POLSC301: American Political Thought

Course Syllabus for "POLSC301: American Political Thought"

Please note: this legacy course does not offer a certificate and may contain broken links and outdated information. Although archived, it is open for learning without registration or enrollment. Please consider contributing updates to this course on GitHub (you can also adopt, adapt, and distribute this course under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license). To find fully-supported, current courses, visit our Learn site.

This course will cover American political thought from the nation’s early, formative years as a fledgling republic through the 1960s, exploring the political theories that have shaped its system of governance.  As there is no one philosopher or idea that represents the totality of American political thought, you will survey the writings and speeches of those who have had the greatest impact over this period of time. You will begin by examining pre-revolutionary thought before moving on to the ideals and debates that brought forth the Constitution and the American governmental structure.  Next, you will study the people and events that shaped the emergent nation, delving into concepts such as individualism, capitalism, and industrialism.  You will also investigate the notions of slavery, equality, social progressivism, as well as the ideals explored in the civil rights movement. You will notice that much of the study required in this course is based on the original texts and speeches of those who influenced political thought throughout American history.  You will learn and evaluate through their eyes and will discover the impact that their views and actions have had on the modern American state.   You are encouraged to identify their continued influence upon current political and social systems.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the religious and political origins of the American political system.
  • Explain how Enlightenment thinkers, such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacque Rousseau, and Baron de Montesquieu, influenced the political philosophies of American founding fathers.
  • Analyze how the colonial American experience shaped many of the core values represented in American government and expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
  • Compare and contrast the differing opinions on the role of the government that the founders expressed.
  • Trace the development and evolution of the concepts of “states rights” and “federal (national) supremacy.”
  • Connect the observations of De Tocqueville in Democracy in America to the concepts of equality, individuality, and civic engagement in American political discourse.
  • Examine the evolution of race in the American political system (from slavery to the 2008 election of Barack Obama).
  • Discuss the changes in the political role of women in America from its colonial days to the present.
  • Connect the concept of “American Exceptionalism” to the industrial revolution, capitalism, and imperialism.
  • Analyze the roots of reform in the Progressive Era and their impact on modern political discourse.
  • Explain major principles of American foreign relations over time.
  • Assess the purpose and impact of “American war rhetoric” over time.
  • Differentiate between “liberal” and “conservative” political beliefs in modern American government.
  • Illustrate how the political turmoil in the 1960s greatly shaped contemporary American political discourse.
  • Evaluate the current political discourse as represented in the 2008 and 2010 elections.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (i.e., Adobe Reader or Flash Player).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed all courses listed in the Core Program of the Political Science discipline.

Course Information

Welcome to POLSC301.  Below, please find some general information on this course and its requirements. 

Course Designer Professor Angela Bowie

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Pay special attention to Unit 1, as it lays the foundation for understanding the more advanced, in-depth material presented in latter units.

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the final exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 154 hours to complete.  Each unit includes a time advisory that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These time advisories should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit and then set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 16.5 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 on Monday night, split subunit 1.2 between Tuesday and Wednesday night, and so forth.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.