Political Science 150, sec.2, DU 461, Tuesday/Thursday 6:30-7:45

Democracy in America

Instructor, Bertrand J. Simpson, Jr., Esq. Fall 2009

Office:  ZH 107

Officer Hours: Tuesday/ Thursday 5:00-6:30pm, and by Appointment

Phone:  753-8595 and by E-mail:   




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.




            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 right) 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 of awareness of, persistent issues, arguments, and themes of American democracy’s development.




All students are required to purchase their own copy of each of the following.  They are available in both bookstores although Village Commons has more of #1.

1.                  A Reading Packet.

2.                  Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. The University of Chicago Press , Edited by Mansfield & Winthrop

3.                  Peter Lawler and Robert Schaefer eds. American Political Rhetoric 5th ed. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).




            The week of 8/24 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, RP 173

            Martin Luther King, “The Purpose of Education,” 1948, RP 175-176

            How to understand Tocqueville



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

A.     Democracy in America before the Constitution.  Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1833) (hereafter DA), pp.  27-44

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

            Week of 8/31

C.     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. 45-49. #14 in Reading Packet, (RP) p. 161. #63 in RP p. 60-61.


D.    Jeffersonian Democracy.  Thomas Jefferson, Agriculture vs. manufacturing as ways of social life (1782), RP, pp. 161-162.  First and Second Inaugural Addresses (1802, 1805) in RP pp. 1-11.  “On Citizenship”, RP 33-35.


E.     Tocquevillian Democracy

1.      Equality of condition.  DA “Author’s Introduction” pp. 3-15

2.      Majority Rule. DA, “The Principle of the Sovereignty of the People in America” pp. 53-55  “The Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and its Effects” pp. 165, 235-237, 230-42 (tyranny of the majority), 243-46 (freedom of thought), 250-51 (what tempers tyranny of the majority).


            3.  Liberty.  DA, pp. 39-45 (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. 227-30 (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.).



Week of 9/7


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.


 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.

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


G.    Civil Liberties Democracy

West Virginia v. Barnette (1943) in RP pp. 30.

H.    Civil Rights Democracy

Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream” speech (1963) in RP pp. 30-33.



            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. 405-06.  For President:  Art. II, Sec. 1, Cl. 2, Lawler p. 411; The Supreme Court?  Sec. 2, Cl. 2, Lawler p. 412-13.

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


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. 53-55, 187, 229-31.


5.      Why is there an inevitable expansion of the right to vote? Voting and Equality (of social conditions) and voting.  DA, pp. 45-53, 479-482 (the relation of liberty for 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 considerations.

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 (1864) and XIX (1920) in Lawler, p. 419 & 421






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

b)      Extending the right to vote to 18 year olds.  United States Constitution, 26th Amendment (19710, 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. 187-93.

b)      “The Motor-voter Act”  (1994) Carol Moseley-Braun in RP p. 59-60.





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 p. 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 p. 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:  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.



c.       Constitutional limits on citizens’ right to vote for representatives.

1)      Fixed terms of office/progressive arguments for recall/”term limits”

2)      Constitutional requirements to hold office; age, residency & citizenship 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.


Representation, political parties and interests groups

1.      The Founders’ Concern:  the danger of “ faction” and how representation is supposed to mitigate it.

a.       Alexander Hamilton, Publius Letter, III (1778), “On the Character of the Legislator” in RP pp. 68-69.

b.      Federalist Papers #10 in Lawler pp. 18-21; #57, Lawler, pp. 79-81; #71, pp. 87-88; #52 in RP pp. 38-39

c.       DA, p. Tocqueville on democratic representation. DA pp.165, the distinction between “ great parties” and “ small parties”. 166-70.







Separation of Powers

1.      What is separation of powers and why is it necessary?  Federalist Papers #47 in 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, 87-88. 

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. 217-20.

c.       To make possible an independent judiciary to enforce the Constitution and laws. Lawler pp. 412

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


2)       Thomas Jefferson “Against Judicial Review” (1815), RP pp. 92-93


B.     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. 45-49.  Important terms:  “the federal government”, “the national government,” “the general government,” “sovereignty,” “division of sovereignty”.

3.      DA pp. 53-58 What does Tocqueville think is the advantage of the federal system for democracy?   Important terms:  decentralization, federalism, federal government, and national government.





              THE WEEK OF 10/12


Religion, viewed as a political institution.

1.      DA, p. 279-80

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

3.      George Washington, “Farewell Address” (1796) in Lawler pp. 43-44.  “Thanksgiving Proclamation” (1789) in RP p. 93-94.


4.      DA, (1833) pp. 42-44; 274-288; 417-424



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.      10/30Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (1801); Second Inaugural Address (1805) in RP pp. 3-11.



Justice Hugh Black, Everson v. Board of Education (1947) in RP pp. 99-104.

4.      Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at an Ecumenical Prayers Breakfast,” August 23, 1984 in RP pp. 105-108



B.     Women in Democracy in America

1.      Tocqueville’s view of women’s equality and its consequences for democracy.  DM pp. 274-75, 279-80, 563-65, 567-573; 573-576

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.


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 p. 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.

b.      Stephen A. Douglas, Speech from the fifth debates at Galesburg, Illinois and 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.


3.      What is the Thanksgiving holiday for? RP 93-96

a.       George Washington, “Thanksgiving Proclamation” (1789)

b.      James Madison, “[Repentance and Thanksgiving] Proclamation,” November 16, 1814

c.       Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (1863)



C.     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.

4.      Rep. J. C. Watts (2000) in RP 173



            THE WEEK OF 10/26

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?

a.       Is disagreement with the Supreme Court disobedience to the law?

