POLS 100, Sections 1-6

Intro to American Government and Politics

MWF 10-10:50

Professor Mikel Wyckoff

Office: Zulauf 403

Hours: M 11-12:15; W 12-1:15 and By Appointment

753-7056 mwyckoff@niu.edu



Teaching Assistants:

Section 1 (GH 342)  Mr. James Bagaka jbagaka@niu.edu

Section 2 (GH 424)  Ms. Jessica Jones jjones7@niu.edu

Section 3 (AB 103)  Ms. Anja Hartleb ahartleb@niu.edu

Section 4 (AB 102)  Mr. Joseph Scanlon jscanlon@niu.edu

Section 5 (DU 280)  Ms. Elissa Stowell estowell@niu.edu

Section 6 (DU 276)  Mr. Paul Vasholz pvasholz@niu.edu



NOTE: Review Questions for Exams 1-3 can be found at the end of this online syllabus. Scroll down to find them.





This course provides a college level introduction to the American political system and serves as a prerequisite for some upper level courses in American Government. Three general topics will be covered during the semester: (1) politics and the democratic process in the United States; (2) basic principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights; and (3) the national policy making institutions of the United States. In addition to the standard textbook topics, we will also keep an eye on President Bush as he seeks to maintain support for the War in Iraq as he confronts an increasingly aggressive Democratic Congress and a declining approval rating.





The following textbook is required and should be available at either of the campus bookstores:


Janda, Berry, Goldman and Hula, The Challenge of Democracy (brief edition, 6th edition, 2006).


Also, please note that several additional required readings must be located online at various Internet websites. Consult the outline below for specific assignments. Occasionally this may involve using a computer at an NIU computing lab to gain access to sites for which NIU has paid subscription fees (e.g., www.jstor.org ). For an online version of this syllabus with links to required readings go to www.polisci.niu.edu .





Cell Phones & Class Decorum. With rare exceptions, cell phones, Ipods, etc. should be turned off before class starts. I ask also that you be civil during class and respect the needs of your fellow students, most of whom actually will be trying to do well in the course! If you dont, the grouchy old professor may ask you to leave.


General Advice. Your best strategy for success is to keep up with the assigned readings, attend class regularly, take good notes, and then study (!) for the exams. Study guides are provided (see the online syllabus) but a good set of notes and a familiarity with key readings will be your best guide to the content of the exams.


Exams. Three hourly exams will be given. All will be multiple choice in format and each will contribute 22.5% to your final grade. Even though it is not a comprehensive final, Exam III will be administered during finals week. Barring extraordinary circumstances everyone must take Exam III at that time.


Written Assignments. About every other week you will prepare a brief essay (1-2 pages of text, typed and double-spaced) reacting to one of the lecture topics for that week. The course outline (below) will tell you exactly when papers are due. Papers not submitted in person during your Friday morning discussion session will normally receive a grade reduction of at least one letter. Exceptions will be made for persons experiencing extraordinary circumstances as defined below under makeup exams. My TAs and I regard these papers as a serious part of the course, so spelling, grammar, and sentence structure will be taken into account when assigning grades. Together, your short essays will contribute an additional 22.5% to your final grade.


Opportunity to Participate in Experimental Research. Students who opt to participate in an experimental study conducted by Professor Rebecca Hannagan may drop the lowest of their six essay scores. Professor Hannagan studies biopolitical issues and will be running a series of experiments on campus this semester. As an incentive for you to help with her research, students who participate in one of her experiments may drop the lowest of their scores on the six written assignments described above (yes, even if it is a zero). Professor Hannagan will be on hand soon to make a brief presentation about the nature and organization of her studies. I hope some of you will enjoy this activity, but please be assured that your participation in this research project is entirely voluntary.


Participation in Discussion Sections. I strongly encourage you to attend your Friday morning discussion section because: (1) participation in these meetings will contribute 10% to your final course grade; (2) your discussion leaders are the ones who will be grading your written assignments (worth 22.5% of your course grade) and who will be there for help when you need it; (3) this is a great chance to discuss issues of government and politics in a small group setting. Those who take the course seriously will want to attend.


Final Grade Computations. Based on the weights mentioned above, when computing your final grade I will use the following formula in my spread sheet:


            Final Grade = .225(Exam I) + .225(Exam 2) + .225(Exam 3) + .225(Avg. for 6 Written Assignments) + .10(Discussion Section Participation)


Makeup exams and grades of incomplete will be provided cheerfully when needed, but only for reasons of significant illness, family tragedy, being away on university business, or other extraordinary circumstances. Furthermore, evidence of the extraordinary circumstance normally must be documented by the student. Should makeup exams be necessary, I reserve the right to switch to an essay format if I deem it necessary.


