Democracy in America

POLS 150, Section 2                          

Spring 2007

Course Meeting Place: DU 459

Course Meeting Time: MWF 10-10:50


Instructor: Chris Thuot                                                 

Office: DU 476

Office hours: M/W 11:30-1 and by appointment                                   


What This Course Is

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 throughout 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) the 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.

Why a Constitutional and Democratic Focus?

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 rights) should be expanded; about whether the Founders’ 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 primarily “self government” in that oneself and one’s 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 nation’s 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 citizens’ understanding and awareness of persistent issues, arguments, and themes of American democracy’s development.

Required Texts and Readings

1.      A POLS 150 Reading Packet. (Although both bookstores have these packets, Village Commons Bookstore has more of them.)                                  

2.      Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America. NY:  Harper Collins Publishers, 1969 (originally published 1833).                                                               

3.      Peter Lawler and Robert Schaefer, eds. American Political Rhetoric Fifth Edition. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.                                                                  

* As we will be reading and referring to particular passages in these texts, it is essential that each student brings a copy of these editions to every class.

Attendance Policy

Please be advised that there is an attendance policy for this course.  Attendance at each class meeting is both expected and required. Students who are habitually absent can expect extreme difficulty in this course.  Being in attendance is defined as “being present when attendance is taken at the beginning of each class and remaining until class is dismissed.”  Students with extended absences due to illness should notify the instructor as promptly as possible during the absence and produce appropriate documentation indicating the nature and duration of the illness.  This documentation should be provided to the instructor at the first class upon returning.  Extended absences are highly discouraged, as they will adversely affect the student’s grade.  The student’s final grade will be reduced half a letter grade for each unexcused absence over 5

 Classroom Etiquette

Please do not come late to class, as this is both discourteous and disruptive.  Students who come to class after attendance has been taken, or leave during class without permission from the instructor, will be considered absent.  If there are special circumstances regarding this matter, please discuss them with the instructor as early as possible.  Students who simply cannot make it to class on time, for whatever reason, are encouraged not to take this course.  In addition to coming to class on time, the instructor requests that students refrain from sleeping, text messaging, talking on cell phones, reading the newspaper, etc.  These things are discourteous and disruptive both to the instructor and to other classmates.  All cell phones, pagers, or any electronic devices which make noise are to be turned off before entering the classroom.  Any student whose phone rings during class will first be given a reminder of this policy. After this warning, if a phone rings again the student will be asked to leave the class.

Class Participation                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Proper participation in class is both required and rewarded.  As this is a course concerning the discussion of ideas, simple attendance without participating in discussion is insufficient.  The good student will not only be present and attentive in class, but will also actively participate in class discussion by answering questions about the assigned readings, raising questions, and volunteering thoughtful observations about the material.  Proper class participation also requires that the student behave with proper courtesy and regard for others’ comments.  Because most of our classes will involve reading and discussing passages from the assigned texts, the student should bring the appropriate readings to each class.  Frequent class discussion will foster a classroom environment that will be far more interesting and rewarding than one in which the instructor simply lectures every day.


I will give a weekly quiz each Friday at the beginning of class, starting in the second week of classes.  Each quiz will ask 5 short answer questions pertaining to the previous week’s readings.  The quizzes are intended to test to see how well the student has mastered the readings from the previous week, after he or she has had a chance to read them, ask questions about them in class, reread them, and review lecture notes from class.  There will be 9 quizzes throughout the semester.  I will drop your lowest quiz grade.  I will not give quizzes the last few weeks of the semester so that you may begin preparing for the final exam.  You should save each of your quizzes, as many of the final exam questions will have appeared previously on them.  NOTE: Only in the rarest of circumstances will a make up quiz be given.  Whether or not a student’s excuse warrants a make up quiz is solely at the discretion of the instructor, to be determined on a case-by-case basis.  Make up quizzes are a privilege, not a right.  Students wishing to make up a quiz must, at the very least, provide a written doctor’s excuse or other suitable documentation regarding why they were unable to be in class to take the quiz with their classmates.  When the instructor grants permission to take a make up quiz, you must take the quiz before the next class session, i.e. before the following Tuesday, otherwise you forfeit your chance to make up the quiz.    




There will be 1 short essay (900-1000 words) assigned approximately a quarter of the way into the semester.  The essay will be due two weeks after the assignment is made.  Essays will be accepted up to three (weekend days included) days after the due date; however, these essays will be docked one letter grade for each day they are late.  The 1000-word limit will be taken seriously.  Please provide a word count on the first page of your essays.  Any paper exceeding the 1000-word limit will be docked one letter grade.  Any evidence of plagiarism will be treated in accordance with university and departmental policies and procedures.




There will be 2 examinations in this course—a midterm examination and a comprehensive final examination to be given on the date assigned by the university. Please see the class schedule below.  Students will be expected to bring bluebooks to both exams. Make-up examinations will be given only with adequate documentation that the absence was unavoidable.  The make-up exams will be significantly more difficult than the original.  It is in the student’s best interest to avoid make-up exams if at all possible.




