POLS 100, Sections 1-6

Intro to American Government and Politics

MWF 10-10:50 a.m.

Professor Mikel Wyckoff

Office:  Zulauf 403

Hours:  M 1:30 -- 4:30 and by Appointment

753-7056   mwyckoff@niu.edu



Teaching Assistants:

Section D1   (Art Building 102)    Ms. Cotromanes     mcotroma@niu.edu

Section D2   (Du Sable 246)          Ms. Von Hagel         avonhage@niu.edu

Section D3   (Du Sable 461)         Mr.  Gross                 bgross@niu.edu

Section D4   (Du Sable 459)         Ms. Stone                 kstone4@niu.edu

Section D5   (McMurry 208)          Ms. Jones                 jjones@niu.edu

Section D6   (Art Building 103)    Ms. McLean              mmclean3@niu.edu





This course provides a college level introduction to the American political system. 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, of course, we will also try to keep an eye on the 2008 presidential election.





Plenty of used copies of the following textbook should be available at either of the campus bookstores:


            Janda, Berry, Goldman and Hula, The Challenge of Democracy, Brief 6th edition, 2006.


Also, please note that several additional required readings must be located online. Consult the outline below for specific assignments. The online version of this syllabus, available on Blackboard, contains links that will be helpful in accessing those readings.





Cell Phones & Class Decorum. Please silence and refrain from using your cell phone and other electronic devises during class. Also please be civil, use common sense, and respect the needs of your fellow students, not to mention the needs of the grouchy old professor who is trying to offer you a decent lecture each day.


General Advice. Your best strategy for success is to attend class regularly, take good notes, keep up with the assigned readings, 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. If you miss a lecture it would be wise to borrow notes from a friend or colleague who takes good notes. Sorry, but lecture notes are not made available on Blackboard.


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 (22.5% of your final grade). 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. These papers represent a serious part of the course, so spelling, grammar, and sentence structure will be taken into account when assigning grades. Also, everyone is expected to read the discussion of plagiarism posted on Blackboard. Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are serious offenses that may result in serious penalties.


Participation in Discussion Sections. Students who take the course seriously will want to attend their Friday morning discussion sections 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); (3) this is a great chance to discuss course issues in a small group setting.


Computing Course Grades. At the end of the semester I will compute your final grade using the following formula which incorporates the weights noted above:


            Course Avg. = .675(avg. grade on three exams) + .225(avg. grade on six short papers) + .100(attendance/participation score)


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, please seek help early in the semester. My TAs and I will do our best to help you devise strategies for improving your performance on required exams and assignments. We cant help you, though, if you dont seek our assistance.


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 contact the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), located in the University Health Services building (753-1303).







A. Organizational Issues and Basics of Government and Politics (Week of August 25)


            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. Thinking about Democracy (September 3)


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

                        Paul Krugman, "Can it Happen Here?" nytimes.com/2008/08/11/opinion/11krugman.html

                        Michael Kranish, McCain Camp Working Out Health Care Details,


                        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?


C. Public Opinion and Ideology in America (Week of September 8)


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

                        Thomas Friedman, Flush with Energy nytimes.com/2008/08/10/opinion/10friedman1.html

                        Steve Chapman, The Reality of Oil Prices


                        Steve Chapman, Unwise Haste On Gay Marriage and Consenting To Be Abused




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

                        Then write a 1-2 page essay briefly discussing the value preferences and policy views of each

                        ideological type (liberal, conservative, libertarian, communitarian). Which category best

                        applies to Barrack Obama? To John McCain? To columnist Steve Chapman? Due 9/12/08.


D. Political Parties (Week of September 15)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 6.

                        V.O. Key, A Theory of Critical Elections, Journal of Politics (1955), pp. 3-8 only. Locate

                        at the POLS 100 Blackboard website under Course Documents.


            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 19.


E. Interest Group Politics (Week of September 22)


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


EXAM I: Friday, September 26 (administered in your discussion section room)





A. Constitutional Origins (Week of September 29)


            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. Locate under Course Documents at

                        the POLS 100 Blackboard website.


