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POLSC231: Introduction to American Politics

Unit 1: American Political Foundations   The American political system is rich in history. In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the American government, you will need to learn this history and recognize the ways in which it impacts the political landscape today.
 
This unit will begin with a brief introduction to the course as well as a concise overview of the American political system. We will focus on broad-based questions and explore the defining characteristics of American government and political culture. Next, we will work to identify the origins of American republican democracy, learning how it developed and evolved into our current political system. Finally, we will conclude by examining the key aspects of the American Constitution and relate its design and development to the unique American political culture in place today.

Unit 1 Time Advisory
Completing this unit should take approximately 29.5 hours.
 
☐    Subunit 1.1: 3.5 hours
 
☐    Subunit 1.2: 15.25 hours
 

☐    Subunit 1.2.1: 1 hour

 

☐    Subunit 1.2.2: 0.5 hours

 

☐    Subunit 1.2.3: 2.75 hours

 

☐    Subunit 1.2.4: 2 hours

 

☐    Subunit 1.2.5: 3.5 hours

 

☐    Subunit 1.2.6: 2 hours

 
☐    Subunit 1.3: 8.5 hours
 

☐    Subunit 1.3.1: 0.5 hours

 

☐    Subunit 1.3.2: 0.5 hours

 

☐    Subunit 1.3.3: 2 hours

 

☐    Subunit 1.3.4: 0.25 hours

 
☐    Unit 1 Current Events Challenge: 1.5 hours
 
☐    Unit 1 Assessment: 0.75 hours

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to: - explain the major purposes of government; - explain the different definitions of democracy; - compare and contrast the various forms of democracy, particularly between the US and other Western countries; - discuss the historical roots of British rule in America and the move towards colonial independence; - describe the governmental system under the Articles of Confederation, its inherent problems, and the factors which generated the need to replace this system; - discuss the key issues of debate during the Constitutional Convention, including representation, national vs. state power, and slavery; - analyze the differences between and discuss the main purpose of the Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan, and Great Compromise; - explain the basic principles embodied in the Constitution, including checks and balances, separation of powers, and federalism; - explain the Anti-Federalist and Federalist arguments regarding the size and scope of government during the ratification debate; - explain the Constitution’s amendment process; - describe how the Constitution has remained relevant in contemporary society; - explain the arguments put forth in The Federalist Papers regarding power-sharing arrangements between national and state government; - define the various type of federalism, including layer cake, marble, fiscal, and cooperative; - discuss the significant eras and events in the evolution of American federalism; - explain the role of federalism in both electoral politics and the media; and - explain the various perspectives on the role and importance of freedom, order, and equality in society.

1.1 The Challenge of Democracy and the American Political System   - Reading: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Student Study Guide #1: Democracy, the Constitution, and Federalism” Link: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Student Study Guide #1: Democracy, the Constitution, and Federalism” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read over this brief list of questions, which will be addressed over the course of Unit 1. You should use it as a guide before each subunit to help you determine some of the most important material to be covered. At the end of the unit, use it as a resource for reviewing important terms and concepts.
 
Reading this study guide and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: This resource has been reposted with the kind permission of Dr. Patrick Scott. Please note that this material is under copyright and may not be reproduced in any capacity without the explicit permission of the copyright holder.

1.1.1 The Purpose, Role, and Impact of Government   - Reading: Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World: “Chapter 10: Politics and Government” Link: Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World: “Chapter 10: Politics and Government” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read Section 1 on pages 460-473 of the chapter reading titled “Politics and Government.” Politics is essentially the exercise and use of power within a society. Various types of power are used within different political systems. This section provides a foundation for understanding the democratic form of government as practiced in the United States and countries around the world.
 
Reading this section and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee.

  • Web Media: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “American Democracy and Scholarship” Link: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “American Democracy and Scholarship” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Use this PowerPoint as a reference as you watch the video lectures in this subunit and in subunit 1.1.3, titled “Introduction to Democracy I” and “Introduction to Democracy II.”
     
