Course: POLS 150

Professor Whidden

Email: (this is the best way to contact me)

Office: Zulauf Hall 424

Office Hours (i.e. when I am available to help you outside of class): TTH 12:30-2PM




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 U.S. 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) influential non-office holders whose thought helped shape public opinion, social change and law and whose thought provided insight into both the strengths and weaknesses of American democracy. Among the latter, Tocqueville's commentary, still (160 years after its publication) commonly regarded as the best ever written, gives this course its name and spirit.




Emphasis is placed on the 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; about whether the Founder's Constitution was democratic; about whether it was a slave or a free Constitution; about whether it recognized the humanity of the Negro, as African-Americans were then called; about 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 the 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 about whether democracy, in the most humanly relevant 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 generally 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 ones 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 nations 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 which (unlike POLS 100) is not specifically 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.




All students are required to purchase their own copy of each of the following. They are available in both bookstores although Village Commons has more of #1.

1.   A Reading Packet.

2.   Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. NY:  Harper Collins Publishers, 1969                   (originally published 1833).

3.   Peter Lawler and Robert Schaefer eds. American Political Rhetoric 4th ed. (Rowman &               Littlefield, 2001).




Grades for this course are tabulated as follows:

1)      Weekly quizzes – 45% of the final grade.  I will give a weekly quiz each Thursday at the beginning of class, starting in the second week of classes.  Each quiz will ask 4-5 short answer questions pertaining to the previous week’s readings.  The quizzes are intended to test to see how well the student has mastered the readings from the previous week, after he or she has had a chance to read them, ask questions about them in class, reread them, and review lecture notes from class.  There will be 11 quizzes throughout the semester.  I will drop your lowest quiz grade.  I will not give quizzes the last few weeks of the semester so that you may begin preparing for the final exam.  You should save each of your quizzes, as many of the final exam questions will have appeared previously on them.  NOTE: Only in the rarest of circumstances will a make up quiz be given.  Whether or not a student’s excuse warrants a make up quiz is solely at the discretion of the instructor, to be determined on a case-by-case basis.  Make up quizzes are a privilege, not a right.  Students wishing to make up a quiz must, at the very least, provide a written doctor’s excuse or other suitable documentation regarding why they were unable to be in class to take the quiz with their classmates.  When the instructor grants permission to take a make up quiz, you must take the quiz before the next class session, i.e. before the following Tuesday, otherwise you forfeit your chance to make up the quiz.    

2)      Paper – 20% of the final grade.   Later in the semester, I will assign a paper that will ask you to compare and contrast several different readings.  The paper will be a 1,000-word essay, which is approximately 3 and one-third pages long, double-spaced.  It will be assigned around the middle of the semester and students will have two weeks to write their responses.

3)      Final Exam – 35% of the final grade.  The final exam will be given during the time assigned by the university during the exam week at the end of the semester.  The exam will last one hour and fifty minutes, and it will consist of primarily of short answer questions (like the ones found on the quizzes), along with a section where I will ask you to identify the author of a quotation.        





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, in Reading Packet (RP) p. 173-174.

Martin Luther King, "The Purpose of Education," 1948, in RP, pp. 175-176.



I. What is American democracy? (How American ideas of democracy have both changed and stayed the same over time.)

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

B.  The Declaration of Independence, Lawler pp. 1-4.

C.  At the Founding: How the Founders distinguished between two kinds of “popular governments”:  "democracy" and "republic." The problem of “faction” in “popular governments” and the Founders’ solution. Federalist Papers (1787-88) #10 in Lawler, pp. 15-21; #39, in Lawler, pp. 45-49. #14 in RP, p. 161. #63 in RP, p. 60-61.

9/2 QUIZ ONE (Note: From here on out there is a quiz every Thursday.)

D. Jeffersonian Democracy. Thomas Jefferson, Agriculture vs. manufacturing as ways of social life (1782), RP, pp. 161-162. First and Second Inaugural Addresses (1801, 1805) in RP, pp. 3-11. “On Citizenship" in RP, pp. 33-35.

E. Tocquevillian Democracy

     1.Equality of conditions.  DA "Author's Introduction" pp. 9-12.

     2. Majority Rule. DA, "The Principle of the Sovereignty of the People in America" pp.      58-60.


9/7            Majority Rule continued.

"The Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and its Effects" pp. 173,                                                                                                                            246-48, 250-53, 254-56, 262-63.

     3. Liberty. DA, pp. 45-47.

     4. Rights. DA, “The Idea of Rights in the United States" p. 237-40.

F. Slavery and Democracy

     1. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1784), Lawler, pp. 235-36

     2. William Lloyd Garrison, (1843) in RP p.11.


9/9-9/14    3. Frederick Douglass, speech at Rochester New York July 5, 1852, "The Meaning of

                      July Fourth for the Negro" in RP pp. 12-24.

