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 1 (DU 276) – Ms. Elissa Stowell   estowell@niu.edu

Section 2 (DU 446) – Ms. Jessica Jones   jjones7@niu.edu

Section 3 (DU 246) – Mr. Kevin Marsh kmarsh@niu.edu

Section 4 (DU 228) – Mr. Joseph Scanlon   jscanlon@niu.edu

Section 5 -- Cancelled

Section 6 (DU 280) – Mr. Paul Vasholz   pvasholz@niu.edu


Your teaching assistant will hold a discussion section each Friday morning in the room noted above.  If you are uncertain about which discussion section to attend please consult your online schedule using WebConnect.  Your TA will also hold office hours (to be announced) each week in DuSable 476.  The TAs and I encourage you to drop by occasionally during office hours – to say hello, to ask questions about the material presented in class each week, to go over exams and written assignments, and if necessary to get some advice about how to improve your performance in the class.  If you find yourself having difficulty with POLS 100, please come in and see us right away.   



NOTE:  Review Questions for Exams 1-3 can be found at the end of this online syllabus.  Scroll down to find them.






This course provides a college level introduction to the American political system and serves as a prerequisite for many upper level courses in American Government.  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, we will also try to keep an eye on the 2008 presidential race.





The following textbook is required and should be available at either of the campus bookstores:


       Janda, Berry, Goldman and Hula, The Challenge of Democracy (brief edition, 6th edition, 2006).


Also, please note that several additional required readings must be located online at various Internet websites.  Consult the outline below for specific assignments.  Occasionally this may involve using a computer at an NIU computing lab to gain access to sites for which NIU has paid subscription fees (e.g., www.jstor.org ).  For an online version of this syllabus with links to required readings go to www.polisci.niu.edu .  





Cell Phones & Class Decorum.  Please silence your cell phone prior to the start of each lecture.  I would also ask that you be civil during class and respect the needs of your fellow students, most of whom actually will be trying to do well in the course!  If you don’t, the grouchy old professor may ask you to leave.


General Advice.  Your best strategy for success is to keep up with the assigned readings, attend class regularly, take good notes, 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.


Exams.  Three hourly exams, multiple choice in format, will be given.  Each will contribute 22.5% to your final grade. 


Written Assignments.  About every other week you will prepare a short 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.”  My TAs and I regard these papers as a serious part of the course, so spelling, grammar, and sentence structure will be taken into account when assigning grades.  Together, your short essays will contribute an additional 22.5% to your final grade. 


Discussion Sections.  I strongly encourage you to attend your Friday morning discussion section because: (1) participation in these meetings contributes 10% to your final course grade; (2) your discussion leaders are the ones who will be grading your essays and who will be there for help when you need it; (3) this is a great chance to discuss politics in a small group setting.  Those who take the course seriously will want to attend.


Computing Grades.  Your final course grade will be a weighted average of your scores on the exams, the papers, and attendance/participation in discussion section:


            Final Score = .675(Avg. Exam Score) + .225(Avg. Paper Score) + .100(Attendance/Participation). 


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 you’re having trouble, seek help early in the semester and devise strategies for improving your performance on required exams and assignments. 


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 let me know. If you have not already done so, you will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources, the office on campus that provides services for students with disabilities.  The CAAR office is located in the University Health Services building (753-1303).









A.  Organizational Issues and Basics of Government and Politics  (Week of January 14)


            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.  Special Topic:  Presidential Primary Elections  (January 23)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 6, pp. 163-167.

                        David Greenberg, “How Presidential Primaries Backfired,” locate at:



C.  Public Opinion and Ideology in America  (Week of January 28)


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

                        Paul Krugman, “A Socialist Plot” (08/27/07); Locate at:


                        Paul Krugman, "The Waiting Game" (07/16/07).  Locate at:


                        Steve Chapman, “Clinton’s Learning Curve,” (10/11/07) and “Is Pornography a Catalyst of

                            Sexual Violence,” (11/04/07).  Locate at: www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists   


            Write:  First, run IDEALOG at www.uspolitics.org .  Then write a 1-2 page essay briefly discussing

                        the value preferences and policy views of each ideological type (liberal, conservative,

                        libertarian, communitarian).  Can you find examples of all four types among the current

                        Republican and Democratic candidates for president? (Due Friday, February 1)


D.  Political Parties  (Week of February 4)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 6.

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

                        www.jstor.org using an NIU Internet connection).


            Note:  There are many ways to locate articles on jstor.  One way is to “browse” the political science

                        journals and then click on the journal you need – in this case the Journal of Politics.  Once

                        you’re inside that journal, click on the dates associated with the volume you need.  Remember

                        that you need to access jstor through NIU because it is a subscription web site.  The easiest

                        way to do this is to use a computer on campus, but it is also possible to access jstor while off

                        campus via the NIU Library web site. 


