POLS 150 – 2

Democracy in America


Fall 2007



Prof. Ross J. Corbett                                815-753-7044                                     rcorbett@niu.edu

Tue., Thu. 11:00am–12:15pm                                               Office Hours:    Wed. 3:00–4:00pm           

McMurry Hall 202                                                                                            Thu. 1:00–3:00 pm

                                                                                                                                  Zulauf Hall 412



The United States of America has been called a liberal democracy, a representative democracy, a democratic republic, a democracy, a republic, a liberal republic, etc.  These terms do not convey the same thing, at least unambiguously.  Some who call it a republic, for example,  do so in order to assert that it is not a democracy; others get a subtly different point across by saying that it is a liberal democracy, or a democratic republic.  This course will not attempt to fix which is the best way of describing the United States — such a task would require that these descriptions have less nebulous meanings than they in reality do.  Rather, we will examine what is at stake in the arguments over what best to call our country.


This course is divided into six main units.  Its focus is a peculiarity of American political discourse:  by and large, political argument in the United States has come to be expressed as disagreements over the “true” meaning of our original political ideals and institutions.  In the first unit, you will explore two very different arguments for civil disobedience; in the second, Lincoln’s reinterpretation of the federal government in the name of the Revolution.  The third unit covers the debates that occurred surrounding the ratification of the Constitution over how best to instantiate the principles of the Revolution.  These debates were prepared by a current in English political philosophy a century earlier, which you will examine in units four and five.  We will conclude the course by looking at Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.


Attentive students can expect to leave this course with a deepened understanding of the questions which retain their salience in American political life and an increased facility in speaking about the fundamental principles of the United States and its government.  This possibility presumes a good working knowledge of the basic structures of the federal government, including federalism, checks & balances, enumerated rights, political parties, elections, etc.; students who lack this knowledge would be better served by taking POLS 100.

Required Texts

Hamilton, Madison, & Jay.  The Federalist Papers.  Ed. Clinton Rossiter.  New York:  Signet Classics, 2003.  ISBN:  0451528816

The Anti-Federalist Papers and Constitutional Convention Debates.  Ed. Ralph Ketcham.  New York:  Signet Classics, 2003.  ISBN:  0451528840

The Declaration of Independence and Other Great Documents of American History.  Ed. John Grafton.  Mineola, NY:  Dover Publications, 2000.  ISBN:  0486411249

Henry David Thoreau.  Civil Disobedience and Other Essays.  Mineola, NY:  Dover Publications, 1993.  ISBN:  0486275639

Alexis de Tocqueville.  Democracy in America.  Trans. Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2000.  ISBN:  0226805360

John Locke.  Second Treatise of Government.  Ed. Richard Cox.  Wheeling, IL:  Harlan Davidson, 1982.  ISBN:  0882951254

———.  A Letter Concerning Toleration.  Ed. James Tully.  Indianapolis:  Hackett, 1983.  ISBN:  091514560X

Thomas Hobbes.  Leviathan.  Ed. Edwin Curley.  Indianapolis:  Hackett, 1994.  ISBN:  0872201775



10%     Weekly Papers, no more than 300 words in length, due by the beginning of each Thursday seminar on topics assigned in class.  There will be no paper due in weeks where you hand in an essay, the last class, or any cancelled class.  The lowest paper will be dropped (i.e., ten papers, nine of which count).

15%      Class Participation.

15%      Midterm Exam, in class October 16.

25%     Long Essay, due November 15 by 5:00pm.  Essays should not exceed 2000 words.

35%     Final Exam, December 11, 10:00am–11:50am.


While NIU does not allow for final grades that have plusses or minuses, work during the semester will be assessed with plusses and minuses.  I will convert these grades to number scores, and convert them back at the end of the semester (stripping all plusses and minuses from the grade).  I use the following scale:


























Course Expectations & Policies

APPOINTMENTS:  I can arrange to meet students by appointment if the above office hours are inconvenient.  Students are encouraged to come to office hours to further discuss course material or any problems they might be having in the course.  It is best to discuss incipient problems before they become large ones.


