Democracy in America

POLS 150 Section 2

Instructor: Neil Wright

Room: DU 461

Office Hours (DuSable 476):

Mondays 9-10am

Thursdays 1-3pm



Phone: 815.409.8183

Course Overview

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.  


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:  091514560

POLS 150-2 Course Packet

Note: There are several readings that will be distributed by the instructor in class.  If you fail to attend these classes, it is your responsibility to see to it that you receive them.

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.  Read these texts carefully and critically.  Come to class prepared to discuss the major arguments and themes of these readings.  Take good notes on these readings and be sure to jot down passages you find difficult, profound, or confusing.  These questions make for good classroom discussion. 

Attendance:   Attendance will be taken before the start of each class.  Students not in the room 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.

Participation: All students will be expected to actively participate in class discussions.  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.  The instructor will see to it that he fosters a classroom environment conducive to this.

Classroom Decorum: Students are to arrive at class on time.  Two tardy arrivals are equivalent to one class absence.  Students are to remain for the entire session unless excused by the professor beforehand or confronted with a serious personal emergency.  For instance, it is not acceptable to students to walk in and out of class to answer cell phones, take casual bathroom and smoking breaks, or attend to other personal matters.   Cell phones, pagers, or any electronic devices that make noise must be turned off during class unless the instructor has been notified beforehand of a special circumstance (e.g., sick family member, pregnant wife, special childcare situation, etc.).  No one should talk while someone else is talking; this includes comments meant for a classmate rather than the entire group.  What may seem like a whisper or a harmless remark to one person can be a distraction to someone else, particularly in a small room.  Overall, classroom dialogue and behavior should always be courteous, respectful of others, and consistent with the expectations set forth by the university.


Papers:  Students will complete 3 papers for this course.  These papers will address pertinent topics chosen by the instructor.  The papers should be 2-3 pages long, 12 pt. Times New Roman, double-spaced.  These papers demand a demonstration not only of your understanding of arguments covered in the readings, but as importantly, your ability to employ your own analysis to them.  Use your critical thinking skills!  Excellent papers will include the concise and coherent development of a strong thesis backed by compelling and relevant textual evidence.  As these are short papers, do not overuse citations and DO NOT SUMMARIZE.   PAPERS MUST BE SUBMITTED VIA BLACKBOARD.  ALL PAPERS WILL BE RUN THROUGH SAFEASSIGN.

Quizzes: 6 Quizzes will be given over the span of this course.  Only the highest 5 quiz grades will count toward final grades.  Quizzes will cover the required text materials, material presented in class / discussions, and all other supplementary material, including hand-outs and videos.  They will be administered on dates to be determined by the instructor.  There will be NO MAKE-UPS granted for quizzes. 


Tests: There will be a mid-term and final exam.  Both exams will consist of a mix of multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions.  Students will need to bring their own bluebooks.  The final exam will not be cumulative.  


Class Participation and Attendance: 50pts

3 Papers: 150pts

6 Quizzes (20 pts each, only the highest 5 count): 100pts

Mid-Term Exam: 100pts

Final Exam: 100pts


450-500: A

400-449: B

350-399: C

300-349: D

0-299: F


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

Regarding plagiarism, the NIU Undergraduate Catalog states: "Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university." The above statement encompasses a paper written in whole or in part by another; a paper copied word-for-word or with only minor changes from another source; a paper copied in part from one or more sources without proper identification and acknowledgment of the sources; a paper that is merely a paraphrase of one or more sources, using ideas and/or logic without credit even though the actual words may be changed; and a paper that quotes, summarizes or paraphrases, or cuts and pastes words, phrases, or images from an Internet source without identification and the address of the web site. 

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 an impact on their course work must register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building (753-1303). CAAR will assist students in making appropriate instructional and/or examination 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, research career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities.  To reach the site, go to

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 the end of March.  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.

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


AF = Anti-Federalist Papers

APR = American Political Rhetoric

CP = Course packet

DI = Declaration of Independence and other documents

1.13: Introduction

1.15: Revolutionary Principles

“Declaration of Independence” DI

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

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

T. Paine Common Sense selections. Handout

1.20: What Sort of Country?

J. Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance.”  CP

J. Madison, “On Property.” APR

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

T. Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia.”  APR

T. Paine "Agrarian Justice." Handout


Locke, Second Treatise, Chapters 2–9 (selections).

Quiz 1

1.27: Cont. 

Locke, Second Treatise, Chapters 10-14, 19 (selections).

1.29: Roots of Religious Toleration

Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration.


Montesquieu, On the Spirit of the Laws (selections). CP

2.5: The Constitution and the Necessity of the Union

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

“Speech of James Wilson.”  AF

“Federal Farmer,” No. 1 AF

2.10:Insufficiency of the Previous Union

Articles of Confederation.  AF

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

Federalist Papers, No. 15–7, 22. 

Quiz 2

2.12: Need for Energetic Government

Federalist Papers, No. 23, 26-27, 30.

"John Dewitt," No. 1 & 2. AF

2.17: Republicanism, Federalism, and Checks and Balances

Federalist Papers, No. 37, 39, 45, 47, 51.

"Centinel," No. 1. AF

2.19:The New Congress

Federalist Papers, No. 52, 57, 62–4.

2.24: Cont.

Melancton Smith (342-347). AF 

J. Madison, Notes on the Federal Convention (39-42, 90-92, 150-6). AF

Paper 1 Due

2.26:The President

Federalist Papers, No. 67, 69–70, 73.

“Cato,” No. 5.  AF

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

Quiz 3

3.3:The Judiciary and Enumerated Rights

Federalist Papers, No. 78, 80.

“Brutus,” No. 11 & 15.  AF

Marbury v. Madison. APR

3.5: Mid-Term Exam

[Spring Break!]

3.17:Tocqueville's Initial Impressions

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

3.19: Tocqueville on the Tyranny of the Majority

Tocqueville, Volume I:  Part II:  chapters 1, 6–7 (selections).

3.24: Slavery

Douglass "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro." Handout

Thomas Jefferson "Notes on the State of Virginia" (247-248). APR

Thomas Cobb "What is Slavery, and Its Foundation in the Natural Law." Handout

Dred Scott v. Sandford.  APR

Quiz 4

3.26: Law and Obedience

A. Lincoln, “Address to the Young Men’s Lyceum.”  APR 

M. L. King, “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.”  APR

H. D. Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience.” (selections).

3.31: Cont.

Weather Underground Video Clip In Class

T. Jefferson letters Handout

Port Huron Statement APR

Red Scare and Nationalism Handout

Paper 2 Due

4.2: Lincoln

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

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

A. Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address.”  DI

A. Lincoln, “Special Message to Congress of 1861.”  APR

A. Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address.”  APR

A. Lincoln, “Second Inaugural Address.”  DI

4.7: Economic Democracy

F. Roosevelt, “Commonwealth Club Campaign Speech.”  APR

E. V. Debs (selection) Handout

W. Wilson, "Constitutional Government in the United States" APR

4.9: Segregation & Civil Rights 

Plessy v. Ferguson.  APR

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.  APR

M. L. King, “I Have a Dream.”  APR

M. L. King, “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.”  APR

Quiz 5

4.14:Women's Rights and Liberation

J. Addams, “Why Women Should Vote.”  APR

E. Goldman "Woman Suffrage" and "The Tragedy of Woman's Emancipation" (selections) Handout

Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.  APR

A. Adams, “Letter to John Adams” (selections). APR

J. Adams, “Letter Abigail Adams” (selections). APR

B. Friedan, “The Problem That Has No Name” (selections) CP

4.16: Civil Liberties

Griswold v. Connecticut.  CP

Roe v. Wade. APR

Michael H. v. Gerald D.  CP 

Planned Parenthood v. Casey. APR

Paper 3 Due

4.21: Influence of Democracy on the Intellect

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

4.23: Influence of Democracy on the Sentiments

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

Quiz 6

4.28:Influence of Democracy on the Mores

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

4.30:Influence of Democracy on Politics

Tocqueville, Volume II:  Part IV. (selections).

5.5: Final Exam 8-9:50 AM