Extra credit. Sorry, none is available. No exceptions. If you find youre having trouble, seek help early in the semester and devise strategies for improving your performance on required exams and assignments.


Students with Disabilities. NIU abides by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. If you have a disability and require some type of instructional accommodation, please let me know. If you have not already done so, you will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources, the office on campus that provides services for students with disabilities. The CAAR office is located in the University Health Services building (753-1303).





I will do my best to adhere to the following schedule, but I reserve the right to make modifications if needed.




A. Organizational Issues and Basics of Government and Politics (Week of August 27)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 1, pp. 1-12.

                        John Locke, Chapter 9 from The Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690);

                        locate at: http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/l/locke/john/l81s/chapter9.html

                        W. Saletan, "What Reagan Got Wrong," locate at www.slate.com/id/2101835


B. Public Opinion and Ideology in America (September 5 and 10)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 1, pp. 12-17; Ch. 4, especially pp. 91-102 & 109-end.

                        Paul Krugman, "The Waiting Game" and "Health Care Terror" locate at:

                        www.nytimes.com (in TimesSelect, 7/16/07 and 7/22/07).

                        Maureen Dowd, Outing the Out of Touch, www.nytimes.com (in TimesSelect, 6/10/07).

                        Clarence Page, Ron Paul Big on Net, and When Did Liberal Become a Dirty Word,

                        Locate both at www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists                 


            Write:   First, run IDEALOG at www.uspolitics.org (do the readings and the survey you find there).

                        Then write a 1-2 page essay explaining which ideological category you wound up in (liberal,

                        conservative, libertarian or communitarian) and why. Due Friday, September 14.


C. Thinking about Democracy (September 12)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 1, pp. 17-end and p. 163 (The Model of Responsible Party Government).

                        Federalist Paper #10; locate at : www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed.htm

                        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? When trying to control factions does he favor: (1) direct or indirect

                        democracy? (2) majority rule or pluralistic democracy? (3) a large nation or a small nation?


D. Political Parties (Week of September 17)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 6.

                        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).


            Write: In this article, Key proposes the concept of a critical election. 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 1-2 page paper due Friday, September 21.


E. Interest Group Politics (Week of September 24)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 7 and review Ch. 1, pp. 22-24 (pluralistic democracy).                


EXAM I: Friday, September 28 (administered in discussion section)





A. Constitutional Origins (Week of October 1)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 2, pp. 31-42, 48-51.

                        Declaration of Independence, in JBGH, pp. A1-A3.

                        John Roche, The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action, American Political Science

                        Review (1961), Intro and Parts 2-4, pp. 799-800 and 803-811 (at http://www.jstor.org/ )


B. Principles of the Constitution I (Week of October 8)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 2, pp. 42-48, 51-end.

                        Federalist Paper #51; locate at : www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed.htm

                        You may also wish to review Federalist 10.


            Write: Still concerned about the dangers of factions, in Federalist 51 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 1-2 page paper (due Friday October 12).


C. Principles of the Constitution II: Federalism (Monday, October 15)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 3, pp. 62-79, 81-end.

                        U.S. v. Lopez, 1995 (locate at www.findlaw.com). Read the first 3-4 pages of Justice

                        Rehnquist's opinion for the Court and the first 3-4 pages of Justice Breyer's dissent (scroll

                        down some 30 pages to find it). Compare and contrast these opposing interpretations of

                        Congress' authority stemming from the commerce clause.


D. Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights (October 17, 22, 24)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 12 and Amendment 1-10 & 14, p. A11-A15.

                        Engel v. Vitale (1962); locate at www.findlaw.com


            Write:   Read Justice Blacks opinion of the Court in Engel v. Vitale and Justice Stewarts dissenting

                        opinion. Compare and contrast these two conflicting interpretations of the establishment

                        clause. Which is most convincing to you? Why? (1-2 page paper due Friday, October 26)


E. Civil Rights (Week of October 29)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 5, pp. 127-130 and Ch. 13.

                        Loving v. Virginia (1967); locate at www.findlaw.com

                        "The Heterosexual Revolution," at: www.stephaniecoontz.com/articles/article21.htm


EXAM II: Friday, November 2 (administered in discussion section)





A. The Supreme Court and Judicial Review (Week of November 5 )


Read:   JBGH, Ch. 11 and Article III, pp. A9-A10.

