POLS 100: Introduction to American Government and Politics

Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science

Spring 2010


Instructor: Chris Thuot

Email: cthuot@niu.edu

Office: Zulauf 114 (*subject to change)

Office Hours:  Wednesday 11am-12pm, 1:30-3:30 pm

Class Time: Monday 6:30-9:10

Classroom: Dusable 461

Course Description

This course introduces students to American government by surveying the following: 1) the principles upon which the regime was founded; 2) the constitutional structure of the regime and its institutions, especially the federal system and the departments of power (and their separation); 3) and, finally, the creation and subsequent development of various other political institutions (e.g., the bureaucracy). 

We begin with a discussion of the events and conditions that gave rise to the American Revolution as well as the philosophical principles that ultimately helped shape the regime’s political institutions.  Subsequently, we will look more closely at these institutions and their development.  Finally, we will end the semester with a closer look at the policymaking process.

Required Text

Jillson, Calvin.  2009.  American Government: Political Development and Institutional Change.  Fifth Edition.  New York: Routledge. 

Additional  required readings listed below may be accessed via the web addresses provided in the schedule, or on Blackboard.  It is your responsibility to read these articles before attending class.

Attendance Policy

Please be advised that there is an attendance policy for this course that will be strictly enforced.  Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class AND after the break.  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.”  Since this course meets only once a week and for over 2.5 hours, there will be a break about halfway through the period.  If you skip the second half of class, I will mark you absent for that class meeting.  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.  Whether or not an absence is “excused” is entirely up to the instructor’s discretion and will be determined on a case by case basis.  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 absence over 2.  Remember, if you skip the first or second half of a class, you will be considered absent for that week.

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 strongly advised to drop 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.



The following scale will be used:

A: 90-100%

B: 80-89%

C: 70-79%

D: 60-69%

F: Less than 60%

Attendance and Participation (10%)

The following general guidelines will be followed in determining the attendance and participation grade:

A: The student attends every class, makes thoughtful comments frequently, including comments that go beyond a surface reading of texts used in this class.

B: The student attends almost every class, makes some thoughtful comments and answers basic questions about the text that are posed by the instructor.

C: The student attends almost every class, but makes few comments during class.
*NOTE: As outlined in the section on attendance above, every absence beyond 2 class sessions will result in a deduction of the student’s final grade by ½ letter grade.

Exams (60%)

There will be three exams on the dates specified in the schedule outlined below.  Each exam is worth 20% of your final grade and will be made up of short answers and multiple choice questions.  The final exam is NOT cumulative (it is made up of material covered during the last 1/3 of the semester). 

Short Essays (30%)

There will be three short essays each worth 10% of the final grade.  Essay topics and further details will be distributed two weeks prior to the due date (see schedule).


The instructor reserves the right to administer “pop quizzes” if he deems necessary (i.e., if students are not doing the readings).  If pop quizzes are given, the scores will be incorporated into the participation grade.

Course Schedule

The following is a tentative course schedule.  The instructor will likely make adjustments throughout the semester.


Š      Course Introduction

Š      Discussion of “The Declaration of Independence”



The Origin of American Political Principles

Š      Jillson, Chapter 1

Š      Federalist #10 (see Jillson, Appendix D, pp. 484-487)

Š      John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10 (sections 221-230 only).  Available online at: http://www.constitution.org/jl/2ndtreat.htm


The Revolution and the Constitution

Š      Short Essay #1 Due (To be turned in at the beginning of class)

Š      Jillson, Chapter 2

Š      Review “The Declaration of Independence”

Š      Thomas Jefferson, “Query 19: Manufacturing” (from Notes on the State of Virginia).  Available online at: http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/JefVirg.html ) 

Š      Jefferson, “First Inaugural Address” (1801).  Available online at: http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres16.html)


Federalism and American Political Development

Š      Jillson, Chapter 3

Š      Federalist #39 (online at: http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa39.htm)

Š      The Constitution, Article I, Secs. 8 & 9; Amendment X (see Jillson, Appendix C)

Š      Selections from Garcia v. San Antonio (1985) (Posted on Blackboard under “course documents”)


I.          ****EXAM #1****

II.        Political Socialization and Public Opinion

Š      Jillson, Chapter 4

Š      Selections from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (hereafter DA) “The Power Exercised by the Majority in America Over Thought” (Posted on Blackboard under “course documents”)


The Mass Media and the Political Agenda

Š      Jillson, Chapter 5

Š      Selections from DA “Freedom of the Press in the United States” (Posted on Blackboard under “course documents”)

Š      Be prepared to discuss Jillson, p. 92—“Pro and Con: Knowledge Ignorance and Democratic Politics”


Interest Groups and Social Movements

Š      Short Essay #2 Due (to be turned in at the beginning of class)

Š      Jillson, Chapter 6

Š      Review Federalist #10

Š      Selections from DA “Tyranny of the Majority” (Posted on Blackboard under “course documents”)



Political Parties

Š      Jillson, Chapter 7

Š      Selections from DA “The Distinction Between Great Parties and Small Parties” (Posted on Blackboard under “course documents”)


Voting, Campaigns, and Elections

Š      Jillson, Chapter 8

Š      Selections from DA “The People’s Choice and the Instincts of American Democracy in Such Choices”

Š      “Chancellor Kent on Universal Suffrage,” Speech to the New York Constitutional Convention of 1821 (Posted on Blackboard under “course documents”)


I.               ****EXAM #2****

II.        Congress and Separation of Powers

Š      Jillson, Chapter 9

Š      Federalist #51 (Jillson—Appendix D, p. 488)


Congress (Cont’d) and The President

Š      Jillson, Chapters 9 (review) and 10 (read all)

Š      Federalist #57.  Available online at: http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa57.htm

Š      Federalist #37.  Available online at: http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa37.htm

Š      “The Case for the Strong Executive” by Harvey C. Mansfield.  Available online at: http://www.opinionjournal.com/federation/feature/?id=110010014


The Federal Courts

Š      Short Essay #3 Due (To be turned in at the beginning of class)

Š      Jillson, Chapter 12

Š      Federalist #78 (Jillson—Appendix D, p. 490)

Š      Thomas Jefferson “Against Judicial Review” (Posted on Blackboard under “course documents”)


The Bureaucracy

Š      Jillson, Chapter 11

Š      Mark P. Petracca, Predisposed to Oppose: Political Scientists and Term Limit (Posted on Blackboard under “course documents”


Civil Rights and Liberties and Public Policy

Š      Jillson, Chapters 13-14

Š      Theodore Roosevelt’s “Economic Bill of Rights” (Posted on Blackboard under “course documents”)

Š      Robert Goldwin “Why Blacks, Women, and Jews are not mentioned in the Constitution”


FINAL EXAM: 6:00 p.m.-7:50 p.m. The exam will take place in DU 461—the room we normally meet in.