POLS 150 – 1

Democracy in America


Fall 2008



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

Tue., Thu. 12:30–1:45pm                         Office Hours:                        Tue.,Thu.10:00–11:30am

DuSable Hall 276                                    Zulauf Hall 412



The United States of America is the first country founded upon the modern principles of liberal democracy.  Its political life has since been defined by debate over how best to be faithful to those principles.  The Civil War resulted in an augmentation of the federal government’s power and declared that principles of equality lay at the root of our Constitutional system, even if the realization of those principles was a long time in coming.  The Civil War was itself a conflict over the true principles of American Constitutionalism.  The Constitutional Convention and Ratification Debates in turn centered on fulfilling the promise of the Revolution.  The principles for which the Revolution was fought were themselves subjects of dispute at the time of the Revolution.  Disputes in the United States have, since the beginning, revolved around what principles defined what it means to be American.


This class will trace the course of these debates.  We will begin with the political rhetoric prevalent at the time of the Revolution and soon after.  We will then turn to the philosophic progenitors of the view which came to be identified with the entire Revolutionary generation, eclipsing the views which competed with it.  We will then study in considerable detail the Ratification Debates surrounding the Constitution of 1788.


The Constitution and the rhetoric of the Revolution produced a particular sort of society, the character of which we will examine through Volume I of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.  This society tore itself apart in the Civil War.  Lincoln’s speeches before and during the war will help us to see the profound changes it wrought on the political landscape.  We will then turn to contemporary debates to see how the rhetoric of equality and the conception of liberty informed by that rhetoric has played out in recent history.


This course concludes with Volume II of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, an analysis of the social and intellectual aspects of the American regime.  We will take seriously Tocqueville’s claim that American politics are a manifestation of the American social state and examine whether our social state has significantly changed since 1840, when Volume II was published.


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

American Political Rhetoric.  5th ed.  Ed. Peter Lawler & Robert Schaefer.  Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.  ISBN:  0742542033

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

Course Packet


40%     Five Papers, 3 pages (1000 words) in length.  You may submit these papers at your discretion, so long as you submit at least two by Oct. 17 and at least four by Nov. 21.  Topics should be intimately related to the readings covered in this course and display your own independent analysis.  You are strongly urged to clear potential topics with me before you start writing.  Easy topics will be graded more harshly than difficult ones; excessively easy topics that were not vetted with me beforehand may be failed (e.g., bare summaries of the readings).

15%      Five Pop Quizzes, lasting 15 minutes each and administered at the beginning of class.  The quizzes will test only the material to be covered in class the day they are given.  No additional time will be permitted to those who arrive late, though they may begin the quiz when they do arrive.  No make-up quizzes will be given.

20%     Attendance and Class Participation.

25%     Final Exam.


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 American government and politics.  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.  Attendance counts for a full half of your attendance and participation grade.


THANKSGIVING:  Thanksgiving Break begins on November 26; we will hold our scheduled class on November 25.  Students absent on this day of class without a documented excuse of an emergency nature will be treated as though they had cut five classes.


CANCELLATIONS:  If I am more than fifteen 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.  Students with perfect attendance who do not participate cannot receive more than 50% on their attendance and participation grade.


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 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.  All written work will be run through SafeAssign.


LATE PAPERS:  Because of the flexibility afforded in when you submit your papers, no late papers will be accepted.


FINAL EXAM:  The final exam will consist of a series of short-answer and essay questions.  It will be closed-book, and no study materials will be allowed while writing the exam.  Students not present for the 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 work will be run through SafeAssign.  All infractions will be severely punished:  a failing grade for the course and possible 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

AF = Anti-Federalist Papers

APR = American Political Rhetoric

CP = Course packet

DI = Declaration of Independence and other documents

08/26   Introduction

08/28   Revolutionary Principles

“Declaration of Independence”

T. Jefferson’s Draft of the Declaration of Independence.  [CP]

P. Henry, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.”  [DI]

“Speeches of Patrick Henry.”  [AF, 199–216]

09/02   What Sort of Country?

J. Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance.”  [CP]

J. Madison, “On Property.”  [APR, 41–3]

T. Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia.”  [APR, 49–50]

A. Hamilton, “Report on the Subject of Manufactures.” [CP]

09/04   Locke and the Pre-political

Locke, Preface to Two Treatises of Government.  [CP]

Locke, Second Treatise, Chapters 1–10.

09/09   Locke’s Politics

Locke, Second Treatise, Chapters 11–19.

09/11   Roots of Religious Toleration

Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration.