PREPARATION:  This course centers around ideas that are found in classic texts of political theory.  It is vital, therefore, that you read the assigned texts at least once before I discuss them in the lectures.  We will focus on the arguments presented in these texts and, just as importantly, what arguments were not made and why.  Some assumptions are left unquestioned, for example, because they are shared by all mainstream participants in the debate.  At other times, something is not stated precisely because it would be controversial, or because it would reveal that the author is begging the question.  Able readers will be on the lookout concerning questions such as these, without losing sight of what is more readily apparent on the surface of the arguments.


ATTENDANCE:   It is expected that you attend every scheduled class and participate knowledgably.  Attendance will be taken before the start of each class.  Students not in their seats when attendance is taken will be considered absent.  Students who leave class early without prior permission will also be considered absent for that class.  Final grades will be reduced by one full letter for each unexcused absence over three.


CANCELLATIONS:  If I am more than ten minutes late to class, you may assume that I have been delayed and that class is cancelled.  Leaving earlier than this risks being marked absent.


PARTICIPATION:  Classes will largely follow a lecture format, and will supplement (but not replace) what is in the text.  I will interrupt my lectures to ask the class questions, and you are encouraged to interrupt me to ask questions of your own.  Fruitful participation includes answering questions intelligently, probing and challenging what is said in a manner that shows knowledge and understanding of the text, and otherwise advancing the level of discourse in the class.


DECORUM:  Use your common sense.  Turn off your cell phone.  Do not insult or threaten anybody, or use abusive language.  Do not eat — it only makes the rest of us hungry.  Refrain from private discussions, interrupting people, texting, surfing the internet, sleeping, and in general anything that would disrupt or distract the class.


WRITTEN WORK:  Papers and Essays will be graded on the ideas they contain, but good organization and grammar are essential to getting those ideas across.  All written work should conform to the rules of standard English, and students should also expect that better-written work will get a higher grade.  Poorly-written work will suffer.  All work must be submitted via Blackboard.


LATE ESSAYS:  No weekly papers will be accepted if submitted late.  Late essays will be penalized 5% per day (including holidays and weekends).


EXAMS:  Both exams will consist of a series of short-answer and essay questions.  They will be closed-book, and no study materials will be allowed while writing the exam.  Students not present for either exam will be assigned a grade of 0%, unless a serious and documented medical emergency (or something similar) prevents them from being present the day of the exam.


INCOMPLETES:  Incompletes will only be given in rare circumstances, such as illness, death in the immediate family, or other unusual and unforeseeable circumstances.  Incompletes are given at the discretion of the instructor and only when it is possible that the completion of the remaining work could result in a passing grade.  An incomplete must be resolved within the appropriate time limit or it will automatically be changed to an F.  The student is responsible for seeing that incompletes are made up before the expiration date.


ACADEMIC DISHONESTY:  All work must be the produce of the student’s own original effort.  It is the student’s responsibility to familiarize him- or herself with university policy regarding plagiarism and academic dishonesty.  Students should take the university’s Academic Integrity tutorial (http://www.ai.niu.edu/ai/).  All infractions will be severely punished, up to and including a failing grade for the course and disciplinary action by the university.


DISABILITIES:  Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities.  Students who believe that their disability 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 the instructor be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


AWARDS:  The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding 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 of $50.00.  Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to the department secretary by the end of February.  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 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.


POLITICAL SCIENCE WEBSITE:  Students are encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science website on a regular basis.  This central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, and researching career options.  Undergraduates may find this website especially useful in tracking down department events and for accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities.  To reach this site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu.

Tentative Class Schedule

08/28   Introduction


[No Class 08/30]

09/04   Disobedience

King, “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.”  [in coursepacket]

Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience.”

