Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science

Fall, 2006

POLS 150:  Democracy in America                                                                                                 Instructor: Halima Khan

Section 3: TTh 2-3:15, DU 246                                                                                                             E-mail:

Office Hours: TTh, 10:30 a.m. -12 noon                                                                                                Office: DU 476

                                                                                                                                                          Phone: (815) 753-1818

Description of the Course


            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 goodness and badness 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.


Why a Constitutional and Democratic focus?

            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.


Required Texts and Readings

1.   A POLS 150 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 Fifth Edition

               (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).



Policies and Expectations


Attendance: Attendance is mandatory and will be taken promptly at the start of each class.  All students are expected to be present and seated before attendance is taken.  Late-comers will not be allowed into class unless prior permission has been taken.  It is the duty of the student to inform the instructor before class in the event an absence is necessitated.  More than two unexcused absences will translate into the final grade being lowered by half a grade.   


Class Participation: It is crucial that students actively participate in class discussions.  Each student is capable of bringing a unique perspective to the subject at hand and in so doing, adds to the enrichment of all in the classroom.  It is for this reason that class participation will be graded.  I am aware that some of you are more hesitant to speak than others and would rather be active listeners.  However, I strongly encourage you to overcome these inhibitions and meet me for guidance.  It was not too long ago that I was sitting where you are now and have felt the same fears.  I know that these fears can be dealt with and participating will not only help in combating your hesitation but will also add to your personal enhancement.  I personally believe that teaching is one of the best ways of learning.  Not only does an educator impart knowledge and skills, he or she also learns from the students.  Let’s make this an enjoyable course for all, try to learn, and have fun. J


Grading: Final course grades are based on all of the required written work, the regularity and quality of class participation and attendance.  There will be 5 short quizzes, a 3 pp. paper, a mid term and a final exam. 

Scoring Weights:                                                                                      Grading Scale:

Quizzes: 25% (5% each)                                                                          A = 90% and above

Mid-term: 20%                                                                                         B = 80-89%

Final Exam: 20%                                                                                      C = 70-79%

Attendance and Class participation: 15%                                                 D = 60-69%

Paper: 20%                                                                                                F = 59% and below

                                                                                                                 No incompletes allowed


Course Policies


1. Papers.  The paper is due on the date specified.  Late papers will be accepted up to 3 days after the due date.  However, you should expect them to be docked one letter grade for each day they are late.


2. Make-up quizzes/exams.  A make-up quiz or exam will be given only with adequate documentation that the absence was unavoidable.  The make-up exams are sufficiently more difficult than the original that prudent people will avoid them where possible.


3. Appointments.  The instructor will make every reasonable effort to be available to you.  If you cannot come during scheduled office hours, please call to schedule a mutually convenient appointment.  I strongly encourage the use of email for questions, concerns, absences, etc. 


4. General Advice:   This is not a particularly “hard” course.  Keeping up with the readings, turning in assignments on time, attending class, taking notes, and participating will assure the student of a good grade. It is recommended that students read the chapter before coming to class and pace the assignments according to their schedules.  Do not wait till the last week to cram everything in.  The scoring weights are provided to help you keep track of your grades as they are turned in.  Also, as most other instructors, I do not purport to have all the answers.  I will do my best to answer your questions and I strongly recommend that you challenge the instructor so that everyone may benefit.  Please feel free to ask questions because there are no such things as “dumb” questions.  The best way to learn is by constantly questioning what we are taught and told.  Lastly, do utilize the services provided by the Writing Center to help improve your writing and editing skills.  A well-written paper is among the first steps to success.


5. Classroom Decorum:  Usage of cell-phones and other methods of communication with the outside world are strictly prohibited in the classroom.  Please make sure these instruments are turned off and stored away upon entering the room.  It is strongly advised that you take care of all personal business before the start of the class.  Once you are in the classroom, you are expected to remain in your seat till the end of the class period and be respectful of others present.  Violations of these policies will adversely affect your grade.  Any exceptions will have to be explicitly negotiated, in advance, with the instructor.


6. Extra Credit:  Without exception, extra credit is not an option.  There are plenty of opportunities to improve your grade with the course requirements and if you find you are having trouble, please seek help early in the semester.  Efforts will be made to give extra help but it is generally assumed that you will be responsible for the work in accordance with the stated deadlines.

7. Disability: NIU abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations be provided for qualified students with disabilities. If you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please contact me early in the semester so that I can provide or facilitate in providing accommodations you may need. If you have not already done so, you will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), the designated office on campus to provide services and administer exams with accommodations for students with disabilities. The CAAR office is located on the 4th floor of the University Health Services building (815-753-1303). I look forward to talking with you soon to learn how I may be helpful in enhancing your academic success in this course.
8. Academic Dishonesty: Plagiarism, cheating, and other novel forms of academic dishonesty will be dealt with seriously.  The instructor reserves the right to fail the student for the rest of the course in the event these offenses are detected.  Please do not purchase papers online or have others do the writing for you.  It is not at all difficult to detect writing that does not belong to you. 