Final course grades are based upon the required written assignments, quizzes, and exams, as well as the regularity and quality of class participation, less any penalties due to extended unexcused absences. The instructor will not give a formal grade for class participation, although he reserves the right to raise a student’s grade if he judges that student’s participation to have been exceptionally good.  Grades will not be lowered merely for lack of active class participation.

Quizzes-120 points (20% of final grade)

Paper-120 points (20% of final grade)

Midterm-150 points (25% of final grade)

Final-210 points (35% of final grade)



The instructor will make every reasonable effort to be available to you.  If you cannot come during his scheduled office hours, please e-mail him to schedule a mutually convenient appointment.  His office number, phone number, and e-mail address are at the beginning of the syllabus.  If you call during his office hours and are unable to reach him, first try to call again after a few minutes.  If he is still unavailable, please e-mail him and he will get back to you promptly.


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



Some Suggestions:

1. 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 discussion and to grasp the class discussions if you have done so.

2. Good Note Taking--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 one another’s notes.  If you got 50% of the lecture and your study partners got 50%, perhaps between you, you will have 75%.  What remains unclear can be discussed with the instructor.  Be sure to write down the questions asked by the instructor and those asked by other students.  If you write down their questions, as well as their answers, you will benefit.


Course Schedule:

* The following schedule is meant to serve as a broad outline of the course.  The instructor reserves the right to make reasonable adjustments to the schedule if necessary.



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, in Reading Packet (RP) p. 173-174.

Martin Luther King, "The Purpose of Education," 1948, in RP, pp. 175-176.



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. 31-49.



B.  The Declaration of Independence, in American Political Rhetoric (hereafter Lawler), p. 1-4.



C.  At the Founding:

1.      How the Founders distinguished between two kinds of “popular governments”:  "democracy" and "republic”. Federalist Papers (1787-88), #14 in Reading Packet (RP) p. 161, #63 in RP p. 60-61, #39 Lawler pp. 45-49.


1/26  Quiz #1 (Note: Hereafter there will be a quiz every Friday)

2.      The problem of “faction” in “popular governments: and the Founders’ soulution. 

Federalist #10 in Lawler, pp. 15-21.



D.     Jeffersonian Democracy. Thomas Jefferson, Agriculture vs. manufacturing as ways of social life (1782), RP, pp. 161-162. First and Second Inaugural

Addresses (1801, 1805) in RP, pp. 3-11. “On Citizenship" in RP, pp. 33-35.



E.  Tocquevillian Democracy

            1. Equality of conditions.  DA "Author's Introduction" pp. 9-12, 50-57, 503-506.



2. Majority Rule. DA, "The Principle of the Sovereignty of the People in America" pp.

 58-60.  "The Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and its Effects" pp. 173, 246-256.

            3. Liberty. DA, pp. 45-47.

            4. Rights. DA, “The Idea of Rights in the United States" p. 237-40.



F. Slavery and Democracy

            1. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1784), Lawler, pp. 247-8.

           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, Reply to Douglas at Chicago, Illinois,” July 10, 1858 in RP pp.


5. Abraham Lincoln, "Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Cemetery at

    Gettysburg," (1863), Lawler, 186.                 


G. Economic Democracy: The Progressives, the New Deal, and the Great Society

1. Theodore Roosevelt, "Two Noteworthy Books on Democracy," (1914) in RP, pp.25-


2. Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Commonwealth Club Campaign Speech," (1932), Lawler pp.





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. 206-208.



H. Civil Liberties Democracy

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

I.   Civil Rights Democracy

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



II. 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. and Sec. 3, Cl. 1 in Lawler pp. 405.  For President: Art. II, Sec. 1, Cl. 2, Lawler p. 411; The Supreme Court? Art. 3, Sec. 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. 58-60 [esp. 59 bottom to 60 top], 196, 240.



     5. Voting and Equality (of social conditions) and voting. Review DA, pp. 50-57, 503-06.

            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.



                  b)  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.

c)  Extending the right to vote to 18 year olds.United States Constitution, 26th

     Amendment (1971), 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. 197-203.

                  b)  “The Motor-voter Act” (1994) Carol Moseley-Braun in RP pp.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 pp. 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. 411-412, 418-19.

3)      Why is the Supreme Court appointed rather than elected? Federalist Papers

#78, Lawler, pp. 120-1, 124-5.



b)      The Progressives: 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-


2)      Theodore Roosevelt, “The Recall of Judicial Decisions” (1912) in RP pp.61-

68.  --Important Terms: fixed terms of office, recall, initiative, referendum, "terms limits"      

c)      Constitutionally, who elects which federal offices?  The Constitution, Art. I, Sec.

2, Cl. 2 and Sec. 3, Cl. 3. Art. II, Sec. 1, Cl. 3 & 5, in Lawler 405-6, 411-12.