1)      Lincoln, Speech on the Dred Scott decision June 26, 1857 in RP pp. 128-130.

2)      Frederick Douglass, “The Dred Scott Decision” May 11, 1857, in RP p. 131-36.



3.      Why do/should we obey the law?

a.       Because it is self-imposed.  DA pp. 229-31

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. 225-27



4.      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.







THE WEEK OF 11/16,







Final Exam.  TUESDAY DECEMBER 8, 2009. 6:00-7:50PM



1.      Classroom behavior.  Courtesy and regard for one another should guide classroom behavior.  Students are expected to be in class when class begins.  Please do not come late to class.  Lateness is inconsiderate and disruptive.  The instructor will be on time.  Please pay him the same courtesy.  If it becomes necessary, students who come late may be barred from class.  Occasional lapses can happen to anyone and will be overlooked presuming an explanation and apology presented after class.  Please consult with him if a schedule problem affects your ability to meet this requirement.  In general, if you get to class late, it is more considerate and less disruptive if you do not enter the room.

Students are expected to be attentive to the lectures and discussions.  Students, who sleep, read the newspaper, persistently talk with other students or are otherwise inattentive to the lectures and discussion will be asked to leave the class and will be subject to being administratively dismissed from the course at the instructor’s request. TURN OFF ALL CELL PHONES!!!!


2.      Attendance.  Attendance at each class is both expected and required.  Attendance will be taken at most classes after the first few days.  Being in attendance is operationally defined as being present when attendance is taken at the beginning of class and remaining until class is dismissed.  Students, who come to class after attendance has been taken, that is after they have been marked absent, will be considered absent.  No distinction is made between excused and unexcused absences.  However, absences should be explained in writing on the first class you return.  A record of such explanations will be kept and that record could be beneficial at final grading time.  Students who have extended absences due to illness should notify the instructor as promptly as possible during the absence and produce a doctor’s note indicating the nature and duration of the illness.  This note should be presented at the first class upon returning.  Extended absences are regarded as not fulfilling course requirements and, unless justified with appropriate documentation, will adversely effect the final grade.  (See section 7 below.)


3.      TEXTS.  Since classes are usually conducted by reading and discussing passages from the assigned readings, it is required that you bring the appropriate readings to each class.  To that end, it is required that each student have his or her own copy of each text.


4.      Class Preparation.  The best way to prepare for each class is to do the readings at least once (some require more than one reading) prior to the first day we begin each unit.  You will be much better able to participate in and to grasp the class discussions if you have done so.


5.      Good note taking is important to your success in this class.  Learn to listen carefully to the arguments made and write them down as best you can.  Review your notes after class to see if they make sense.  By reviewing them soon after they are taken, sometimes you can remember things that will make sense out of what is confusing.  Get together with other students periodically to go over each other’s notes.  If you got 50% of the lecture and your study partners got 50%, perhaps between you will have 75%.  What remains unclear can be discussed with the instructor.  One of the important suggestions I can make is to be sure to write down the questions asked by other students and my answers meaningless.  I frequently use student’s questions as a vehicle to make important points so if you write down their questions, as well as my answers, you will benefit.


6.      Class Participation.  The proper kind of participation in the class is expected, required and rewarded.  Participation means that students demonstrate that they are trying to understand the arguments being made both in the readings and in the lectures, by asking questions or making comments that show problems with the arguments and by responding to questions which the instructor raises.  Some classes will be mainly lecture and discussion.  Others will involve reading and discussing passages from the readings.  It is important that you understand the sort of participation expected because some students think that merely talking fulfills this expectation.  It does not.  The kind of talking that does is that which fulfills the purposes of participation which are threefold: 1) to enable students to raise questions concerning the meaning of the lectures which shows that they are following the arguments being made enough to see the difficulties; 2) to show that they have read the texts before coming to class and seen enough to identify things that they do not understand or that seem not to “make sense”; 3) to relate different arguments, passages and insights from both texts and lectures to each other.  The kind of participation expected is one which shows that you are trying to understand what the whole picture looks like, what each part looks like, and how the parts fit into that whole.


7.      Grading.  Final course grades are based on all of the required written work, the regularity and quality of class participation and, to a lesser extent, on attendance.   All issues regarding how many exams, tests or quizzes there will be, their format, and how each will be executed, will be left up to the discretion of the instructor; you will be informed regarding an exam  one class period before the exam will be given. Also, there will be a final exam, at the scheduled time and place.  In order to earn an “A” a student will need, at a minimum, to earn 90% of all of the points that are available, on all of the exams. THERE IS NO EXTRA CREDIT.


In determining the final course grade, students with 5 or more absences may have their final grade lowered.  Aside from grading consequences, which might follow from students being administratively dismissed from the course, the instructor does not give a formal grade or assign a specific percentage of the final grade for class participation.  However, he reserves the right to raise a student’s final grade, if he judges a particular student’s participation to have been exceptionally good.  Grades are not lowered merely for lack of active class participation.





1.      Make-up exams.  NO MAKE-UP EXAMS WILL BE ALLOWED.   


2.      Appointments.  The instructor will make every reasonable effort to be available to you.  If you cannot come during his scheduled office hours, please call to schedule a mutually convenient appointment.  (Both his office number and phone number are at the beginning of the syllabus).  Please feel free to stop by his office without an appointment.  If you cannot reach him by phone, leave a message for him to call you on his voice mail or his e-mail.  The message should include times when you are likely to be reachable.  Please do not call his home.