American Political Thought


Political Science 378


Fall 2006


Tuesdays and Thursdays   Melinda Kovács

9:30-10:50   AB1, Room 315 M

AB1 Room 306   294 - 4993

Office Hours: T,H 2-3:30

W 4-6

or by appointment



Course description

This course is an upper-level inquiry into what constitutes American political thought, what the most significant contributions have been to political theorizing in the United States, and how this tradition interacts with and fits into, the larger practices of political philosophy. Participants are expected to have a basic understanding of the structures, institutions and processes of American politics and to demonstrate an interest in the organizing principles, guiding ideas and ongoing debates associated with those.


In one particular tradition of political theory, this course uses no textbook. We will focus exclusively on original texts and you will be responsible for reading, comprehending, analyzing and reacting to, major significant works that have contributed to shaping American political thought. These texts vary across genres (many of them are not political in the sense of being about politics), across time periods when they were written and across the personalities of their authors (a woman who went from being a slave to being a traveling preacher and a man from very upper-crust French aristocracy share the capacity to give us insight into American politics).



Course objectives and goals

The goal of this course is both to acquaint participants with the key texts involved and to provide an invitation to engage critically with the ideas presented. By taking this class, you are making a commitment to read and think seriously about American political thought and by teaching the class, I am making a commitment to provide both the materials to read and the space in which they can be discussed. The course will be considered a success if substantial thinking and discussion have taken place. You are always invited to initiate discussions on the basis of the texts we are reading, in ways that are relevant to our current political realities. (Maybe we can figure out if there is anything new under the sun politically ) This course is geared towards those participants who are ready to be actively involved in the learning process and does not cater to those who wish to passively receive information.



Course texts

Given both the nature and the level of this course, there will be a fairly heavy reading load. We will be using books and source materials that are archived and made available online.


The books we will use in the class are available for purchase and will constitute a good basis for a library in American political thought in fact, you may already own several of them. If that is the case, you may choose to use copies you already have but it is then your responsibility to read exactly those selections that are required. The books are:


B. Franklin: The autobiography and other writings. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-039052-9

T. Paine: Common sense. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-039016-2

ed. H .C. Mansfield . Selected writings of Thomas Jefferson. Harlan. ISBN 0-88295-120-3

ed. C. Rossiter. The Federalist papers. Mentor . ISBN 0-451-62541-2

ed. R. D. Heffner. Democracy in America Tocqueville. Mentor . ISBN 0-451-62801-2

ed. T. H. Williams. Selected writings and speeches of Abraham Lincoln. Hendricks

House. ISBN 0-87532-136-4


The additional source documents you need for the course, are made available through Blackboard. You are responsible for downloading and reading them. The different methods of presentation in no way warrant guesses about different levels of significance for these texts.


Grade composition and grading procedures

There will be two in-class midterms and a final exam in this class. All of them will consist of short essays. The midterms will be non-cumulative. The final exam will be cumulative. Because they aim to measure critical engagement, all exams in this course will be open-book, open-note.


To ensure that all participants always complete all readings by the time they first appear on the syllabus, there will be a total of 10 (ten) un-announced reading response exercises in the course of the semester. Ten times during the semester, the beginning of the class meeting will be devoted to writing short reaction papers. For approximately 20 minutes, you will have to write a short response to the reading of the day. These exercises will be strictly closed-book, closed-note. They aim to verify that you have done the reading and done some thinking about it.


Participants are expected to attend class meetings and a portion of your grade will depend on your attendance record. You will be asked to sign in on each day the class meets.


Mid-term 1     15%

Midterm 2     25%

Final exam     30%

Reading responses   20%

Attendance     10%


Grades will be assigned on the standard grading scale:

A = 100-90, B = 89-80, C = 79-70, D = 69-60, F = 59 and below.



Course policies



There will be no extra credit given in this class.



There will be no cell phone and pager use in this class.



