Pols 314A: american political thought

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Smita A. Rahman smitarahman@depauw.edu

104 Asbury Hall Office Phone: 765-658-4830

Department of Political Science Cell Phone: 773-572-6163

Office Hours: Tues 10:30-12:30 and Wed 11:30-12:30 Skype: smita.a.rahman


What is America? What are the theoretical foundations of the American polity? This course focuses on the central questions that have shaped American politics by examining the primary texts written by those who have contributed to the continuing debates. The aim of the course is to use some of the central texts of American Political Thought to explore the central political-philosophical ideas at work in the American system of government. Topics of particular interest include the roots of American Puritanism and Liberalism, constitutionalism, the Federalist Anti-Federalist debate, the nature of a federal polity, American identity and exceptionalism. We will read several texts from across the American political tradition in chronological order, starting with the Puritans and ending with contemporary American liberalism. Along the way, we will read speeches and texts from politicians, encounter a “view from the other side” with Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, wrestle with the profound ethical questions and philosophical individualism put forward by Thoreau and Emerson, and explore questions of race and power.


As an upper level class, this course will require close reading of and critical engagement with influential philosophical texts. This course will broaden your understanding of political theory in general and also help you to develop a deeper perspective on the ideas and concepts that shape American government

The course is designed to help you:

  • Develop a broad philosophical understanding of the foundational theoretical concepts of American Politics

  • Improve your ability to speak and write clearly about complex theoretical concepts

  • Learn to identify the continuing intersection between theory and practice in contemporary politics.


As an advanced level seminar, this course requires active participation in class. You must come to class having not only done the reading, but also having actively engaged with it, explored its assumptions and implications, and questioned its premises. Regular attendance is a must. This course is a seminar, which requires active and engaged participation.

You will be required to write three essays for this course—an open book in-class essay, a short 3-5 page essay, and a longer 8-10 page final essay that is cumulative and covers a variety of thinkers we will explore in the class. Topics for both papers will be distributed well in advance of the due date.
All students will be required to do an in-class presentation on the text of their choice. All days marked with a P on the syllabus are designated presentation days. Early in the semester you will be allowed to choose a date for your presentation. In addition to the oral presentation, you must submit a written version of the presentation to me before class. Detailed presentation instructions are available on the Moodle site for the course.
You will be graded on three criteria: (i) content (highlighting key concepts, analyzing them effectively and raising questions for discussion) (ii) structure (do your points flow together and are they connected to a set of arguments) (iii) style (speaking clearly and engaging others).
Your grade for this course will be computed as follows:

In Class Exam 25%

Short Essay 15%

Final Essay 30%

Class Presentation 15%

Class Participation and Attendance 15%

If you fail to complete the exam, presentation, midterm, or final paper you will not pass the course.
If you are permitted extra time during an exam because of a disability, you must inform me well in advance of the scheduled exam so alternative arrangements can be made for you. If you need to reschedule an exam because of an athletic or university event or because of illness, you must submit documentary evidence for my consideration in advance of the scheduled exam. If you miss an exam without prior notice you will not be allowed to make it up, except in rare cases, with detailed documentation from your doctor or DePauw Administration

Texts for Purchase:

Wootton, The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers

Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Volume I)
Electronic Texts on Moodle:

*Ward, The Simple Cobbler

*Winthrop, “Little Speech” on Liberty

*Cotton, Limitation of Government

*Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution

*Wise, A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches

*Mayhew, Unlimited Submission to the Higher Power

*Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, Special Message to Congress,

The Gettysburg Address, and Second Inaugural Address

*DuBois, The Conservation of Races and The Talented Tenth

*Malcolm X, The Ballot or the BulletAnd Educate Our People in Politics

*Emerson, Self-Reliance

*Thoureau, Walking

*Rawls, A Theory of Justice


Violations of DePauw University’s Academic Integrity Policy will be taken very seriously and punished accordingly. All violations will be reported officially and the student will fail the assignment for which they are charged with the violation.

The complete Academic Integrity Policy can be found at: http://www.depauw.edu/handbooks/academic/policies/integrity/

My office hours are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Tuesday, I am available in my office from 10:30-12:30. I am also available in my office from 11:30-12:30PM on Wednesdays. Feel free to drop by to talk about the class, discuss future interests or simply to continue a conversation! In addition to these regular weekly office hours, I am often available to meet on Fridays as well, but not every week. Send me an email to set up an appointment if you need to meet to on a day when I do not offer office hours. I am also available to meet via Skype (my Skype address is smita.a.rahman) and also available to talk on the phone (773-572-6163) if we cannot meet in person. I strongly prefer to have conversations in person so while I am happy to respond to texts and talk you on the phone or skype, please try to come by office hours first.

I also offer additional office hours before presentations and before the final paper is due and will announce them in advance by email.
August 29 No Class—Away for Conference
September 3 Introduction
September 5 The Puritans

* Nathaniel Ward, “The Simple Cobbler”

* John Winthrop, “Little Speech” on Liberty

* John Cotton, Limitation of Government

* Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution

* John Wise, A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches

* Jonathan Mayhew, Unlimited Submission to the Higher Power
September 10 The Puritans, contd.

* The Declaration of Independence

September 12 The Articles of Confederation

The Constitution of the United States

(Both in back of Essential Federalist and Anti Federalist Papers)
September 17 The Federalist Papers Nos. 1, 2, 6, 9, 10
September 19 The Federalist Papers Nos. 14, 23, 24, 31, 37, 39
September 24 The Federalist Papers Nos. 47-49, 51, 52, 55, 57
September 26 The Federalist Papers Nos. 62, 63, 70, 78, 84, 85
October 1 The Anti-Federalists pp. 1-41
October 3 In-Class Essay

October 8 Thomas Paine, Common Sense, pp. 23-72 (P)

October 10 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Vol. 1 pp. 17-58 (P)
October 15 No Class- Religious Holiday, Eid ul Adha
October 17 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Vol.1 pp. 59-106 (P)
October 22-24 No Class—Fall Break
October 29 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Vol. 1 pp. 254-268 and 288-326(P)
October 31 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Vol. 1 pp. 331-414 (P)
November 5 Short Essay Due

Film: Lincoln

November 7 Film: Lincoln
November 12 Discussion of Film

* Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address and Special Message to Congress (P)

November 14 * Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, and Second Inaugural Address (P)
November 19 *W. E. B. Du Bois, The Conservation of Races, from Souls of Black Folk (P)

The Talented Tenth from The Negro Problem (P)
November 21 * Malcolm X, The Ballot or the Bullet (P)

And Educate Our People in Politics (P)

November 26 * Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (P)
November 28 No Class—Thanksgiving

December 3 *Henry David Thoureau, Walking (P)

December 5 *John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (excerpt 1) (P)
December 10 *John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (excerpt 2) (P)
December 12 Conclusion

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