09/06   Lincoln on Education and Ambition

Lincoln, “Address to the Young Men’s Lyceum.”  [in coursepacket]

Weekly Paper Due

09/11   Lincoln’s Pre-War Speeches

Lincoln, “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision.”  [in coursepacket]

Lincoln, “Crisis of a House Divided.”  [in coursepacket]

Lincoln, “Address at Cooper Institute.”  [in coursepacket]


[No Class 09/13]

09/18   Lincoln’s War Speeches

Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address.”  [in Declaration of Independence]

Lincoln, “Special Message to Congress of 1861.”  [in coursepacket]

Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address.”  [in Declaration of Independence]

Lincoln, “Second Inaugural Address.”  [in Declaration of Independence]

09/20   The Constitution and the Necessity of Union

Federalist Papers, Preface & No. 1–2, 4, 6, 8–10, 12, 14.

“Speech of James Wilson.”  [in Anti-Federalist]

“Federal Farmer,” No. 1 & 2.  [in Anti-Federalist]

Weekly Paper Due

09/25   Insufficiency of the Previous Union

Articles of Confederation.  [in Anti-Federalist]

Madison, “Vices of the Political System of the United States.”  [in coursepacket]

Federalist Papers, No. 15–7, 21–2.

09/27   Necessity of Energetic Government

Federalist Papers, No. 23, 26–7, 30–1, 33, 35.

“John DeWitt,” No. 1 & 2.  [in Anti-Federalist]

Weekly Paper Due

10/02   Republicanism, Federalism, and Checks & Balances

Federalist Papers, No. 37–9, 41–9, 51.

“Dissent of the Pennsylvania Minority.”  [in Anti-Federalist]

“Brutus,” No. 1.  [in Anti-Federalist]

“Centinel,” No. 1.  [in Anti-Federalist]

10/04   The New Congress

Federalist Papers, No. 52, 56–7, 62–6.

“Brutus,” No. 4 & 16.  [in Anti-Federalist]

“John DeWitt,” No. 3.  [in Anti-Federalist]

Weekly Paper Due

10/09   The President, the Judiciary, and Enumerated Rights

Federalist Papers, No. 67, 69–70, 73–5, 78, 80–1, 84–5.

“Cato,” No. 5.  [in Anti-Federalist]

“Brutus,” No. 9, 12, & 15.  [in Anti-Federalist]

Madison, “Speech in Congress Proposing Constitutional Amendments” [in coursepacket]

10/11   Revolutionary Principles

“Declaration of Independence”

Jefferson’s Draft of the Declaration of Independence.  [in coursepacket]

Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance.”  [in coursepacket]

Henry, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.”  [in Declaration of Independence]

“Speeches of Patrick Henry.”  [in Anti-Federalist]

Weekly Paper Due


10/18   Hobbes and Human Nature

Hobbes, Leviathan, Letter Dedicatory, Introduction, & Part I, chapters 1–8.

Weekly Paper Due

10/23   Hobbes and the State of Nature

Hobbes, Leviathan, Part I, chapters 8–16.

10/25   Hobbes’s Sovereign State

Hobbes, Leviathan, Part II.

Weekly Paper Due

10/30   Locke Follows Hobbes

Locke, Preface to Two Treatises of Government.  [in coursepacket]

Locke, Second Treatise, Chapters 1–10.

11/01   Locke Corrects Hobbes

Locke, Second Treatise, Chapters 11–19.

Weekly Paper Due

11/06   Roots of Religious Toleration

Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration.

11/08   Tocqueville’s Initial Impressions

Tocqueville, Volume I:  Introduction; and Part I:  chapters 1–5.

Weekly Paper Due

11/13   Tocqueville on the Constitution

Tocqueville, Volume I:  Part I:  chapters 6–8.

11/15   The American Democratic Social State

Tocqueville, Volume I:  Part II:  chapters 1–6.

Long Essay Due

11/20   The American Democratic Social State (cont.)

Tocqueville, Volume I:  Part II:  chapters 7–9; and chapter 10:  pp. 348–396.


[No Class 11/22 — Thanksgiving Recess]

11/27   Influence of Democracy on the Intellect

Tocqueville, Volume II:  Notice and Part I.

11/29   Influence of Democracy on the Sentiments

Tocqueville, Volume II:  Part II.

Weekly Paper Due

12/04   Influence of Democracy on Mores

Tocqueville, Volume II:  Part III.

12/06   Influence of Democracy on Politics

Tocqueville, Volume II:  Part IV.