09/16   Montesquieu and the English Constitution

Montesquieu, selections from On the Spirit of the Laws. [CP]

09/18   The Constitution and the Necessity of Union

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

“Speech of James Wilson.”  [AF, 183–8]

“Federal Farmer,” No. 1 & 2.  [AF, 256–69]

09/23   Insufficiency of the Previous Union

Articles of Confederation.  [AF, 357–64]

J. Madison, “Vices of the Political System of the United States.”  [CP]

Federalist Papers, No. 15–7, 21–2.

09/25   Necessity of Energetic Government

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

“John DeWitt,” No. 1 & 2.  [AF, 189–98]

“Brutus,” No. 10.  [AF, 287–92]


[09/30 — Class Cancelled]

10/02   Republicanism, Federalism, and Checks & Balances

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

“Dissent of the Pennsylvania Minority.”  [AF, 237–56]

“Brutus,” No. 1.  [AF, 270–80]

“Centinel,” No. 1.  [AF, 227–37]

10/07   The New Congress

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

“Brutus,” No. 4 & 16 [AF, 324–35]

“John DeWitt,” No. 3.  [AF, 311–6]


[10/09 – Class Cancelled]

10/14   The President

Federalist Papers, No. 67, 69–70, 73–5

 “Cato,” No. 5.  [AF, 317–21]

T. Jefferson, “Letter to James Madison.”  [CP]

10/16   The Judiciary and Enumerated Rights

Federalist Papers, No. 78, 80–1, 84–5.

“Brutus,” No. 11, 12, & 15.  [AF, 293–309]

Marbury v. Madison [APR, 126–32]

J. Madison, “Speech in Congress Proposing Constitutional Amendments” [CP]

[Have you submitted two papers?]

10/21   Tocqueville’s Initial Impressions

Tocqueville, Volume I:  Introduction; and Part I:  chapters 2–5.

10/23   Tocqueville on the Tyranny of the Majority

Tocqueville, Volume I:  Part II:  chapters 1, 6–7, 9

10/28   Law & Obedience

M. L. King, “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.”  [APR, 263–77]

H. D. Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience.”

A. Lincoln, “Address to the Young Men’s Lyceum.”  [APR, 176–83]

10/30   Lincoln’s Pre-War Speeches

A. Lincoln, “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision.”  [CP]

A. Lincoln, “Crisis of a House Divided.”  [CP]

A. Lincoln, “Address at Cooper Institute.”  [CP]

Dred Scott v. Sandford.  [APR, 241–6]

11/04   Lincoln’s War Speeches

A. Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address.”  [DI, not APR]

A. Lincoln, “Special Message to Congress of 1861.”  [APR, 92–4]

A. Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address.”  [APR, 186]

A. Lincoln, “Second Inaugural Address.”  [DI]

11/06   The Rise of Economic Democracy

L. Johnson, “1964 State of the Union.” [APR, 206–8]

L. Johnson, “1964 Commencement Address at the U. of Michigan.”  [APR, 208–10]

F. Roosevelt, “Commonwealth Club Campaign Speech.”  [APR, 188–97]

F. Roosevelt, “Address to the Young Democratic Clubs of America.”  [APR, 197–9]

F. Roosevelt, “1944 State of the Union.”  [APR, 201–3]

W. Wilson, “Constitutional Government in the United States.”  [APR, 186–8]

11/11   Segregation & Civil Rights

Plessy v. Ferguson.  [APR, 258–9]

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.  [APR, 259-63]

M. L. King, “I Have a Dream.”  [APR, 277–80]

M. L. King, “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.”  [APR, 263–77]

11/13   Women’s Rights & Liberation

J. Addams, “Why Women Should Vote.”  [APR, 323–6]

Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.  [APR, 316–20]

F. Douglass, “Women’s Suffrage Movement.”  [APR, 320–3]

A. Adams, “Letter to John Adams.”  [APR, 315–6]

J. Adams, “Letter Abigail Adams.”  [APR, 316]

B. Friedan, “The Problem That Has No Name.”  [CP]

S. Okin, “Introduction:  Justice and Gender.”  [CP]

11/18   The Rhetoric of Civil Liberties

Griswold v. Connecticut.  [CP, not APR]

Roe v. Wade.  [APR, 142–7]

Michael H. v. Gerald D.  [CP]

Planned Parenthood v. Casey.  [APR, 147–52]

11/20   Influence of Democracy on the Intellect

Tocqueville, Volume II:  Notice and Part I:  chapters 1–5, 8–15.

[Have you submitted four papers?]

11/25   Influence of Democracy on the Sentiments

Tocqueville, Volume II:  Part II:  chapters 1–4, 8–13.

[Do not miss this class; see policy, above]


[11/27 — Thanksgiving Break]

12/02   Influence of Democracy on Mores

Tocqueville, Volume II:  Part III:  chapters 1–4, 8–12, 17–9, 21.

12/04   Influence of Democracy on Politics

Tocqueville, Volume II:  Part IV.