     4. Abraham Lincoln, "Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Cemetery at

         Gettysburg," (1863), Lawler, 172.                 

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

     1. Theodore Roosevelt, "Two Noteworthy Books on Democracy," (1914) in RP,



9/16-9/21  2. Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Commonwealth Club Campaign Speech," (1932)

         Lawler pp. 174-82.

      3. Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Message on the State of the Union ("The Economic Bill

         of Rights") (1944) in RP pp. 28-29.

      4. Lyndon Johnson, "The Great Society" (1964) in Lawler pp. 193-95.

H. Civil Liberties Democracy

                West Virginia v. Barnette (1943) in RP pp. 30.

I. Civil Rights Democracy

    Martin Luther King, "I Have a Dream" speech (1963) in RP pp. 30-33.



II. What political institutions enable American democracy to exist?

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

      when did America become a democracy?

     1.Who did the original Constitution provide could vote? and for what offices? The

     Constitution, For Congress: Art. I, Sec. 2, Cl. and Sec. 3, Cl. 1 in Lawler pp. 361.

     For President: Art. II, Sec. 1, Cl. 2, Lawler p. 367; The Supreme Court? Sec. 2,

     Lawler p. 369.

     2. What are voting and elections for? How important did the Founders think the

     right to vote is? Federalist Paper #52, in RP p. 38-39.

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



     4. What is "universal suffrage"?

a)      "Chancellor Kent on Universal Suffrage", speech to the New York       Constitutional Convention of 1821, in RP pp. 39-43

b)      DA, "Universal Suffrage" pp. 58-60 [esp. 59 bottom to 60 top], 196, 240.

                 5. Voting and Equality (of social conditions) and voting. DA, pp. 50-57, 503-06.



                     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 pp. 44-47.

             2) The argument from practical considerations.

             Jane Addams, "Why Women Should Vote," (1910), in RP pp. 47-49.

             3) Is voting a right of democratic citizenship?

             Minor vs. Happersett (1875), in RP pp. 49-52.

                         4) U.S. Constitution Amendments XIV, Section 1 (1864) and XIX (1920)

                          in Lawler, p. 375, 378



         b) Extending the right to vote to blacks.

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

             2) Lyndon Johnson, “Address on Voting Rights” (1965), in RP pp. 52-58.

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

         United States Constitution, 26th Amendment (1971), Lawler, p. 382.

     6. Are any principled limits on the right to vote consistent with democracy,

         in terms either of rights or of practice?

         a) DA, pp. 197-203.

         b) “The Motor-voter Act” (1994) Carol Moseley-Braun in RP pp.59-60.      




                 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. and RP pp. 60-61.

1) Why was the Senate originally selected by state legislatures and why was that                      changed by the 17th Amendment? Federalist Papers #63, Lawler pp.84-86.

2) Why is the President elected through the "Electoral College" rather than through "direct popular election?" U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2-4 and Amendment XII in Lawler p. 367-68, 374-75.

           3) Why is the Supreme Court appointed rather than elected? Federalist Papers

           #78, Lawler, pp. 108-09, 112-13.


b)      The Progressive's: voters should be able to legislate directly (initiative

           & referendum) because representation has failed.

           1) Theodore Roosevelt, “The Heirs of Abraham Lincoln” (1913) in RP pp 154-160

           2) Theodore Roosevelt, “The Recall of Judicial Decisions” (1912) in RP pp.61-68.

Important Terms: fixed terms of office, recall, initiative, referendum, "terms limits"


10/12             c. Constitutionally who elects which federal offices?

           The Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 2, Cl. 2 and Sec. 3, Cl. 3. Art. II, Sec. 1, Cl. 3 & 5,

           in Lawler pp. 361-62, 367-68.

B. Representation, political parties and interest groups

     1.The Founders' Concern: the danger of "faction" and how representation is

      supposed to mitigate it

      Federalist Papers #10 in Lawler pp. 18-21 (read only the second half of #10);

     #57, pp.79-81; #71, pp. 87-88;  #52 in RP pp. 38-39.


      2. Tocqueville on democratic representation. DA, p. 173.


      3. The distinction between "great parties" and "small parties". DA, 174-79.

C. Separation of Powers

1.      What is separation of powers and why is it necessary? Federalist Papers #47

           in Lawler pp.21-27.


     2. What is separation of powers supposed to do?

       a. To secure liberty and protect us from tyranny.

       Federalist Papers #48, #51, #71 in Lawler pp. 27-31, 34-36, 87-88.



                  b. To make possible an energetic executive "independent" of the legislature.

