POLS 150, Section 1                                                   Fall 2003

Instructor:  Megan Kerr                                               Course Title: Democracy in America

Office: ZU 424                                                            Course Meeting Place: DU 252

Office hours: T/TH 1:00-3:00 p.m.                             Course Meeting Time: MWF 10-10:50

and by appointment

Phone: 753-7051 (office)



What This Course Is


            POLS 150 Democracy in America studies American political and social institutions primarily through the political thought, writings, and speeches of three categories of people: 1.) the nation’s founders and the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution whose work structures the political controversies reappearing through subsequent generations; 2.) office holders who bore responsibility for dealing with these controversies and who both changed and preserved constitutional institutions and democratic thought and practice; and 3.) the influential non-office holders whose thought helped shape public opinion, social change, and law, and whose thought provided insight into both the goodness and badness of American democracy. Among the latter, Tocqueville’s commentary, is still (160 years after its publication) commonly regarded as the best ever written in this regard and is also what gives this course its name and its spirit.


Why a Constitutional and Democratic Focus?


            Emphasis is placed on the US Constitution because, as the central legitimating symbol of American political life, citizens need to understand how it frames political controversy and how it influences political and social change. To that end, we will study important debates concerning both democratic institutions and the meaning of liberty and equality from the Founding until now. Such debates include whether we needed a national government and how the framers thought it could be kept from being oppressive; disputes about what political/economic conditions make American democracy possible; successive waves of controversies about whether the suffrage (voting rights) should be expanded; whether the Founders’ Constitution was democratic; whether it was a slave or a free Constitution; whether it recognized the humanity of the Negro, as African-Americans were then called; whether the national government should regulate the economy and provide welfare; disputes about what democratic representation is; whether separation of powers prevents democracy or makes it possible; whether religion is an indispensable political institution or a persistent political problem; what makes one a citizen; what law-abidingness means and whether it is or is not a duty; and the relation of women to democratic government and society.

            The persistent and over-arching theme of this class will be the disputed question “What is democracy?” In keeping with its disputed nature, we will study a range of opposing answers. Considerable attention will be given to the perennial dispute on whether democracy, in the most humanly and ennobling sense, is possible primarily through local institutions (as maintained in the American political tradition by the anti-Federalists and Tocqueville); or whether it is possible primarily through national institutions (as maintained by the Progressives, the New Deal, and the Great Society). This dispute turns on whether democracy is understood to involve (or be) primarily “self-government” in that oneself and one’s neighbors are primarily responsible for solving the day-to-day problems of living together (as the Jeffersonian tradition down to the Republican contract with America maintains); or whether democracy is understood to involve (or be) a greater degree of national-level government to regulate the nation’s economy in order to promote “economic democracy” and secure rights (as the Hamiltonian tradition down to modern “civil liberties” and “civil rights” maintains).




            Both this over-arching theme and the nature of the readings present a distinctive approach to American democracy and government. The approach is historical, cultural, and philosophic, particularly emphasizing the mutual interdependence of governmental and social institutions. It is further distinguished by its purpose that (unlike POLS 100) is not necessarily to introduce students to the sub-field of American politics, or even to the political science major/minor (although it does that). It is aimed at all students whether or not they enter the course intending further study of political science. Its aim is deepening citizen’s understanding and awareness of persistent issues, arguments, and themes of American democracy’s development.



Required Texts and Readings


1.      A POLS 150 Reading Packet. (Although both bookstores have these packets, Village Commons Bookstores usually has more of them).


2.      Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America. NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1969

            (originally published in 1833).


3.      Peter Lawler and Robert Schaefer ed. American Political Rhetoric. Fourth Edition.

      Rowman &Littlefield, 2001.


*As we will be reading and referring to particular passages in these texts, it is essential that each student brings a copy of these editions to class.





Attendance at each class meeting is both expected and required. Attendance is defined as “being present when attendance is taken at the beginning of each class and remaining until class is dismissed.” Please do not come late to class, as this is both discourteous and disruptive. Students who come to class after attendance has been taken will be considered absent. If there are special circumstances regarding this matter, please discuss them with the instructor as soon as possible. Students with extended absences due to illness should notify the instructor as promptly as possible during the absence and produce appropriate documentation indicating the nature and duration of the illness. This note should be provided to the instructor at the first class upon returning. The student’s final grade will be reduced half a letter grade for each absence over 5.





