess,” The Island at the Center of the World [RESERVE].

Reading #2: FJAC 49-52, 78-82.


TH, S15:                      Class 6: Pietists & Presbyterians – The Democratic Republic(s)

                                    Reading #1: William Penn, Frame of the Government of Pennsylvania [POR].

                                    Reading #2: FJAC, 82-87, 136-142, 146-148, 151-155.


MO, S19:                     Class 7: Slavery in the Colonies – The Unrepublican Sin

Reading #1: APT, 536-542.

Reading #2: Bible selections on slavery [POR]

Reading #3: John Locke, “Of Slavery,” 2nd Treatise of Government [POR]

                                    Reading #4: FJAC, 155-164.



TH, S22:                      Class 8: From Restoration to Awakening

                                    Reading #1:  FJAC, 88-135

                                    Reading #2: Jonathan Edwards, Thoughts on the Present Revival… (selections) [POR]

                                    Reading #3: Selected Acts of Parliament (excerpts) [POR]                        


MO, S26:                     Class 9: The French & Indian War(s)

                                    Reading #1:  FJAC, 164-201.

                                    Reading #2:  APT, 43-52


TH, S29:                      Class 10: Forging an American Identity: The Classical (or) Christian Republican

Reading #1: Joseph Addison, Cato (selections) (POR).

Reading #2: Jonathan Edwards, The Life and Diary of Rev. David Brainerd (selections) (POR).

Reading #3: APT, 52-53.

Reading #4: FJAC 202-209.

First op-ed due date



TH, O3:                       Class 11: Forging an American Identity: The Modern Republican

                                    Reading: APT, 53-72.


TH, O6:                       Class 12: The Rights of Englishmen

                                    Reading #1:  APT, 100-113, 119-124.

                                    Reading #2: Second Continental Congress, The “Olive Branch” Petition [POR].

Reading #3: William Blackstone, Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals (selections) [POR].

                                    Reading #4:  FJAC, 209-235.


MO, O10                     NO CLASS – Fall Break


TH, O13:                     Class 13: Debating Independence (1st in-class debate)

                                    Reading #1: APT, 113-118, 139-149.

                                    Reading #2: FJAC, 235-238.


MO, O 17:                  Class 14: Declaring Independence

                                    Reading #1:  APT, 151-154.

Reading #2:  Selections from John Locke’s 2nd Treatise andEssay Concerning Human Understanding (POR).

Reading #3: Sections from Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law (POR).

Reading #4: FJAC 239-247.


TH, O20:                     Class 15: A Confederated Republic Fights

                                    Reading #1: APT, 124-130, 149-151, 155-162. 

Reading #2: FJAC, 247-279.


M, O24:                       Class 16: A Confederated Republic Fails

                                    Reading #1: APT, 163-170.

                                    Reading #2: DIA, 105-107.

Reading #3: James Madison, Vices of the Political System of the U.S. (POR).

Reading #4: FJAC, 280-291.

Second op-ed due date


TH, O27:                     Class 17: Crafting a National Republic

                                    Reading #1: APT, 170-181.

                                    Reading #2: FJAC, 291-320.


MO, O31:                    Class 18: The Anti-Federalist Critique

                                    Reading: APT, 244-274.


TH, N3:                      Class 19: Foundations of the American Republic – “Reflection & Choice”

                                    Reading:  APT, 181-195.


MO N7:                      Class 20: Foundations of the American Republic – “Human Nature”

                                    Reading #1:  APT, 195-205, 215-223.

                                    Reading #2:  Federalist #72 (POR).

                                    Third op-ed due date


TH, N10:                    Class 21: Foundations of the American Republic – “Force,” “Will,” & “Judgment”

                                    Reading:  APT, 205-215, 223-236, 323-327.



MO, N14:                   Class 22: Defining the American Republic

                                    Reading #1: APT 236-244, 274-283, 304-309, 348-352.

                                    Reading #2: George Washington, First Inaugural Address (POR).

                                    Reading #3: FJAC, 321-333, 337-346.


TH, N17                     Class 23: Federalist Theory and Practice

Reading #1:  APT, 297-304, 309-323.

Reading #2: George Washington, Second Inaugural Address (POR).

Reading #3: John Adams, Inaugural Address (POR).

Reading #4: FJAC, 350-357, 361-370.


MO, N21:                   Class 24: Federalists v. Republicans [2nd in-class debate]

                                    Reading:  APT, 364-365, 366-370, 375-388


TH, N24:                    NO CLASS – Thanksgiving Break


MO, N28:                   Class 25: Jeffersonian Theory and Practice

                                    Reading #1: APT, 337-348, 352-364, 365-366, 370-374.

                                    Reading #2: FJAC, 370-383, 386-402.

Fourth op-ed due date


TH D1:                                    Class 26: Federalists or Republicans

                                    Reading #1: James Madison, First Inaugural Address; Second Inaugural Address (POR).

                                    Reading #2: James Madison, War Message to Congress.

                                    Reading #3: FJAC, 407-421.


MO, D5:                      Class 27: National Republicans

                                    Reading #1: APT, 327-336, 374-375.

                                    Reading #2: James Monroe, First Inaugural Address (POR).

Reading #3: FJAC, 422-430, 434-440, 444-450, 455-464.


WE, D7:                      Class 28: “A Fire Bell in the Night”: Prelude to Democracy and Division

                                    Reading #1: James Monroe, Second Inaugural Address (POR).

                                    Reading# 2: Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Holmes (POR).

                                    Reading #3: John Quincy Adams, Inaugural Address (POR).

                                    Reading #4: FJAC, 468-472, 476-478, 483-497.

                                    Distribution of synthesis essay questions


WE, D14:                    Synthesis essays due to by 9:00 a.m.