    Reading this presentation and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: This resource has been reposted with the kind permission of Dr. Patrick Scott. Please note that this material is under copyright and may not be reproduced in any capacity without the explicit permission of the copyright holder.

  • Lecture: YouTube: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Introduction to Democracy I” Link: YouTube: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Introduction to Democracy I” (YouTube)
     
    Also available in:

    iTunesU (Lecture 1)
     
    Instructions: Watch this introductory lecture on democracy and American government from Dr. Scott’s podcast. The lecture will introduce you to the principle themes and topics that will be covered in this course, focusing on how democraticgovernment in the US compares to other democracies in the international system. Pay special attention to the connections Dr. Scott draws between course materials and real-world political activities and events. The first five minutes are specific to Dr. Scott’s course at Missouri State University. The content explained in the overview will be helpful; however, do not pay attention to the course requirements or assignments.
     
    Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 45 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: This resource has been reposted with the kind permission of Dr. Patrick Scott from Missouri State University and can be viewed in its original form here. Please note that this material is under copyright and may not be reproduced in any capacity without the explicit permission of the copyright holder.

1.1.2 A “Unique” American System of Democracy   - Activity: A “Unique” American System of Democracy After watching the video in subunit 1.1.1, try to identify the elements of the American system that set it apart from other democracies around the world.
 
Completing this activity should take approximately 15 minutes.

1.1.3 Meanings of Democracy   - Lecture: YouTube: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Introduction to Democracy II” Link: YouTube: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Introduction to Democracy II” (YouTube)
 
Also available in:
iTunes U (Lecture 2)
 
Instructions: Watch this introductory lecture on democracy and American government. In this lecture, Dr. Scott discusses some of the integral institutional structures and rules necessary for representative democracy to work in a manner that protects individual rights and liberties in the US. Take note of the distinction between politics and government.
 
Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 45 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: This resource has been reposted with the kind permission of Patrick Scott from Missouri State University and can be viewed in its original form here. Please note that this material is under copyright and may not be reproduced in any capacity without the explicit permission of the copyright holder.

  • Reading: Indiana University’s *Civic Quotes* Link: Indiana University’s Civic Quotes (iOS app)
     
    Instructions: If you choose to use this app, you will need to download the version appropriate to your mobile device. Note that the apps in this course are optional because there may be associated costs. No quiz or exam questions will be derived from this material, but these apps are still useful supplementary resources. Open the above app, which provides a large collection of notable quotations from US government leaders, both past and present, on democracy and government. Read the accompanying primary source images related to the person being quoted. You can also take a quiz from recent national standardized civics tests. This app is a useful companion piece to Dr. Scott’s lectures “Introduction to Democracy I” and “Introduction to Democracy II.”
     
    Reading through this app should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 1.1.3 − Quickfire Quiz” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 1.1.3 − Quickfire Quiz” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Answer these questions to assess your understanding of this subunit.
     
    Completing this activity should take approximately 15 minutes.

1.2 The Constitution   - Web Media: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “The Constitution and the Founding” Link: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “The Constitution and the Founding” (PPT)
 
Instructions: Use this PowerPoint as a reference as you watch the video lectures “The Constitution I” and “The Constitution II” below.
 
Reading this presentation and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: This resource has been reposted with the kind permission of Dr. Patrick Scott. Please note that this material is under copyright and may not be reproduced in any capacity without the explicit permission of the copyright holder.

  • Lecture: YouTube: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “The US Constitution I” and “The US Constitution II” Link: YouTube: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “The US Constitution I” (YouTube) and “The US Constitution II” (YouTube)
     
    Also available in:
    iTunes U (Lecture 3 and 4)
     
    Instructions: It is nearly impossible to gain an understanding of American government without a firm grasp of its origins and foundations as embodied in the Constitution. As the supreme law of the United States, it is empowered with the sovereign authority of the people by the framers and the consent of the states. The Constitution is the source of all governmental powers, and it provides important limitations on the government that protect the fundamental rights of United States citizens. Note that these lectures also cover the material you need to know for subunits 1.2.1-1.2.6
     
    Watching these lectures and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: The material above has been reposted with the kind permission of Patrick Scott from Missouri State University and can be viewed in its original form here. Please note that this material is under copyright and may not be reproduced in any capacity without the explicit permission of the copyright holder.