Proper participation in class is both required and rewarded. As this is a course concerning the discussion of ideas, simple attendance without participating in discussion is insufficient. The good student will be present and attentive in class as well as actively participating in class discussion by answering questions about the assigned readings, raising their own questions, and volunteering thoughtful observations about the material. Proper class participation also requires that the student behave with proper courtesy and regard for others’ comments. Because most of our classes will involve reading and discussing passages from the assigned texts, students should bring the appropriate readings to each class. Frequent class discussion will foster a classroom environment that will be far more interesting and rewarding than a classroom environment in which the instructor simply lectures every day.







There will be 11 quizzes given throughout the semester. Only 10 of these quizzes will count toward the final grade-the lowest quiz grade will be dropped. However, the remaining ten quizzes comprise 20% of the final grade in the course. The quizzes will consist of 3 short answer questions to be completed at the beginning of class on the dates specified in this syllabus. Each quiz will cover the class lectures and assigned readings from the preceding week as well as readings assigned for the day of the quiz. Make-up quizzes will be given only with adequate documentation that the absence was unavoidable. The make-up quizzes will be significantly more difficult than the original. It is in the student’s best interest to avoid make-up quizzes if at all possible.




There will be 1 short essay (900-1000 words) assigned on the date specified in below in the syllabus. Essays are to be handed in at the beginning of class, two weeks after the assignment is made, on the due date given in the syllabus below. Late papers will be accepted up to three days after the due date; however, these papers will be docked one letter grade for each day they are late. The 1000-word limit will be taken seriously. Please provide a word count on the first page of your essay. Any paper exceeding the 1000-word limit will be docked one letter grade. Any evidence of plagiarism will be treated in accordance with university and department policies and procedures.




There will be 2 examinations in this course-a midterm examination to be taken in class

(Friday, Oct.17th) and a comprehensive final examination to be given on the date assigned by the university (Monday, Dec. 8th from 10-11:50 a.m.). Students will be expected to bring blue books to both exams. Make-up examinations will be given only with adequate documentation that the absence was unavoidable. The make-up exam will be significantly more difficult than the original. It is in the student’s best interest to avoid make-up exams if at all possible.




Final course grades are based upon the required written assignments, quizzes, and exams, as well as the regularity and quality of class participation, less any penalties due to extended unexcused absences and other non-completed course requirements. The instructor will not give a formal grade for class participation, although she reserves the right to raise a student’s grade if she judges that student’s participation to have been exceptionally good. Grades will not be lowered merely for lack of active class participation.




The instructor will make every reasonable effort to be available to you. If you cannot come during her scheduled office hours, please e-mail her to schedule a mutually convenient appointment. Her office number, phone number, and e-mail address are at the beginning of this syllabus. If you call during her office hours and are unable to reach her, first try to call again in a few minutes. If she is still unavailable, please e-mail her and she will get back to you promptly.









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.




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 this site, go to




1. Class Participation--The best way to prepare for each class is to do the readings at least once (some require

    more than one reading) prior to the first day we begin each unit. You will be much better able to participate in

    discussion and to grasp the class discussions if you have done so.


2. Good Note Taking—Good note taking is important to your success in this class. Learn to listen carefully to

    the arguments made and write them down as best as you can. Review your notes after class to see if they

    make sense. By reviewing them soon after they are taken, sometimes you can remember things that will make

    sense out of what is confusing. Be sure to write down the questions asked by the instructor and those asked

    by other students. If you write down their questions, as well as their answers, you will benefit.


3. Establish Study Groups—Get together with other students periodically to go over one another’s notes. If

    you got 50% of the lecture and your study partners got 50%, perhaps among you all, you will have 75%.

    What remains unclear can be discussed with the instructor.





*The following schedule is meant to serve as a broad outline of this course. The instructor reserves the right to make reasonable adjustments to the schedule if necessary.



MONDAY 08/25


Introduction: What is Liberal Education and how does the study of democracy in America foster it?


            Horace Mann, “Go Forth and Teach,” July 4, 1842, RP p.181.

            Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Purpose of Education,” 1948, RP p.183




I. What is American democracy? How American ideas of democracy have both changed and      

    stayed the same.




A. Democracy in America before the Constitution. Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1833), p.31-49.


FRIDAY 08/29


B. The Declaration of Independence, in Lawler, p.1-4.


MONDAY 09/01 No Class-Labor Day Holiday




C. At the Founding: Two kinds of “popular government” and the problem of “faction.”

1.      How the Founders distinguished between two kinds of popular governments: “democracy” and  “republic.” Federalist Papers #14 in RP, p.171; Federalist Papers #63 in RP, p.164; and

       Federalist Papers #39 in Lawler, p.45-49.


FRIDAY 09/05 QUIZ #1


      2.   The problem of “faction” in “popular governments” and the Founders’ solution. Federalist Papers #10 in

            Lawler, p.15-21.


MONDAY 09/08


D. Jeffersonian Democracy: Thomas Jefferson, Agriculture vs. manufacturing as ways of social life (1782),

      RP, p.171-172. First and Second Inaugural Addresses (1801, 1805) in RP, p.3-8.

      “On Citizenship,” RP, p.30-31.




E. Tocquevillian Democracy:

1.      Equality of Conditions. DA  “Author’s Introduction,” p.9-12; 50-57; 503-506.


FRIDAY 09/12 QUIZ #2


2.      Majority Rule. DA “The Principle of the Sovereignty of the People of America,” p.58-60. “The

      Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and its Effects,” p.173; 246-256; 262-263.

3.      Liberty. DA, p.45-47.

4.      Rights. DA “The Idea of Rights in the United States,” p.237-240.







MONDAY 09/15


F. Slavery and Democracy:

1.      Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1784), Lawler, p.235-236.

2.      William Lloyd Garrison, (1843) in RP, p.9.

3.      Frederick Douglass, speech at Rochester, NY, July 5, 1852, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” in RP, p.9-21.




4.   Abraham Lincoln, “Reply to Douglas at Chicago, Illinois,” July 10, 1858, in RP, p.119-121.

5.      Abraham Lincoln, “Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg,” (1863), in 

Lawler, p.172.


FRIDAY 09/19 QUIZ #3


G. Economic Democracy: The Progressives, the New Deal, and the Great Society.

1.      Theodore Roosevelt, “Two Noteworthy Books on Democracy,” (1914) in RP, p.22-26.

2.      Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Commonwealth Club Campaign Speech,” (1932) in Lawler, p.174-182.




3.   Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Message on the State of the Union,” (“The Economic Bill of Rights”) (1944) in

           RP, p.26-27.

4.      Lyndon B. Johnson, “The Great Society,” (1964) in Lawler, p.193-195.




H. Civil Liberties Democracy

      West Virginia v. Barnette (1943) in RP, p.27.

I. Civil Rights Democracy

     Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream” speech (1963) in RP, p.28-29.


II. What political institutions enable American democracy to exist?


FRIDAY 09/26 QUIZ #4


A. Voting: If “everyone” must have a right to vote in order to be a democracy, when did America become a


1.      Who did the original Constitution provide who could vote? For what offices? For Congress: US

Constitution Article I, Section 2, Clause 1 and Article I, Section 3, Clause 1 in Lawler, p.361-362.

For President: US Constitution Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, in Lawler p.367. For the Supreme Court:

US Constitution, Article III, Section 2, Clause 2, in Lawler, p.369.

2.      What are voting and elections for? How important did the Founders think that the right to vote is?

Federalist Papers #52 in RP, p.34.

      3. Who should have a right to vote? Federalist Papers #39 in Lawler, p.45-46.




MONDAY 09/29


      4. What is “universal suffrage”?

           a.) “Chancellor Kent on Universal Suffrage” speech to the New York Constitutional Convention of 1821,

                  in RP, p.34-38.

           b.) DA “Universal Suffrage,” p.58-60 [especially bottom of p.59 to top of p.60], 196, 240.




      5. Voting and Equality (of social conditions) and voting. Review Tocqueville, DA, p.50-57; 503-506.

a.)    Extending the right to vote to women

1.) The argument from rights. “The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions,”

     July 19, 1848, in RP, p.38-41.

2.) The argument from practical considerations. Jane Addams, “Why Women Should Vote,” (1910)

      in RP, p.41-43.

3.) Is voting a right of democratic citizenship? Minor v. Happersett (1875) in RP, p.43-45.

4.) US Constitution Amendment XIV, Section 1 (1864) and Amendment XIX (1920) in

                      Lawler, p.375, 378.


FRIDAY 10/03 QUIZ #5


b.)  Extending the right to vote to blacks

1.) US Constitution, 15th Amendment (1870) in Lawler, p.377.

2.) Lyndon B. Johnson, “Address on Voting Rights,” (1965) in RP, p.45-51.

c.)  Extending the right to vote to 18 year olds.

                 1.) US Constitution, 26th Amendment (1971) in Lawler, p.382.

      6. Are there any principled limits on the right to vote consistent with democracy, in terms of either

          rights or practice?

a.)    DA , p.197-203.

b.)    “The Motor-voter Act,” (1994) Carol Moseley-Braun in RP, p.51-52.




