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POLSC331: Congressional Politics

Unit 1: History and Structure of Congress   This unit will provide you with a basic understanding of the history and structure of the United States Congress.  You will begin with an introduction to Congress and its role in the American political system.  You will then examine the debates and compromises that led to the creation of the legislative branch.  You will also learn about some of the basic differences between the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate while taking note of their individual characteristics.  The unit will then focus on the composition of Congress today.  By the end of the unit, you should have a clear understanding of the origins of the American legislative branch and how it has evolved over time.  

Unit 1 Time Advisory
This unit should take you approximately 14.75 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 1.1: 6 hours

☐    Subunit 1.1.1: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 1.1.2: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 1.1.3: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2: 4.75 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2.1: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2.2: 1.75 hours

☐    Subunit 1.3: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 1.3.1: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 1.3.2: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 1.3.3: 1 hour

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

  • Explain how Congress was structured by the Framers of the Constitution.
  • Discuss how Congress is shaped by the U.S. Constitution.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the importance of bicameralism in a representative body.
  • Compare and contrast features of the House and the Senate.
  • Explain the evolution of Congress as a modern institution.

1.1 History of the Legislative Branch   1.1.1 The Framers and Congress   - Reading: The Massachusetts Historical Society’s “The Coming of the American Revolution: 1764-1776” Link: The Massachusetts Historical Society’s “The Coming of the American Revolution: 1764-1776” (HTML)
 
Instructions: While the American colonies were still under British rule, they created their first form of national representation, the Continental Congress.  They did so in order to respond in a unified voice to what they viewed as tyrannical edicts from Great Britain.  Later, this body would take the lead in declaring its independence from the mother country and prepare for war against it.  
 
Go to the above website, and read the introduction.  Also, click on the links to each of the 15 topic summaries on notable events during the Revolutionary era. These will aid in your understanding of the colonists’ need to create a formal legislative body.
 
This reading should take approximately 1 hour to complete.
 
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1.1.2 The Constitutional Convention   - Reading: National Archives’ version of Roger Bruns’ “A More Perfect Union: The Creation of the U.S. Constitution” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

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  • Web Media: iTunes: National Constitution Center’s “We the People” Stories: “The Summer of 1787” Link: iTunes: National Constitution Center’s “We the People” Stories: “The Summer of 1787” (iTunes)
     
    Instructions: Please scroll down the webpage to the lecture titled “The Summer of 1787,” dated 7/6/07, and click on “View in iTunes” to open the podcast (57 minutes).  This podcast describes in rich detail the four-month meeting of the Convention delegates at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall and dramatizes the conflicts and the compromises in creating a new republic.   
     
    This lecture should take approximately 1 hour to complete.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.1.3 The Constitutional Role of Congress   - Reading: FoundingFathers.info's: The Federalist Papers Link: FoundingFathers.info's: The Federalist Papers (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the introduction to the Federalist Papers.  Then, click on the “Federalist Papers with Frames” link on the middle of the page, scroll down the webpage, and read the following entries:  Federalist Essay #10 (The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection), Federalist Essay  #51 (The Structure of the Government . . . ), Federalist Essay #52 (House of Representatives), and Federalist Essays #62 and #63 (Senate).  Click on each hyperlink for these Federalist essays, and read each text in its entirety.  Think about how the authors sought to structure the legislative branch in a way to help quell concerns about a too-powerful government.
 
This reading should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete.

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  • Reading: National Constitution Center's: Interactive Constitution: Article I, U.S. Constitution Link: National Constitution Center's: Interactive Constitution: Article I, U.S. Constitution (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read the text of Article I, which describes the constitutional role and duties of the legislative branch, located in the upper window.  Click on the highlighted phrases of the text which link to a detailed explanation (in the lower window) of that section.
     
    This reading should take approximately 15 minutes to complete.
     
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  • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation's "Constitutional Convention Plans" Link: The Saylor Foundation's "Constitutional Convention Plans" (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Please complete the linked assessment in order to test your mastery of how, during the Constitutional Convention, the Framers debated, shaped, and structured the legislative branch of government (in addition to the executive and judicial branches).
     
    When you are done, please check your work against The Saylor Foundation's "Answer Key: Constitutional Convention Plans Assessment." (PDF)

    This assessment should take approximately 1 hour to complete.