B. Representation, political parties and interest groups

1.  The Founders' Concern: the danger of "faction" and how representation is supposed to mitigate it Federalist Papers #10 in Lawler pp. 18-21 (read only the second half of #10); #57, pp.79-81; #71, pp. 87-88;  #52 in RP pp. 38-39.

2.   Tocqueville on democratic representation. DA, p. 173.

3.      The distinction between "great parties" and "small parties". DA, 174-79.

Catch up and review for Midterm.

3/9                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         MIDTERM EXAM (In class, short answer, fill in the blank, definitions of key vocabulary terms, and who said what). Be sure to bring BLUEBOOKS.


3/10-3/18 Spring break



C.  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 and protect us from tyranny.

      1)Federalist Papers #48, #51, #71 in Lawler pp. 27-31, 34-36, 87-89.      

                        2)Justice Brandeis in Myers v. U.S. (1926) in RP 89-90.



      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 86-87.

                        3)  Foreign Affairs. DA, pp. 226-30.

c)  To make possible an independent judiciary to enforce the Constitution and


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

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


D. Federalism: What is it and why do we have it?

1.   The Constitution, Article I, Secs. 8 & 9. Lawler pp. 409-10. Amendment X, in Lawler,

     p. 418.

2.  The distinction between "federal" and "national." Federalist Papers #39 in Lawler

pp.46-49. Important terms: "the federal government", "the national

      government," "the general government," "sovereignty," "division of sovereignty".



3.   DA, pp.62-63; What does Tocqueville think is the advantage of the federal system for

democracy? pp. 58-63 & 246, note 1.  Important terms: decentralization, federalism, federal government, national government.

4.      Ronald Reagan, “The State of the Union Address” (1982) in Lawler pp.60-62.

5.      Garcia v. San Antonio (1985) in Lawler, pp. 62-66.


E. Religion as a political institution.

      1.  DA, pp. 46-47; 287-290; 290-94; 294-301; 442-44.         

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.    George Washington, “Thanksgiving Proclamation” (1789), RP, 93-94.  James  

Madison, “[Repentance and Thanksgiving] Proclamation,” November 16, 1814, RP, 94-95.  Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (1863), RP, 95-96.



III. Persistent questions about the meaning of liberty and equality in American democracy.



A. Religion as a political problem.

1.    Thomas Jefferson, "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom," (1786) in RP pp. 96-


3.      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.

4.      Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (1801); Second Inaugural Address (1805)

in RP pp. 3-11.



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

5.  Ronald Reagan, "Remarks at an Ecumenical Prayers Breakfast," August 23, 1984 in

     RP pp. 105-108.



B. Women and Democracy in America

1.  Tocqueville's view of women's equality and its consequences for democracy.  DA pp.

     287, 291, 591, 590-92, 594-600; 600-603.

            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.



C.  Citizenship:  What makes one an American?  Proposition 187 and the recent immigration


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)  The Declaration of Independence, Lawler 1-4.

b)  Abraham Lincoln, Reply to Douglas at Chicago, Illinois, July 10, 1858 in RP  


c)  Dred Scott v. Sanford (1856), Opinion of the Supreme Court by Chief

     Justice Taney, in RP 121-128.



d)  Abraham Lincoln, “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision” June 26, 1857 in RP

pp. 128-130.  Fredrick Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” July 5, 1852 in RP pp.  11-13, 20-21; Frederick Douglass, “Speech on the Dred Scott decision,” May 11 1857, RP 131-136. 






e)  Stephen A. Douglas, Speech from the fifth debate at Galesburg, Illinois,

     October 7, 1858 in RP pp. 113-116.

                        f)  Abraham Lincoln, Reply to Douglas at Galesburg, October 7, 1858 and Speech

                             at Ottawa, Illinois August 21, 1858 in RP pp. 117-120.


D.  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.



E. 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? Is disagreement with the Supreme Court disobedience to the             

law? Lincoln, “Speech on the Dred Scott decision”, June 26, 1857 in RP pp. 128-130.

Frederick Douglass, "The Dred Scott Decision" May 11, 1857, in RP p. 138.

            3.  Why do/should we obey the law?

                        a)  Because it is self-imposed. DA, pp. 240-241.

                        b)  Out of enlightened self-interest. DA, pp. 235-37.


c)  Out of public spirit. Abraham Lincoln, "The Perpetuation of Our Political       

                 Institutions," (1838) in RP pp. 137-142.



5.      Civil Disobedience: Is law abidingness sometimes neither good nor a duty?

a)Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" (1963) in RP pp. 143-153.



b) Henry David Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government”(1849).  TO BE DISTRIBUTED BY INSTRUCTOR.



Catch up and Review for Final.



FINAL EXAM Monday May 7, 10-11:50 (In class, short answer, fill in the blank, definition of key vocabulary terms, and who said what.