      7. Who/what should voters have a right to vote for (directly)?

a.)    The Constitution’s answer: They should be able to vote for their representatives, but not directly for

laws, in RP, p.164.

1.) Why was the Senate originally selected by state legislatures and why was that changed by the 17th

                       Amendment? Federalist Papers #63, Lawler, p.84-86.

                  2.) Why is the President elected through the “Electoral College” rather than through “direct popular

                        election”? US Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2-4, and Amendment XII in

                        Lawler, p.367-368; 374-375.

                  3.) Why is the Supreme Court appointed rather than elected? Federalist Papers #78, in

                        Lawler, p.108-109, 112-113.









 b.) The Progressives’ answer: Voters should be able to legislate directly (initiative and referendum)

                  because representation has failed.

1.) Theodore Roosevelt, “The Heirs of Abraham Lincoln,” (1913) in RP, p.164-171.

2.)    Theodore Roosevelt, “The Recall of Judicial Decisions,” (1912) in RP, p.53-59.

            c.) Constitutional limits on citizen’ right to vote for representatives

1.)    Fixed terms of office/progressive arguments for recall/”term limits”

2.)    Constitutional requirements to hold office: age, residency, and citizenship. US Constitution Article I, Section 2, Clause 2, and Article I, Section 3, Clause 3. Article II, Section 1, Clauses 3 and 5. In Lawler, p.361-362; 367-368.


FRIDAY 10/10 QUIZ #6


B. Representation, Political Parties, and Interest Groups

     1. The Founders’ Concern: What should democratic representation do?

          a.) Alexander Hamilton, Publius Letter, III (1778), “On the Character of the Legislator,” in RP, p.59-60.

          b.) Federalist Papers #10 in Lawler, p.15-21; #57 in Lawler, p.79-81; #71 in Lawler, p.87-88;

               #52 in RP p.34.

b.)    DA, p.173, 174-179.


MONDAY 10/13


      2. Recent judicial concerns about representation

          a.) US Constitution, Amendment 14, Section 1, in Lawler, p.375-376.

          b.) Chief Justice Warren in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) in RP, p.60-66. Representation is secondary to and

               derivative from voting rights and voting rights are understood essentially in light of the Equal

               Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

           c.) Dissent by Justice Harlan in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) in RP, p.64-66. Denies there is any

                constitutional standard for what constitutes just apportionment.

c.)    Important terms: representative districts, apportionment.




FRIDAY 10/17 MIDTERM EXAM (In class, short answer, fill in the blank, definitions of key

                          vocabulary terms, and who said what). Be sure to bring BLUEBOOKS!


MONDAY 10/20 Hand Back and Discuss Midterm Exam




C. Separation of Powers

     1. What is separation of powers and why is it necessary? Federalist Papers #47 in Lawler, p.21-27.

     2. What is separation of powers for?

          a.) To secure liberty and protect us from tyranny

1.)    Federalist Papers #48, #51, and #71 in Lawler, p.27-31, 34-38, and 87-88.

2.)    Justice Brandeis in Myers v. US (1926) in RP, p.92-93.



FRIDAY 10/24 QUIZ #7


b.) To make possible an energetic executive “independent” of the legislature

1.)    Federalist Papers #37 in RP, p.93-94 (combining stability and energy)

2.)  Federalist Papers #70 in Lawler, p.86-87.

3.) DA , “Foreign Affairs” p.226-230.

c.)    To make possible an independent judiciary to enforce the Constitution and laws

1.) Federalist Papers #78 in Lawler, p.244-249.

2.)    Thomas Jefferson, “Against Judicial Review,” (1815) in RP, p.98-99.


MONDAY 10/27


D. Federalism: What is it and why do we have it?

     1. US Constitution, Article I, Sections 8 and 9, in Lawler, p.365-366. Amendment X, in Lawler, p.374.

     2. The distinction between “federal” and “national.” Federalist Papers #39 in Lawler, p.45-49.

          a.) Important terms: “the federal government,” “the national government,” “the general government,”     

               “sovereignty,” and “division of sovereignty.”