  • Reading: American Government and Politics in the Information Age: “Chapter 2: The Constitution and the Structure of Government Power” Link: American Government and Politics in the Information Age: “Chapter 2: The Constitution and the Structure of Government Power” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Read Chapter 2 on pages 47-84 for a solid background on the events leading up to the first American political system, the principles embedded in the Constitution, and how the media depicts the Constitution and constitutional issues. The authors offer a unique perspective on government and politics and their relationship to media in the 21st century. Each chapter ties media to the particular institution, process, or policy area under study and presents the most common media depictions of its subject.
     
    Reading this chapter and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee.

  • Mobile App: Librainia’s *Federalist Era First-Hand American History* Link: Librainia’s Federalist Era First-Hand American History (iOS app)
     
    Instructions: Open this optional app to view more than 30 primary source writings from prominent US statesmen during the years 1783-1803. Read the “first-hand” accounts related to the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Each account allows you to add personal notes and highlights within the document. Please note that there is a cost of $0.99 associated with this optional app.
     
    Reading through this app should take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 1.2 − Quickfire Quiz” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 1.2 − Quickfire Quiz” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Answer these questions to assess your understanding of this subunit.
     
    Completing this activity should take approximately 15 minutes.

1.2.1 Historic Underpinnings – Colonial Times and Independence   - Reading: The National Archives’ Charters of Freedom: “The Declaration of Independence: A History” and “The Declaration of Independence” Link: The National Archives’ Charters of Freedom: “The Declaration of Independence: A History” (PDF) and “The Declaration of Independence” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read both documents. The Declaration of Independence is a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the 13 American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. Instead, they formed a new nation – the United States of America. The interpretation of the Declaration of Independence has been the subject of much scholarly analysis. It justified the independence of the United States by listing colonial grievances against King George III, and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution. Having served its original purpose in announcing independence, the text of the Declaration was initially ignored after the American Revolution. Since then, it has come to be considered a major statement on human rights. In addition, the Declaration is, in many ways, a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution can be interpreted.
 
Reading these documents and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.
 
Terms of Use: This resource is in the public domain.

1.2.2 Early Government: The Articles of Confederation   - Reading: The Library of Congress’ “Articles of Confederation” Link: The Library of Congress’ “Articles of Confederation” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the commentary that accompanies the Articles of Confederation as well as the document itself. This site, and the supplementary links, especially the Atlantic Monthly article on the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, provides important historical background for understanding the Articles and the development of the US Constitution. Adopted in 1781 during the Revolutionary War, the Articles created a loose confederation of 13 sovereign states with marginal formal central government power. The national government under the Articles proved to be very weak and the states sought more and more power sometimes in opposition to one another. The commentary explains some of the Articles’ most critical shortcomings, which eventually prompted the creation of a constitutional convention to address the weaknesses. As you read, pay particular attention to the treatment of the Bill of Rights throughout the early years of American political history.
 
Reading this document and commentary should take approximately 30 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.3 The Constitutional Convention of 1787: Debates and Compromises   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Constitutional Convention: Debates and Compromise” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Constitutional Convention: Debates and Compromise” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read this short article, which will provide you with some background information on the concerns that the Founding Fathers had before and during the Constitutional Convention and the compromises they were forced to make when creating the US Constitution.
 
Although the Convention was intended to revise the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, was to create a new government rather than fix the existing one. The most contentious disputes revolved around congressional representation, the nature of executive power, and the abolition of the slave trade. Most of the partisan lines among the delegates developed between large/small states and northern/southern states. After a four-month debate, what resulted was the United States Constitution, placing the Convention among the most significant events in the history of the United States.
 
Reading this article should take approximately 1 hour.

  • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Comparing Constitutional Convention Plans” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Comparing Constitutional Convention Plans” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: During the 1787 Constitutional Convention, the most contentious disputes revolved around representation in Congress, how to structure executive power, and whether the federal judiciary should be chosen by the legislature or the executive branch. In addition to the overarching issue of slavery, most of the time during the convention was spent on deciding these issues.
     