       1) Federalist Papers #37, in RP pp. 90-92 (combining stability and energy).

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

       3) Foreign Affairs. DA, pp. 226-30.

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

1) Federalist Papers #78 in Lawler pp. 108-14.

2) Thomas Jefferson "Against Judicial Review"(1815), RP pp. 92-93.



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

1.      The Constitution, Article I, Secs. 8 & 9. Lawler pp. 365-66. Amendment X,

     in Lawler, p. 374.

2. The distinction between "federal" and "national." Federalist Papers #39 in Lawler         pp.46-49. Important terms: "the federal government", "the national government," "the       general government," "sovereignty," "division of sovereignty".

3. DA, pp.62-63; What does Tocqueville think is the advantage of the

     federal system for democracy? pp. 58-63 & 246, note 1.             

4.      Important terms: decentralization, federalism, federal government,

     national government.



E. Religion as a political institution.

   1. DA, p. 292 (bottom).         

                     2. United States Constitution, 1st Amendment (1791), Lawler p. 372-73.

                     3. George Washington, "Farewell Address" (1796) in Lawler pp. 43-44.

   "Thanksgiving Proclamation" (1789) in RP p. 93-94.



             E.  Religion as a political institution continued.

                DA, (1833) pp. 46-47; 287-290; 290-94; 294-301; 442-44.



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

A. Religion as political problem.

1.      Thomas Jefferson, "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom," (1786) in RP

      pp.  96-97.

2.      Thomas Jefferson, Letter "To Nehemiah Dodge and Others, A Committee of

   the Danbury Baptist Association, in the State of Connecticut," (1802) in RP pp. 98.

3.      Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (1801); Second Inaugural Address

      (1805) in RP pp. 3-11.




   4.  Justice Hugo Black, Everson v. Board of Education (1947) in RP pp. 99-104.

                     5. Ronald Reagan, "Remarks at an Ecumenical Prayers Breakfast," August 23, 1984

     in RP pp. 105-108.

6. What national holiday is celebrated on 11/11? Who knows what the three 11's on

     this day refer to?



B. Women and Democracy in America

   1. Tocqueville's view of women's equality and its consequences for democracy.                                           DA pp. 287, 291, 591, 590-92, 594-600; 600-603.

   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 pp. 108-110.



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

   1. Being born here or being naturalized. United States Constitution, 14th

    Amendment, Lawler p. 375-76.

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

     a.  Abraham Lincoln, Reply to Douglas at Chicago, Illinois, July 10, 1858 in RP

     pp. 111-113.

     b. Stephen A. Douglas, Speech from the fifth debate at Galesburg, Illinois, October 

     7, 1858 in RP pp. 113-116.

     c. Abraham Lincoln, Reply to Douglas at Galesburg, October 7, 1858 and Speech

       at Ottawa, Illinois August 21, 1858 in RP pp. 117-120.

     d. Frederick Douglass, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro," July 5, 1852,

       in RP pp.11-13, 20-21; “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision” May 11, 1857,

       pp. 131- 136.

     e. Dred Scott vs. Sanford (1856), Opinion of the Supreme Court by Chief

       Justice Taney, in RP pp. 121-128.



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 76-85.

               2. President Bill Clinton, “Mend It Don’t End It” (1995) in RP 163-168.

   3. Ward Connerly, “With Liberty and Justice for All” (1996) in RP 168-172.

4.      Rep. J. C. Watts (2000) in RP, 173.


11/25   Thanksgiving Holiday. Be thankful.




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

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

       the right of revolution successfully require law-abidingness? Or is lawlessness

       built into the foundational principles of American political life?

   2.What is law abidingness?

       Is disagreement with the Supreme Court disobedience to the law?

       Lincoln, “Speech on the Dred Scott decision”, June 26, 1857 in RP pp. 128-130.

       Frederick Douglass, "The Dred Scott Decision" May 11, 1857, in RP p. 138.

  3. What is the Thanksgiving holiday for?

      a. George Washington, “Thanksgiving Proclamation” (1789), RP, 93-94.

      b. James Madison, “[Repentance and Thanksgiving] Proclamation,”

      November 16, 1814, RP, 94-95.

      c. Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (1863), RP, 95-96.



5.Why do/should we obey the law?

   a. Because it is self-imposed. DA, pp. 240-241.

   b. Out of public spirit. Abraham Lincoln, "The Perpetuation of Our

     Political Institutions," (1838) in RP pp. 137-142.

   c. Out of enlightened self-interest. DA, pp. 235-37.

6.Civil Disobedience: Is law abidingness sometimes neither good nor a duty?

Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" (1963) in RP pp. 143-153.






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