                        C. Krauthammer, "From Thomas, Original Views," locate at:


                        Olmstead v. U.S. (1928); locate at www.findlaw.com. Read only Justice Brandeis Dissent.


B. Presidential and Congressional Elections (Week of November 12)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 6, pp. 163-175 and Ch. 8, pp. 205-210.

                        Federalist Paper #68 ( locate at www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed.htm)

            Jack Rakove, The Accidental Electors,. NY Times (12/19/00) Handout.


            Write:   Writing in Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton argues that the Electoral College is a

                        sophisticated institution carefully designed by the great thinkers at the Constitutional

                        Convention. Based on his reading of the debates that actually occurred at the Convention,

                        scholar Jack Rakove has a different analysis of the origins of this peculiar institution.

                        Discuss in a 1-2 page paper due Friday, November 16.


C. The U.S. Congress (November 19 and 26)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 8 and Article I of the Constitution, pp. A3-A6, especially sections 8 & 9.


            Write: Go to thomas.loc.gov . Click on House of Representatives, then on Committees (see

                        left column, both pages). Investigate several of these standing committees. Then write a

                        paper explaining which committee you would like to work on if you were a new member of

                        the House. Among the questions you should consider: (a) What kinds of bills would you be

                        dealing with? (b) How would this committee help you represent the district from which you

                        were elected? (1-2 page paper due Friday, November 30)


D. The Presidency & the Executive Branch (November 28 and Week of December 3)


Read:   JBGH, Ch. 9, pp. 235-238 and Ch. 10, pp. 254-263 (executive branch organization).

                        JBGH, Ch. 9, pp. 229-234, 238-end and Article II, pp. A7‑A9 (pres. powers and leadership).



EXAM III: 10:00 a.m., Monday, December 10 here in Cole Auditorium



Pols 100, Professor Wyckoff

Exam 1 Review Questions

1. Define: government, politics, public policy. What functions do governments perform for society?. What alternatives to government are available to us?

2. Be familiar with basic terms: (1) totalitarianism, libertarianism, anarchism; (2) socialism, capitalism, laissez-faire.

3. Be familiar with the values of freedom, order and equality as defined in the textbook and lecture.

4. In 20th Century America the most commonly used ideological labels are "liberal" and "conservative." Know what these terms mean in the context of: (1) economic policy; and (2) issues of order and morality. Furthermore, know how economic liberalism emerged in the era of the Great Depression and how this kind of liberalism relates to the policies of the New Deal. Be familiar with the historical circumstances that led to a debate over issues of order and morality instead of economics in the 1960s.

5. By cross-classifying economic liberalism-conservatism with order/morality liberalism-conservatism Janda generates four different ideological classifications. Be familiar with them (liberals, conservatives, libertarians, communitarians) and the value tradeoffs that underlie them.

6. Define "political party." What functions do political parties perform for democratic political systems, according to the lecture? Be familiar with "responsible party democracy" as one approach to majority rule democracy.

7. What is a "critical" or "realigning" election and how did V.O. Key demonstrate that critical realignment occurred in the New England region in the late 1920s and early 1930s? Using the New Deal realignment as an example, explain how critical elections have helped promote democracy in America. What kind of party era do we find ourselves in now and how did it come about?

8. How do interest groups differ from political parties? How do interest groups try to influence public policy? What type of democracy do interest groups tend to promote? What are the pitfalls of relying too much on interest groups to provide democracy?

9. There are many ways to think about democracy and how democratic political systems work. Discuss and evaluate democracy in America using the ideas encountered in this course (in the lecture and in Chapter 2 of Janda, Berry and Goldman).

10. 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 gotten rid of? In dealing with factions does he prefer: (1) direct or indirect democracy? (2) majority rule or pluralistic democracy? (3) a large nation or a small nation? Explain.



Pols 100, Professor Wyckoff

Study questions for Exam II

1. In the 1760s and 1770s, the British government adopted a variety of policies that greatly offended the colonists. Why, given their history, did the colonists react so negatively?

2. What body served as a national government for the colonists during the Revolutionary War? What two significant founding documents were adopted by this body (one with the help of Thomas Jefferson)?

3. What kind of national government operated in the U.S. during most of the 1780s? What factors led to its demise?

4. What kinds of people attended the Constitutional Convention of 1787? What major issues were debated and what major agreements were achieved there? According to Roche, what does all of this tell us about the founders of the Constitution?