    The majority of the delegates formed vocal factions to advocate for the best interest of their state, and put forth numerous plans that reflected their most pressing issues. The two most well-known proposals – the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan – helped to create the parameters for intense debate and eventual, agreed upon compromises.
     
    For this assessment, you will compare the specific provisions outlined in the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Great Compromise. Using this worksheet, write a short description on each plan’s proposed structure for the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. Check your responses using this answer key.
     
    Completing this assessment should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 1.2.3 − Quickfire Quiz” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 1.2.3 − Quickfire Quiz” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Answer these questions to assess your understanding of this subunit.
     
    Completing this activity should take approximately 15 minutes.

1.2.4 The Ratification Debate: Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists   - Reading: US Department of State: About America: The Constitution of the United States: J. W. Peltason’s “Ratifying the Constitution” and “The Bill of Rights” Link: US Department of State: About America: The Constitution of the United States: J. W. Peltason’s “Ratifying the Constitution” (PDF) and “The Bill of Rights” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read these short excerpts for some background information on the important role that the Bill of Rights played in securing ratification of the Constitution. Despite the several months spent debating and compromising on key aspects of the Constitution, some delegates were still unsatisfied with the final document. The ratification process divided many Americans into two opposing camps – the Federalists (who supported ratification) and the Anti-Federalists (who opposed it). The latter felt the national government would be given too much power at the expense of state governments and that, more critically, the Constitution provided no written guarantee of individual liberties (a “bill of rights”). The Federalists thought a listing of rights could be a dangerous thing. If the national government were to protect specific listed rights, what would stop it from violating rights other than the listed ones? Since we can’t list all the rights, the Federalists argued, it was better to list none at all. However, the Federalists finally relented when it became apparent that New York and Virginia – states whose participation would be critical under the new government – would withhold their approval of the Constitution pending inclusion of a Bill of Rights.
 
Reading these selections and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: This resource is in the public domain.

  • Reading: Founding Fathers: James Madison’s “Federalist No. 10” and “No. 51” Link: Founding Fathers: James Madison’s “Federalist No. 10” (HTML) and “No. 51” (HTML)
     
    Also available in:
    eText format in Google Books (Free)
     
    Instructions: Read “Federalist No. 10” and “No. 51,” two of the most famous Federalist Papers written by James Madison and among the most highly regarded of all American political writings. For No. 10, identify why he believes that the Constitution provides for a form of government that will control “factions” and fulfill the will of the people. No. 51 addresses the means by which appropriate checks and balances can be created in government, and also advocates a separation of powers within the national government. One of its most important ideas is the often-quoted phrase, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” You can find the remainder of the Federalist Papers here.
     
    Reading these selections and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.
     
    Terms of Use: This resource is in the public domain.

  • Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 1.2.5 − Quickfire Quiz” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 1.2.5 − Quickfire Quiz” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Answer these questions to assess your understanding of this subunit.
     
    Completing this activity should take approximately 15 minutes.

1.2.5 Constitutional Principles   - Reading: The US National Archives and Records Administration: “Constitution of the United States” Link: The US National Archives and Records Administration: “Constitution of the United States” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the original text of the Constitution that was signed by the convention delegates and was presented to the states for ratification on September 17, 1787. Begin with the Preamble (“We the People”) and then read Articles I through VII. The resource below provides a good companion piece for understanding the key principles embedded in the Constitution.
 
Note: Sections that are hyperlinked have since been amended or superseded. The hyperlinks will take you to the text of the specific amendment.
 
Reading this selection and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour to complete.
 
Terms of Use: This resource is in the public domain.

  • Web Media: YouTube: The Regents of the University of California: US Government and Politics: Lesson 5 – The Constitution.” Link: YouTube: The Regents of the University of California: US Government and Politics: “Lesson 5 – The Constitution” (YouTube)
     
    Instructions: Watch this two-part presentation to learn the core principles and structure of the Constitution.
     
    Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License. It is attributed to the Regents of the University of California, and the original version can be found here.

  • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “The Constitution Guiding Questions” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “The Constitution Guiding Questions” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: The Constitution originally consisted of seven articles. The first three articles embody the doctrine of the separation of powers, whereby the federal government is divided into three distinct branches. The fourth and sixth articles frame the doctrine of federalism, describing the relationship between states and between the states and the federal government. The fifth article provides the procedure for amending the Constitution and the seventh article provides the procedure for its ratification. A closer look at the wording of the Constitution reveals how its framers successfully separated and balanced governmental powers to safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights.
     
    Using the Constitution of the United States, answer these questions about the original text, and then check your answers with this answer key.
     
    Completing this assessment should take approximately 2 hours.

    Terms of Use: The text of the Constitution of the United States is in the public domain.

1.2.6 The Constitution Today: A “Living Document”   - Web Media: YouTube: The News Buckit: “Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer on the Constitution” Link: YouTube: The News Buckit: “Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer on the Constitution” (YouTube)
 
Instructions: Watch this public presentation of Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Breyer. Their discussion outlines different philosophical views of the constitution. Justice Breyer sees the Constitution as a living document that should be viewed through the lens of contemporary politics and culture. Justice Scalia does not agree and is more inclined to view the Constitution less as a living document and more in terms of what the framers of the Constitution intended for each amendment. He believes it is a mistake to read the Constitution with too much consideration of contemporary cultural and political ideas and beliefs.
 
Watching this presentation and pausing to take notes should take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: US Department of State: “An Adaptable Document” Link: US Department of State: “An Adaptable Document” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Read this short excerpt on the Constitution’s worldwide influence. After the US Constitution was ratified in 1788, it soon became a benchmark for self-government and a model for many countries’ constitutions thereafter, including Poland, France, Spain, Portugal, and many Italian states. Interestingly, the US Constitution is the shortest written Constitution of any sovereign country in the world. This was, in many ways, an intentional effort by the Founding Fathers to provide the latitude necessary for future interpretation and amendments.
     
    Reading this selection and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: This resource is in the public domain.

  • Mobile App: Multieducator’s *Constitution and Federalist Papers* Link: Multieducator’s Constitution and Federalist Papers (iOS app)
     
    Instructions: This optional app includes the full text of the US Constitution with a clause-by-clause explanation of each section (including commentary on each of the 27 amendments). It also includes all 85 Federalist Papers for your reference.
     
    Reading through the Constitution section of this optional app should take approximately 2 hours.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Mobile App: Ken Hunt’s *United States Constitution* Link: Ken Hunt’s United States Constitution (Android app)
     
    Instructions: This optional app displays the full text of the US Constitution. It also includes the biographies of the signers of the Constitution, the dates in which each state ratified the document, and a Constitution “timeline.”
     
    Reading through this app should take approximately 2 hours.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.3 Federalism   - Web Media: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Federalism” Link: Missouri State University: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Federalism” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Use this PowerPoint as a reference as you watch the video lectures “Federalism I” and “Federalism II” below.
 
Reading through this presentation and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: This resource has been reposted with the kind permission of Dr. Patrick Scott. Please note that this material is under copyright and may not be reproduced in any capacity without the explicit permission of the copyright holder.

  • Lecture: YouTube: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Federalism I” and “Federalism II” Link: YouTube: Dr. Patrick Scott’s “Federalism I” (YouTube) and “Federalism II” (YouTube)
     
    Also available in:

    iTunes U (Lectures 5 and 6)
     
    Instructions: Watch both these lectures on federalism. The first lecture is about 36 minutes, and the second lecture is about 48 minutes.
     
