Political Science 100                                                     Spring Semester 2004

American Government & Politics                                  DuSable 459

Instructor Heath R. Mills                                               Tuesday, 6:00 PM – 8:40 PM

Email: hmills@niu.edu                                                   (815) 753-1818


But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?  If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.  In framing a government, which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed: and in the next place oblige it to control itself.


            James Madison, “Federalist, 51.”


Madison’s lament – perhaps the best known passage from the 85 Federalist essays – lays out the basic paradox of the American system: how to build a government strong enough to maintain order, yet restrained enough not to destroy liberty.  The puzzle, still very much with us 200 years after these words were written, underlies each of these general objectives of our course:


  1. To develop a strong understanding of the founding of the American political system, with particular reference to the values and assumptions which influenced that period (the late 1700’s).
  2. To ponder the current state of American politics and ask whether the hopes and expectations of the Founders have been realized.  To this end, we will pay close attention to breaking news from Washington.
  3. To understand American government by studying what it is not: that is, how politics is conducted in other countries, and how our politics are distinctive, even unique.
  4.  To suggest how (not what) to think about politics, that is, to foster skills of political analysis and evaluation.


Reading Materials

  1. James Q. Wilson and John J. DiIulio, Jr., American Government: The Essentials, 9th Edition (2004) 
  2. Federalist Papers as assigned 
  3. Occasional Handouts
  4. The regular reading of the news section of a major daily newspaper will greatly enhance your understanding of the materials covered in this course and is strongly encouraged.  The New York Times, Washington Post, or Chicago Tribune are available for free online.   




Course Requirements

  1. Attendance at each class meeting is expected.  The expectation is as follows: This class meets once a week; you should be there.  I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO ASK FOR WRITTEN DOUCMENTATION FOR ALL EXECUSED ABSENCES.
  2. Completion of assigned readings.
  3. Completion of writing assignments.
  4. A midterm to be held on March 2.
  5. A final examination to be held during regular class time during the last week of class, 27 May.  


Conduct of Class

1.          Lectures and readings are designed to complement and reinforce each other.  Accordingly, you will get more out the former if you keep up with the latter.

2.          Any cheating, plagiarism, or dishonesty detected in an exam or paper will result in penalties ranging from a failing grade for than assignment to an F for the entire course.

3.          Please feel free to raise questions or make observations about the course material at any time.  In addition, class time will frequently be devoted to discussions of assigned readings or breaking news.  Take these assignments seriously, and be prepared to contribute to the discussions.  Along with attendance, your preparation for and contributions to these sessions will be the basis of your class participation grade.

4.          Any variations from our normal schedule will be announced well in advance.


Grading, Course Outline, and Assignments


1.  Midterm exam                                       25%

2.  Final exam                                             25%

3.  Two Writing Assignments                      40% (2 x 20%)

4.  Attendance and participation                  10%


Grading Scale

100 – 90                A

89 – 80                  B

79 – 70                  C

69 - 60                   D

59 and Below         F










Course Outline and Assignments


Week of 12 January: Introduction and the Roots of the American System


Week of 19 January: The Founding and The Constitution

Readings: W&D: Skim Chapter 1, Read Chapter 2, and the Constitution (W&D A4)

Writing Assignment #1: You are to write a 4 to 5 page essay on Federalist 10 and Federalist 51.  Use the following questions to guide your analysis.  In Federalist 10 (W&D A21), 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 eliminated? In dealing with factions does he favor: (1) direct or indirect democracy? (2) majority rule or pluralistic democracy? (3) a large nation or a small nation?

 In Federalist 51(W&D A26), 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 has a "will" of its own. How does the Constitution encourage that? Also, which branch deserves special attention?  Finally, what if any connections do you see between the two articles?  Due 3 February, 2004.


Week of 26 January: Federalism

Readings: W&D Chapter 3


Week of 3 February: Participation

Readings: W&D Chapter 6


Week of 10 February: Political Parties

Readings: W&D Chapter 7


Week of 17 February: Elections and Campaigns

Readings: W&D Chapter 8


Week of 24 February: Interest Groups and The Media

Readings: W&D Chapter 9 (Read 223 to 235, skim the rest) and Chapter 10


Week of 2 March: MIDTERM EXAM


Week of 9 March: Spring Break!









Week of 16 March: Congress

Readings: W&D Chapter 11, Article I of the Constitution

Writing Assignment #4: Go to http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/por/ukbase.htm to learn about the British Government.  In this assignment you are to compare and contrast the United States with Great Britain.  Use the following questions to guide your thinking.     Does Great Britain have a federal system?  Separation of Powers?   Examine the party systems in each country.  How are the parties in the two countries alike?  How are they different?  Compare and Contrast the structure of the government, i.e. Congress, The Executive, and Judiciary.  How are they alike?  How are they different?  (It might be a good idea to tie this in with separation of powers.)  This is a formal writing assignment be sure to provide a bibliography and cite all sources.  Use MLA in text citations.  The essay should be 6 to 8 pages in length.  Due April 6th. 


Week of 23 March: The Executive Branch

Readings: W&D Chapter 12 and skim 13, Article II of the Constitution


Week of 30 November: The Judiciary

Readings:  W&D Chapter 14, Article III of the Constitution


Week of 6 April: Civil Liberties

Readings: W&D Chapter 15


Week of 13 April: Civil Rights

Readings: W&D Chapter 16


Week of 20 April: Public Policy

Readings: W&D Chapter 17


Week of 27 April: FINAL EXAM



Office hours are Thursday from 1:00 to 3:00 PM and most any other time by appointment.  My office is DuSable 461 and my office telephone number is 753-1818.  I stand ready at all times to help you learn and understand the course material.  If my lectures or the assigned readings are not making sense, by all means ask for clarification.  Likewise, if you are having trouble preparing for an exam or getting started with an assignment, seek help early.  DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST HOUR!  In any event, please let me know how I can help.


Undergraduate Writing Awards

The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate 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 and $50.00. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by February 28. 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 year 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.


Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that 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 instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


Department of Political Science Web Site

Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu