Political Science 100                           Fall Semester 2003

American Government & Politics                  DuSable 246

Instructor Heath R. Mills                       MWF, 12:00 – 12:50


But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?  If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.  In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed: and in the next place oblige it to control itself.


      James Madison, “Federalist, 51.”


Madison’s lament – perhaps the best known passage from the 85 Federalist essays – lays out the basic paradox of the American system: how to build a government strong enough to maintain order, yet restrained enough not to destroy liberty.  The puzzle, still very much with us 200 years after these words were written, underlies each of these general objectives of our course:


  1. To develop a strong understanding of the founding of the American political system, with particular reference to the values and assumptions which influenced that period (the late 1700’s).
  2. To ponder the current state of American politics and ask whether the hopes and expectations of the Founders have been realized.  To this end, we will pay close attention to breaking news from Washington.
  3. To understand American government by studying what it is not: that is, how politics is conducted in other countries, and how our politics are distinctive, even unique.
  4.  To suggest how (not what) to think about politics, that is, to foster skills of political analysis and evaluation.


Reading Materials

  1. James Q. Wilson and John J. DiIulio, Jr., American Government: The Essentials, 9th Edition (2004) 
  2. Federalist Papers as assigned 
  3. Occasional Handouts
  4. The regular reading of the news section of a major daily newspaper will greatly enhance your understanding of the materials covered in this course and is strongly encouraged.  The New York Times, Washington Post, or Chicago Tribune are available for free online.  I like to use www.drudgereport.com to link to the papers and other major stories.











Course Requirements

  1. Attendance at each class meeting is expected, but will be monitored.  The regularity of your attendance will help determine your class participation score, and can also limit your overall course grade, as follows: you cannot earn better than a B if you accrue more than four unexcused absences; you cannot earn better than a C if you accrue more than eight unexcused absences; and so on.  I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO ASK FOR WRITTEN DOUCMENTATION FOR ALL EXECUSED ABSENCES.
  2. Completion of assigned readings.
  3. Completion of writing assignments.
  4. Two examinations, to be held on 26 September and 24 October.
  5. A final examination to be held...


Conduct of Class

1.        Lectures and readings are designed to complement and reinforce each other.  Accordingly, you will get more out the former if you keep up with the latter.

2.        Any cheating, plagiarism, or dishonesty detected in an exam or paper will result in penalties ranging from a failing grade for than assignment to an F for the entire course.

3.        Please feel free to raise questions or make observations about the course material at any time.  In addition, class time will frequently be devoted to discussions of assigned readings or breaking news.  Take these assignments seriously, and be prepared to contribute to the discussions.  Along with attendance, your preparation for and contributions to these sessions will be the basis of your class participation grade.

4.        Any variations from our normal schedule will be announced well in advance.



Office hours are Wednesday from 1:00 to 3:00 PM, Friday 1:00 to 2:00 PM, and most any other time by appointment.  My office is DuSable 461 and my office telephone number is 753-1818.  I stand ready at all times to help you learn and understand the course material.  If my lectures or the assigned readings are not making sense, by all means ask for clarification.  Likewise, if you are having trouble preparing for an exam or getting started with an assignment, seek help early.  DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST HOUR!  In any event, please let me know how I can help.


Undergraduate Writing Awards

The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing. Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and $50.00. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by February 28. All copies should have two cover pages - one with the student’s name and one without the student’s name. Only papers written in the previous calendar year can be considered for the award. However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following year’s competition even if the student has graduated.

Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


Department of Political Science Web Site

Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu




1.  Two midterm exams                  40% (2 x 20%)

2.  Final exam                         25%

3.  Five writing assignments           25%

4.  Attendance and participation       10%


Grading Scale

100 – 90       A

89 – 80        B

79 – 70        C

69 - 69        D

59 and Below   F



Course Outline and Assignments


Week of 25 August: Introduction and the Founding of the American System

Readings:  W&D Preface and Chapter 1; Declaration of Independence (W&D A1); and Articles of Confederation (available at: http://www.law.ou.edu/hist/artconf.html)


Week of 1 September: The Constitution

Readings: W&D Chapter 2 and the Constitution (W&D A4)

Writing Assignment #1: In Federalist 51(W&D A26), Madison hopes to use the very structure and organization of government to create a system of checks and balances. How will his scheme of checks and balances work? One requirement is that every branch have a "will" of its own. How does the Constitution encourage that? Also, certain branches deserve special attention. Comment and explain in a 2-page paper (due 8 September, 2003).


Week of 8 September: The Constitution and Federalism

Readings: W&D Chapter 3 and Federalist 39, available at:


Week of 15 September: Political Culture

Readings: W&D Chapter 4

Writing Assignment #2: Federalist 10, W&D A21, provides a link between political culture and public opinion.  In Federalist 10, founding father James Madison is worried about self- interested groups (factions) and how to design a democratic system to protect the nation from them. Where do factions come from? Can they be eliminated? In dealing with factions does he favor: (1) direct or indirect democracy? (2) majority rule or pluralistic democracy? (3) a large nation or a small nation?  Comment and explain in a 2-3 page paper (due, 22 September, 2003).


Week of 22 September: Ideology and Public Opinion

Readings: W&D Chapter 5




Week of 29 September: Parties and Elections

Readings: W&D Chapters 6

Writing Assignment #3: V.O. Key, "A Theory of Critical Elections," Journal of Politics (1955), pp. 3-11 only. (Find at www.jstor.org using an NIU Internet connection).  In this article, Key argues that some Presidential elections are much more important than others. What are the essential characteristics of a critical election? In his examination of Massachusetts, why did Key choose the particular communities that appear in his analysis (Figure A)? What do the trends for those two communities reveal? Explain in a 2-3 page paper, due 13 October, 2003.


Week of 6 October: Parties and Elections, continued

Readings: W&D Chapter 7 & 8


Week of 13 October: Interest Groups

Readings: W&D Chapter 9


Week of 20 October: News Media

Readings: W&D Chapter 10




Week of 27 October: Congress

Readings: W&D Chapter 11, Article I of the Constitution

Writing Assignment #4: Go to http://www.parliament.uk/works/parliament.cfm to learn of about the British Parliament.  In this assignment you are to compare and contrast the United States Congress with the British Parliament.  Focus on their overall structure number of houses, leaderships, power, and authority.  Comment and explain in a 2-3 page paper, due 7 November, 2003.


Week of 3 November: The Executive Branch

Readings: W&D Chapter 12 & 13, Article II of the Constitution





Week of 10 November: The Judiciary

Readings:  W&D Chapter 14, Article III of the Constitution

Writing Assignment #5: In Federalist 78

(at http://www.law.ou.edu/hist/federalist/), Hamilton considers the judiciary.  According to Hamilton, how are judges selected, how long do they hold office, and what threat does the judiciary pose on liberty?  Do you agree with Hamilton’s assessment of the judiciary?  Do you feel that any changes should/could be made to the judiciary?  Comment and explain in a 2-3 page paper, due 24 November, 2003. 


Weeks of 17, 24 November and 1 December: The Judiciary, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Readings: W&D 15 & 16


Final Exam date to be announced!