    Federalism is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, but it is one of the key principles that the document embodies, particularly in the way it allocates power between the national government and the states. Because the states were preexisting political entities in 1787, the US Constitution did not need to define or explain federalism in any one section. However, it often mentions the rights and responsibilities of state governments in relation to the federal government. The federal government has certain express powers (also called enumerated powers), which are powers spelled out in the Constitution, including the right to levy taxes, declare war, and regulate interstate and foreign commerce. In addition, the Necessary and Proper Clause, in Section 8 of Article I, gives the federal government the implied power to pass any law “necessary and proper” for the execution of its express powers. Other powers – reserved powers – are reserved for the people or the states. Federalism has evolved significantly since it was first implemented, and it continues to be the subject of intense academic, legal, and political debate.
     
    Watching these presentations and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: The material above has been reposted with the kind permission of Patrick Scott from Missouri State University, and can be viewed in its original form here. Please note that this material is under copyright and may not be reproduced in any capacity without the explicit permission of the copyright holder.

  • Reading: American Government and Politics in the Information Age: “Chapter 3: Federalism” Link: American Government and Politics in the Information Age: “Chapter 3: Federalism” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Read this chapter on the federalist system of government in the US on pages 84-119. The US Constitution outlines a federalist system of government in which the powers of government are divided among national, state, and local governments. Each of these levels of government has its own power and responsibilities. Note that, in theory, state governments cannot make laws that conflict with the laws the national government makes.
     
    Reading this chapter and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.
     
    Terms of Use: This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee.

  • Reading: Founding Fathers: Alexander Hamilton’s “Federalist No. 16” and “No. 17” and James Madison’s “Federalist No. 39” Link: Founding Fathers: Alexander Hamilton’s “Federalist No. 16” (HTML) and “No. 17” (HTML) and James Madison’s “Federalist No. 39” (HTML)
     
    Also available in:
    eText Format in Google Books (Free)
     
    Instructions: Read one of the listed Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, either No. 16 or No. 17, and read James Madison’s No. 39. Hamilton’s Nos. 16 and 17 were two of six topics in the Federalist Papers to directly address the failures of the Articles of Confederation. Within this context, Hamilton argues the need for a strong national government to unify the country, and seeks to address concerns that the proposed Constitution will lead to tyranny. No. 39, written by James Madison, strikes a more conciliatory tone towards the federal aspects of the government – remember, Hamilton only expounds on the national aspects. He believes that only a republican form of government can carry forward the principles fought for in the Revolution and demonstrates that self-government is both possible and practical.
     
    Reading these selections and taking notes should take approximately 2 hours.
     
    Terms of Use: This resource is in the public domain.

  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 1.3 − Quickfire Quiz” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Subunit 1.3 − Quickfire Quiz” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Answer these questions to assess your understanding of this subunit.
     
    Completing this activity should take approximately 15 minutes.

1.3.1 Defining Federalism   - Web Media: YouTube: The Regents of the University of California: US Government and Politics: “Lesson 7 – Layer Cake Federalism” Link: YouTube: The Regents of the University of California: US Government and Politics: “Lesson 7 – Layer Cake Federalism” (YouTube)
 
Instructions: Watch this two-part presentation on the key elements of federalism in the American political system. Layer cake federalism – also known as “dual” federalism – describes a certain form of federalism in which the national government and state governments have distinct realms of authority that do not overlap and into which the other should not intrude. This form of federalism is in direct contrast to “marble cake” or “cooperative” federalism (more on this in the next subunit), which is based on a mixing of authority and programs among the national, state, and local governments.
 
Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License. It is attributed to the Regents of the University of California, and the original version can be found here.

1.3.2 Federalism in Practice   - Web Media: YouTube: The Regents of the University of California: US Government and Politics: “Lesson 8 – Evolution of Federalism” Link: YouTube: The Regents of the University of California: US Government and Politics: “Lesson 8 – Evolution of Federalism” (YouTube)
 
Instructions: Watch this two-part presentation on cooperative and fiscal federalism. While fiscal federalism has resulted in federal monies for states in a wide variety of areas – agriculture, transportation, research – there has been concern by states over burdensome regulations and requirements. In recent years, there has been a push to return power to the states (“devolution”), placing the burden of a wide range of domestic programs on state governments so that they can design programs in a way that suits their own residents.
 
Watching this presentation and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License. It is attributed to the Regents of the University of California, and the original version can be found here.