5. Still concerned about the dangers of factions, in Federalist 51 Madison hopes to use the very structure and organization of government to create a system of checks and balances. Discuss the logic of his separation of powers/checks and balances system. One requirement is that every branch have a "will" of its own. How does the Constitution encourage that? Also, certain branches deserve special attention. Explain.

6. Why isnt the Bill of Rights found in the main body of the Constitution? Identify: the federalists, the anti-federalists, the Federalist Papers.

7. Over the course of our history, the relative powers of the national and state governments have varied with the outcomes of presidential elections, wars, and Supreme Court decisions (e.g., McCulloch v. Maryland). Be familiar with major events and turning points discussed in the lecture on federalism.

8. Know the opinion of the Supreme Court in Barron v. Baltimore (1833). Why is Amendment 14 such an important addition to the original Bill of Rights? What does Amendment 14 have to do with the "selective incorporation of the Bill of Rights."

9. In Engle v. Vitale, the Courts majority decision and Justice Stewarts rebuttal display two different interpretations of the establishment clause. Compare and contrast these two conflicting interpretations. Which is most convincing to you? Why?

10. Know the key provisions of Amendment I (discussed in class) and how those provisions have been interpreted by the Supreme Court in Near v. Minnesota (1931), N.Y. Times v. U.S. (1971), Miller v. California (1973), Schenck v. U.S. (1919), Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971).

11. Know the key provisions of Amendments IV- VIII (discussed in class) and how those provisions have been interpreted by the Court in Mapp v. Ohio (1961), Miranda v. Arizona (1966), and Gideon v. Wainwright (1963).

12. Know how a Constitutional "right to privacy" was defined by the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and know how that right has a bearing on the decision of Roe v. Wade (1973).

13. Be familiar with major events and turning points in the struggle for racial equality (e.g., Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857; Civil Rights Cases, 1883; Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896; Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965) discussed in the lecture on civil rights in America.

14. Be familiar with major events and turning points in the struggle for womens equality.

15. Be able to identify the basic contents (e.g., Article I defines the legislative branch of government) of Articles I - VI and Amendments 1 - 15.



Pols 100, Professor Wyckoff

Study Questions for Exam III

1. The American court system: (1) in reality we have two different court systems; why? (2) within each system there are courts with different functions; what are those functions and what names do the courts go by? (3) how do judges in Illinois differ from federal court judges with regard to manner of selection and terms of office? (4) what conditions must be met to bring a case before the U.S. Supreme Court? (5) what happens when a case is heard by the U.S. Supreme Court?

2. Judicial Interpretation: (1) what is the power of judicial review, and what is the source of that power? (2) There are two general schools of thought with regard to how judges should go about interpreting the Constitution: "judicial activism" and "judicial restraint." Be familiar with the basic tenets of each.

3. According to Madison, "In a republic the legislative authority necessarily predominates." What did he mean by that and what evidence do we have that the founders really believed in this principle?

4. Be familiar with legislative reapportionment redistricting. When do these processes occur and why? Who is responsible? What is gerrymandering?

5. What factors favor incumbents in House and Senate races?

6. Bicameralism: Know the basic differences between the House and Senate.

7. Be familiar with the various stages in the legislative process: (1) introduction and referral; (2) processing in committee; (3) scheduling (e.g., by the House Rules Committee); (4) floor debate (note House and Senate differences here); (4) conference committee adjustments; (5) presentment to the president.

8. Regarding party leadership and organization: (1) what is a party caucus? (2) who are the day-to-day party leaders in the House and Senate? (3) who are the Constitutional presiding officers in each house and why are two of them relatively unimportant most of the time? (4) why is it advantageous to be a member of the majority party in Congress?

9. Nominations: (1) what are primary elections and how did we come to use primaries as the principal method of making nominations in the U.S.? (2) how do primary elections differ from state to state?

10. Presidential nominations involve both primaries and conventions. Explain. What does it take to win a presidential nomination?

11. Know the basic rules and procedures involved in the Electoral College. What potentially undesirable outcomes can occur with this method of presidential selection? Why did the Framers of the Constitution adopt the Electoral College?

12. What are the major elements of the White House Executive Office and why are these groups sometimes more important than the Cabinet?

13. Define the term "bureaucracy." Know the major kinds of bureaucratic organizations found in the federal government (departments, independent executive agencies, independent regulatory boards, and government corporations).

14. What major Constitutional roles or powers are granted to the President in Article I and II? What other kinds of informal powers and resources are required for effective presidential leadership? Why are some presidents more successful with their legislative proposals than others?