B. Constitutional Principles: Separation of Powers/Checks and Balances and Federalism (Week of October 6)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 2, pp. 42-48, 51-end; Ch. 3, pp. 62-79, 81-end

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


            Write: Worried about the need to prevent government from becoming too powerful, in Federalist 51

                        Madison hopes to use the very structure and organization of government to create a system of

                        checks and balances. How is this system designed to work? One requirement is that every

                        branch must have a will of its own. Another is that the separated branches must have

                        partially overlapping powers. Finally, one must adjust for the fact that some branches are

                        naturally weak while some are strong. Discuss in a 1-2 page paper (due Friday, Oct. 10).


D. Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights I: Selective Incorporation; First Amendment (Week of October 13)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 12, pp. 298-314, 321-322 and Amendments 1-3 & 14, p. A12-A15.

                        Engel v. Vitale (1962); Locate at www.oyez.org. Once at oyez, type the title of the case into

                        the search box in the upper right corner of the page and click on Go. When results appear

                        (in a few seconds), click on the case you need. When the title page for that case comes up,

                        click on Written Opinion under Case Media. For many cases it is also possible to actually

                        hear the oral arguments in the case, but doing so is not part of the assignment.


            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 17)


E. Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights II: Criminal Procedure; Right to Privacy (Week of October 20)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 12, pp. 314- and Amendments 4-10 & 14, p. A12-A15.

                        Hamdi et al. v. Rumsfeld (2004); Read the case summary at the top; then read Section III.C.3

                        (all); finally, read the first paragraph in Section III.D. Locate at: www.oyez.org


F. Civil Rights (Week of October 27)


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

                        Loving v. Virginia (1967); locate at www.oyez.org. Before gay marriage became an issue,

                        some argued that it was also unnatural for certain other people to marry.

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

                        weddings challenge our traditional notions of what marriage is all about, but what were truly

                        traditional marriages like, and who destroyed that tradition?


EXAM II: Friday, October 31 (administered in your discussion section room)





A. The Supreme Court and Judicial Review (Week of November 3 )


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.oyez.org. Read only Justice Brandeis Dissent.


            Write:   Given Clarence Thomas approach to interpreting the Constitution, how do you think he

                        might have voted in the Olmstead case? How would you have voted and why? Discuss

                        in a 1-2 page paper due Friday, November 7.


B. Presidential and Congressional Elections (Week of November 10)


            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). Find on Blackboard.


                        Writing in Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton argues that the Electoral College is a set of

                        procedures carefully designed by the great thinkers at the Constitutional Convention who

                        thought only of selecting the best possible president. Based on his reading of the debates

                        that actually occurred at the convention, scholar Jack Rakove has a different analysis.


C. The U.S. Congress (November 17 and 24)


            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 28)


D. The Presidency & the Executive Branch (November 26 and Week of December 1)


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 8, Location TBA




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. There are many ways to think about democracy and how democratic political systems work. Be familiar with the various ideas about democracy encountered in this course (in the lecture and in Chapter 1, pp. 22-27, of the textbook).

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

5. 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 in the 1960s that led to a debate over issues of order and morality instead of economics.

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

7. 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.

8. 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?

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

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 democracy based on a large community or a democracy based on a small community? Explain.


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 replacement by the U.S. Constitution?

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. Worried about the need to prevent government from getting out of control, in Federalist 51 Madison hopes to use the very structure and organization of government to create a system of checks and balances. How is this system designed to work? One requirement is that every branch must have a will of its own. Another is that the separated branches must have partially overlapping powers. Finally, one must adjust for the fact that some branches are naturally weak while some are strong.


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., Amendments 13, 14 and 15; 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; Loving v. Virginia. 1967).

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.




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. 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?

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

5. 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?

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

7. What factors favor incumbents in House and Senate races? Does the party of the president tend to gain or lose seats in Congress during: (1) mid-term congressional elections; (2) on-year congressional elections?

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

9. 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.

10. 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?

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?