1.3.3 Federalism, Ideology, and Policy   - Reading: Congressional Research Service: Eugene Boyd and Michael K. Fauntroy’s “American Federalism, 1776 to 2000: Significant Events” Link: Congressional Research Service: Eugene Boyd and Michael K. Fauntroy’s “American Federalism, 1776 to 2000: Significant Events” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Since the ratification the Constitution, which established a union of states under a federal system of governance, two questions have generated considerable debate: What is the nature of the union? What powers, privileges, duties, and responsibilities does the Constitution grant to the national government and reserve for the states and for the people? The answers to these questions have been debated time and again, having shaped and been shaped by the nation’s political, social, and economic history.
 
The authors of this selection identify several significant eras and events in the evolution of American federalism over a 200+ year period and provide a capsule description of each.
 
Reading this selection and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.
 
Terms of Use: This resource is in the public domain.

  • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Everyday Federalism” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Everyday Federalism” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: The US Constitution establishes a government based on federalism – the sharing of power between the national and state (and local) governments. The federal government’s powers are enumerated in the Constitution, while the states are granted certain “reserved” powers. Although they are not mentioned in the Constitution, there are nearly 90,000 local governments throughout the United States. Local governments have a wide variety of powers and responsibilities – overseeing hospitals and libraries, police and fire protection, water supply, sewage, refuse collection and disposal, building construction rules and lighting streets to name just a few.
     
    The two major reasons for having several levels of government are scale and power. Each level of government deals with issues that are appropriate to its scale, or size. For example, the federal level deals with national security and the declaration of war – issues that affect all of the people in the nation. The local levels deal with the upkeep and repair of streets – an issue that is only important to the people who live in that area. Another reason for adopting a federal system is that it is designed to distribute, or break-up, power and authority. This structural feature of government is designed to protect the people against the whims of one all-powerful ruler.
     
    As a result of our federal system, most Americans do not realize the prevalence of government in their everyday lives. The below story was formulated by the National Conference of State Legislators. Read through this story and identify the level of government – federal, state, or local – that would most likely deal with each of the items that are underlined. (Some items may involve more than one level of government). Check your responses with this answer key.
     
    Completing this assessment should take approximately 1 hour.

1.3.4 Federalism and Electoral Politics   The political parties stand for different principles with regard to federalism. Democrats prefer policies to be set by the national government. They opt for national standards for consistency across states and localities, often through attaching stringent conditions to the use of national funds. Republicans usually decry such centralization and endorse giving powers to the states and reducing funds for the national government.

  • Web Media: Khan Academy’s “Electoral College” Link: Khan Academy’s “Electoral College” (Adobe Flash)
     
    Instructions: Watch this video which provides a helpful primer on the role of the Electoral College in electing US presidents. As you watch the video, think about what role the federalist system plays in explaining why the Electoral College been able to adapt and endure over two centuries of sometimes controversial presidential elections.
     
    Watching this video and answering the question above should take approximately 15 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. It is attributed to the Khan Academy.

1.3.5 Federalism in the Information Age   - Reading: American Government and Politics in the Information Age: “Chapter 3, Section 4: Federalism in the Information Age” Link: American Government and Politics in the Information Age: “Chapter 3, Section 4: Federalism in the Information Age” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Read this section on pages 112-118, which analyzes the role of the media in covering federalism. National, state, and local news and entertainment outlets all depict federalism in various ways. In the 21st century, they have been changed by new technologies that communicate across geographical boundaries.
 
Reading this section and pausing to take notes should take you approximately 15 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee.

Unit 1 Current Events Challenge   - Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 1 Current Events Challenge” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 1 Current Events Challenge” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Follow the instructions linked above to connect concepts learned in Unit 1 to current political events in American government.
 
Completing this activity should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Unit 1 Assessment   - Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 1 Assessment” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 1 Assessment” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Complete the linked assessment. You must be logged into your Saylor Foundation School account in order to access this quiz. If you do not yet have an account, you will be able to create one, free of charge, after clicking the link.
 
Completing this assessment should take approximately 45 minutes.