     3. DA, p.62-63; 158-63; and 246, note 1.

     4. Ronald Reagan, “The State of the Union Address,” (1982) in Lawler, p.61-62.

5.      Garcia v. San Antonio (1985) in Lawler, p.62-66.

6.      Important terms: decentralization, federalism, federal government, and national government.


FRIDAY 10/31 QUIZ #8


E. Religion as a political institution

     1. DA , p.46-47; 287-290; 290-294; 294-301; 442-444.

     2. US Constitution, 1st Amendment (1791) in Lawler, p.372-373.


MONDAY 11/03


      3. George Washington, “Farewell Address,” (1796) in Lawler, p.43-44.

 4. George Washington, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” (1789) in RP, p.99-100; James Madison   

     “[Repentance and Thanksgiving] Proclamation” November 16, 1814, in RP, p.100-101;

      Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (1863) in RP, p.101-102.


III. Persistent questions about the meaning of liberty and equality in American democracy




A. Religion as a political problem:

      1. Thomas Jefferson, “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” (1786), in RP, p.102-103.

      2. Thomas Jefferson, Letter to “Nehemiah Dodge and Others, A Committee of the Danbury Baptist

           Association, in the state of Connecticut,” (1802) in RP, p.103-104.

      3. Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address (1801) and Second Inaugural Address (1805) in RP, p.3-8.



FRIDAY 11/07 QUIZ #9


      4. Justice Hugo Black, Everson v. Board of Education (1947) in RP, p.104-109.

      5. Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at an Ecumenical Breakfast,” August 23, 1984, in RP, p.109-112.




B. Women and democracy in America:

      1. Tocqueville’s view of women’s equality and its consequences for democracy. DA , p.287, 291, and


      2. A contemporary view of women’s equality and its relation to democracy. “Change: From What to What,”  

          Keynote speech by Barbara Jordan to the Democratic National Convention, July 1992, in RP, p.117-119.


FRIDAY 11/14 QUIZ #10


C. Citizenship: What makes one an American? Proposition 187 and the recent immigration debate.

     1. Being born here or being naturalized? US Constitution 14th Amendment, in Lawler, p.375-376.

     2. Dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal.

         a.) The Declaration of Independence, Lawler, p.1-4

         b.) Abraham Lincoln, Reply to Douglas at Chicago, Illinois, July 10, 1858, in RP, p.119-121

         c.) Dred Scott v. Sanford (1856), Opinion of the Supreme Court by Chief Justice Taney, in RP, p.128-134.


MONDAY 11/17


         d.) Abraham Lincoln, “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision,” June 26, 1857, in RP, p.136-138; Frederick

              Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” July 5, 1852, in RP, p.11-13, 20-21;

              Frederick Douglass, “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision, “ May 11, 1857, in RP, p.138-143.




e.) Stephen A. Douglas, Speech from the fifth debate at Galesburg, Illinois, October 7, 1858, in

     RP, p.121-124.

f.) Abraham Lincoln, Reply to Douglas at Galesburg, Illinois, October 7, 1858, in RP, p.124-128.


FRIDAY 11/21 QUIZ #11


D. Affirmative Action: Should constitutional rights belong to individuals or to groups?

      1. Robert Goldwin, “Why Blacks, Women, and Jews are not mentioned in the Constitution,” (1987) in

          RP, p.80-88.


MONDAY 11/24

      2. Bill Clinton, “Mend it Don’t End It,” (1995) in RP, p.172-177.

       3. Ward Connerly, “With Liberty and Justice for All,” (1996) in RP, p.177-180.

  4. Representative J.C. Watts (2000) in RP, p.181.






MONDAY 12/01


F. Law-abidingness: Should I obey the law?

     1. Remember the Declaration of Independence? Can a political system founded on a right of revolution  

         successfully require law-abidingness? Or is lawlessness built into the foundational principles of American

         political life?

     2. What is law-abidingness?

          a.) Is disagreement with the Supreme Court disobedience to the law?

               1.) Abraham Lincoln, “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision,” June 26, 1857, in RP, p.136-138.

               2.) Frederick Douglass, “The Dred Scott Decision, “ May 11, 1857, in RP, p.138.

               3.) Frederick Douglass, “Speech on the Civil Rights Case,” in RP, p.143-148.




     3. Why do/should we obey the law?

          a.) Out of enlightened self-interest. DA, p.235-237.

          b.) Because it is self-imposed. DA, p.240-241.

          c.) Out of public spirit. Abraham Lincoln, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” (1838) in

               RP, p.149-154.

4. Civil Disobedience: Is law-abidingness sometimes neither good nor a duty? Martin Luther King, Jr.,

    “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” (1963) in RP, p.152-164.




MONDAY 12/08 FINAL EXAM 10-11:50 a.m. (Essay and short answers-including

                             definitions of key vocabulary terms and who said what). Be sure to bring