All students are expected to engage in all academic pursuits in a manner that is above reproach. Students are expected to maintain honesty and integrity in the academic experiences both in and out of the classroom. Any student found guilty of dishonesty in any phase of academic work will be subject to disciplinary action. The University and its official representatives may initiate disciplinary proceedings against a student accused of any form of academic dishonesty including but not limited to, cheating on an examination or other academic work which is to be submitted, plagiarism, collusion and the abuse of resource materials. For a complete listing of the university policy, see:



Section 51.911(b) of the Texas Education Code requires that an institution of higher education excuse a student from attending classes or other required activities, including examinations, for the observance of a religious holy day, including travel for that purpose. Section 51.911 (a) (2) defines a religious holy day as: a holy day observed by a religion whose places of worship are exempt from property taxation under Section 11.20. A student whose absence is excused under this subsection may not be penalized for that absence and shall be allowed to take an examination or complete an assignment from which the student is excused within a reasonable time after the absence.

University policy 861001 provides the procedures to be followed by the student and instructor. A student desiring to absent himself/herself from a scheduled class in order to observe (a) religious holy day(s) shall present to each instructor involved a written statement concerning the religious holy day(s). The instructor will complete a form notifying the student of a reasonable timeframe in which the missed assignments and/or examinations are to be completed. For a complete listing of the university policy, see:



It is the policy of Sam Houston State University that individuals otherwise qualified shall not be excluded, solely by reason of their disability, from participation in any academic program of the university. Further, they shall not be denied the benefits of these programs nor shall they be subjected to discrimination. Students with disabilities that might affect their academic performance are expected to visit with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities located in the Counseling Center . They should then make arrangements with their individual instructors so that appropriate strategies can be considered and helpful procedures can be developed to ensure that participation and achievement opportunities are not impaired.

SHSU adheres to all applicable federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and guidelines with respect to providing reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. If you have a disability that may affect adversely your work in this class, then I encourage you to register with the SHSU Counseling Center and to talk with me about how I can best help you. All disclosures of disabilities will be kept strictly confidential. NOTE: No accommodation can be made until you register with the Counseling Center . For a complete listing of the university policy, see:



Only registered students may attend class. Exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis by the professor. In all cases, visitors must not present a disruption to the class by their attendance. Students wishing to audit a class must apply to do so through the Registrar's Office.



Course schedule


Aug 22 T   Intro to the course

Aug 24 H   Political theory and political philosophy

Aug 29 T   American political thought

Aug 31 H   Starting points: The Iroquois Constitution

Sept 5 T   Starting points: The Mayflower Compact, A Model of Christian Charity

Sept 7 H   Starting points: Sinners in the hands of and angry God

Sept 12 T   Reason and revolutionary spirit: Paine: Common Sense

Sept 14 H   The creation of the self: Franklin

Sept 19 T   MIDTERM 1

Sept 21 H   The creation of public unity: The Federalist Papers

Sept 26 T   The creation of public unity: The Federalist Papers

Sept 28 H   The creation of public unity: The Federalist Papers

Oct 3 T   The creation of public unity: The Federalist Papers

Oct 5 H   The creation of public unity: The Federalist Papers

Oct 10 T   The creation of public unity: The Federalist Papers

Oct 12 H   The creation of public unity: The Federalist Papers

Oct 17 T   The creation of public unity: The Federalist Papers

Oct 19 H   The fate of public unity: Lincoln

Oct 24 T   The fate of public unity: Lincoln

Oct 26 H   The fate of public unity: Lincoln

Oct 31 T   The fate of public unity: Lincoln

Nov 2 H   The fate of public unity: Lincoln

Nov 7 T   MIDTERM 2

Nov 9 H   Outsider insight: Tocqueville

Nov 14 T   Outsider insight: Tocqueville

Nov 16 H   Outsider insight: Tocqueville

Nov 21 T   Outsider insight: Tocqueville

Nov 28 T   Outsider insight: Tocqueville

Nov 30 H   Outsider insight: Tocqueville

Dec 5 T   Issues of exclusion: Declaration of Sentiments, Ain't I a woman?

Dec 7 H   review day


final exam to be scheduled by SHSU