9. Withdrawal Policy:  If you choose to stop attending class you, the student, are responsible for withdrawing from the course.  The instructor will not do so for you.  If you stop attending and have not withdrawn, a failing grade will be entered. 





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.



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

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

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

         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. 45-46. #14 in RP, p. 161. #63 in RP, p. 60-61.



 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- 1. “On Citizenship" in RP, pp. 33-35.

            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.



                   Majority Rule continued.

                  "The Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and its Effects" pp. 173, 246-48, 250-53 (tyranny of the majority), 254-56 (freedom of thought), 262-63 (what tempers tyranny of the majority).

                3. Liberty. DA, pp. 45-47. (The distinction between good and bad liberty; the relation of liberty and authority)

                4. Rights. DA, “The Idea of Rights in the United States" p. 237-40 (Why rights have to grow stronger as religion grows weaker. The distinction between “the moral conception of rights” and the idea of rights linked to interests.)


9/12   QUIZ ONE

            F. Slavery and Democracy

                 1. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1784), Lawler, pp. 247-48

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

                 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, 186.                 



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

                 1. Theodore Roosevelt, "Two Noteworthy Books on Democracy," (1914) in RP, pp. 25-27.

                 2. Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Commonwealth Club Campaign Speech," (1932) Lawler pp. 188-96.

                 3. Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Message on the State of the Union ("The Economic Bill of Rights") (1944) in RP pp. 28-29.



 Economic Democracy continued

                 4. Lyndon Johnson, "The Great Society" (1964) in Lawler pp. 206-10.

            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. 1 and Sec. 3, Cl. 1 in Lawler pp. 405and 406. For President: Art. II, Sec. 1, Cl. 2, Lawler p. 411; The Supreme Court? Sec. 2, Cl. 2, Lawler pp. 412-413.

            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.


9/26      QUIZ THREE  

            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. Why is there an inevitable expansion of the right to vote? Voting and Equality (of social conditions). DA, pp. 50-57, 503-06 (the relation of liberty to the passion for equality).



                 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 consideration. 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 (1868) and XIX (1920) in Lawler, pp. 419 and 421.


10/3      QUIZ FOUR

                 b) Extending the right to vote to blacks.

                     1) United States Constitution , 15th Amendment (1870) in Lawler p. 420.

                     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. 425.

        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.         


10/5-10/10   (QUIZ FIVE on 10/10)          

        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 pp. 411-12, 418-19.

              3) Why is the Supreme Court appointed rather than elected? Federalist Papers  #78, Lawler, pp. 120-126.

         b) The Progressive’s answer: 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.

          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. 405-06, 411-412.


10/10     PAPER ASSIGNED -- DUE 10/31.



   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. 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, Lawler pp.21- 27.

         2. What is separation of powers supposed to do?

               a. To secure liberty, guard against folly (including our own), and protect us from tyranny. Federalist Papers #48, #51, #71 in Lawler pp. 27-31, 34-38.



                         RECOMMEND STUDY GROUPS TO PREPARE FOR EXAM 11/7.


           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 86-89.

              3) Foreign Affairs. DA, pp. 226-30 (esp. 228-29).

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

              1) Constitution Art. I, Sec. 7 p. 408; Art II, Sec. 2, p. 412.

              2) Federalist Papers #78 in Lawler pp. 120-26.

              3) 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.  408-410. Amendment X,  in Lawler, p. 418.

     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. 58-63 & 246, note 1. What does Tocqueville think is the advantage of the federal system for democracy?                 

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


10/31   PAPERS DUE 10/31

            E. Religion as a political institution.

                1. DA, p. 292 (bottom).         

                 2. United States Constitution, 1st Amendment (1791), Lawler p. 416.

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

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



            Ask questions about the exam next class.

            E.  Religion as a political institution continued.

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


11/7   Mid-term EXAM



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.



            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.


11/21   Interruption to discuss “What is Thanksgiving day”?

President George Washington, “Thanksgiving Proclamation (1789); President James Madison “[Repentance and Thanksgiving] Proclamation” (1814); President Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (1863). RP, pp. 93-96.


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 pp. 419-20.

                 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.


11/23    Thanksgiving Day.


11/28    Citizenship continued  

            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. 14-16, 22-24; “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. Rep. J. C. Watts (2000) in RP, 173.


            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. 131.

                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.



                4. 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.

                5. 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.


12/12   FINAL EXAM. 2:00-3:50 pm. ESSAY & SHORT ANSWERS [including definitions of key vocabulary terms and who said what].



Important dates:

9/12/2006—Quiz One

9/19/2006—Quiz Two

9/26/2006—Quiz Three

10/3/2006—Quiz Four

10/10/2006—Quiz Five and Papers Assigned

10/31/2006—Papers Due

11/7/2006—Mid Term

12/12/2006—Final Exam