            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, February 8. 


E.  Interest Group Politics  (Week of February 11)


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


EXAM I:  Friday, February 29 (administered in discussion section)





A.  Constitutional Origins  (Week of February 25)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 2, pp. 31-42, 48-51.

                        Declaration of Independence, in JBGH, pp. A1-A3. 

                        Optional Reading:  John Roche, “The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action,”

                           American Political ScienceReview (1961), Intro and Parts 2-4, pp. 799-800 and

                           803-811 (at www.jstor.org )


B.  Principles of the Constitution   (Week of March 3)


            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:   In an effort to prevent any single group from having complete control of the national government,

                        Madison (see Federalist 51) 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 have a “will of its own.”  How does the Constitution encourage that?

                        Also, because certain branches are naturally stronger, and certain branches are naturally weaker than

                        others, steps had to be taken to promote a more equal competition among them.  Discuss in a 1-2

                        page paper (due Friday March 7).



SPRING BREAK:  Week of March 10   



C.  Democracy and the Constitution  (Monday, March 17)


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

                        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?


D.  Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights  (March 19, 24, 26)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 12 and Amendment 1-10 & 14, p. A11-A15.

                        Engel v. Vitale (1962);  locate at www.findlaw.com


                        Note:  To find Supreme Court cases on findlaw first toggle to “For Legal Professionals” at the

                        top of the first page.  Then click on the “US Sup Ct” link found beneath “Cases & Codes.”

                        Finally, scroll down to the “Party Name Search” block and insert one of the names contained

                        in your case title (for example, in this case type in “Engel”).  Then click the Search button. 

                        The software will list several cases with “Engel” in the title.  Select Engel v. Vitale (1962).


            Write:  Read Justice Black’s opinion of the Court in Engel v. Vitale and Justice Stewart’s 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, March 28)


E.  Civil Rights  (Week of March 31)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 5, pp. 127-130 and Ch. 13.  Loving v. Virginia (1967); locate at www.findlaw.com

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


EXAM II:  Friday, April 4 (administered in discussion section)






A.  The Supreme Court and Judicial Review  (Week of  April 7)


             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.findlaw.com.  Read only Justice Brandeis’ 4-page

                             dissent which appears approximately on p. 9 after Chief Justice Taft’s opinion for the Court. 


                        How would you describe Justice Thomas’ general philosophy of Constitutional interpretation?

                        Which side do you think he would have voted with in the Olmstead case?  How would you have

                        voted in that case?  Why?     


B.  Presidential and Congressional Elections  (Week of April 14)


            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)  Locate at:



            Write:   Writing in Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton argues that the Electoral College is a

                        sophisticated institution carefully designed by the great thinkers at the Constitutional

                        Convention.  Based on his reading of the debates that actually occurred at the Convention,

                        scholar Jack Rakove comes to different conclusions regarding the origins of this peculiar

                        institution.  Which interpretation seems most convincing to you?  Why?  Discuss in a 1-2

                        page paper due Friday, April 18.  


C.  The U.S. Congress  (April 21, 23, & 28)


            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, May 2)


D.  The Presidency & the Executive Branch  (April 30, May 5 and May 7)


            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:  Monday, May 12 in this auditorium at 10:00.  As an option, you may take the final with

                   your discussion leader in a small group setting on Friday, May 9.




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

4. 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.

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

6. 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.

7. 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?

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

9. 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?

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



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 demise?

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?

5a.  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 large nation or a small nation? Explain.

5b. Still concerned about the dangers of factions, in Federalist 51 Madison hopes to use the very structure and organization of government to create a system of checks and balances. Discuss the logic of his separation of powers/checks and balances system. One requirement is that every branch have a "will" of its own. How does the Constitution encourage that? Also, certain branches deserve special attention. Explain.

6. There are many ways to think about democracy and how democratic political systems work. Discuss and evaluate democracy in America using the ideas encountered in this course (in the lecture and in Chapter 2 of Janda, Berry and Goldman).

7. Why isn’t the Bill of Rights found in the main body of the Constitution? Identify: the federalists, the anti-federalists, the Federalist Papers.

8. 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.

9. 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."

10. In Engle v. Vitale, the Court’s majority decision and Justice Stewart’s rebuttal display two different interpretations of the establishment clause. Compare and contrast these two conflicting interpretations. Which is most convincing to you? Why?

11. 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).

12. 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).

13. 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).

14. Be familiar with major events and turning points in the struggle for racial equality (e.g., 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) discussed in the lecture on civil rights in America.

15. Be familiar with major events and turning points in the struggle for women’s equality.

16. 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. 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?

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

5. What factors favor incumbents in House and Senate races?

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

7. 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.

8. 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?