1.2 Evolution of the Modern Congress   1.2.1 The People’s Chamber: The U.S. House of Representatives   - Web Media: C-SPAN Video Library: “Evolution of Congress” Link: C-SPAN Video Library: “Evolution of Congress
 
Instructions: Please watch the video (1 hour, 43 minutes) in its entirety.  The video features a panel discussion with members of the American Political Science Association on the transformation of Congress and the influences of the two party system. Among the other topics they address are the impact of changing demographics on party affiliation, sociological influences on political habits, and the nature of structural changes. After watching the video, think about Congress’ evolution over time. Has it changed for better or worse? Why?
 
This resource should take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete.
 
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  • Reading: Nelson W. Polsby’s “The Institutionalization of the U.S. House of Representatives” Link: Nelson W. Polsby’s “The Institutionalization of the U.S. House of Representatives” (PDF)
     
    IInstructions:  Please go to the above link, and click on the “Download” button.  Please read the entire document (27 pages).  Questions to consider:  How is the modern Congress different from the Congress of a century ago?  How do these changes shape congresspersons’ approach to their jobs?
     
    This reading should take you approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.2 Representation and Diversity   - Reading: Congressional Research Service: Jennifer Manning’s “Membership of the 112th Congress: A Profile” Link: Congressional Research Service: Jennifer Manning’s “Membership of the 112th Congress: A Profile” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Go to the above link, and click on the hyperlink for the first report, which details the current makeup up Congress.  Please read this entire document (11 pages).  Questions to consider: Does Congress “look” like America?   Might Congress’ demographics have any influence on its ability (or inability) to effectively represent the people?
 
This reading should take you approximately 45 minutes to complete.
 
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  • Reading: U.S. House of Representatives: Office of the Clerk’s Women and Congress: “Women and Congress: An Introduction” Link:  U.S. House of Representatives: Office of the Clerk’s Women and Congress: “Women and Congress: An Introduction” (HTML)
               
    Instructions: Please read the article in its entirety (5 pages total).  Remember to click on “Continue Reading” at the bottom of each webpage to continue on with the article.  Why has the Senate, historically, had less female representation as compared to the House of Representatives?
     
    This reading should take approximately 1 hour to complete.
     
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1.3 Congress: Modern Trends   1.3.1 The Changing Congress   - Reading: Cengage Learning: Steven S. Smith’s The American Congress, 2nd edition, “Chapter 1: Representation and Lawmaking in Washington” Link: Cengage Learning: Steven S. Smith’s The American Congress, 2nd edition, “Chapter 1: Representation and Lawmaking in Washington” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Go to the above link, and click on the “Download Chapter One” PDF file.  Please read the entire document (28 pages).
           
This reading should take approximately 1 hour to complete.
 
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1.3.2 Congress and Public Opinion   - Reading: University of Nebraska: John Hibbing and Christopher Larimer’s “The American Public’s View of Congress” Link: University of Nebraska: John R. Hibbing and Christopher W. Larimer’s “The American Public’s View of Congress” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Go to the above link, and click on “Download,” which will link to a PDF file of the study.  Please read the entire document (16 pages).
           
This reading should take approximately 1 hour to complete.
           
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  • Reading: National Affairs: Everett Carll Ladd, Jr.’s “Public Opinion and the ‘Congress Problem’” Link: National Affairs: Everett Carll Ladd, Jr.’s “Public Opinion and the ‘Congress Problem’” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Click on the above link, and once on the website, click on “PDF version” at the top of the page.  Please read the entire document (11 pages).  After reading the two resources for this subunit, consider how Congress was designed to be a slower and deliberative in their decision-making.  Why did the Framers do this?  Could this be a contributing factor in the public’s negative view of Congress?
     
    This reading and answering these questions should take approximately 1 hour to complete.
     
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1.3.3 The Institutionalization of Congress: Political Careers or Career Politicians?   - Reading: Public Policy Institute of California’s “How Have Term Limit Affected the California Legislature?” and Doug Bandow’s “Real Term Limits: Now More Than Ever” Links: Public Policy Institute of California’s “How Have Term Limits Affected the California Legislature?” (PDF) and Doug Bandow’s “Real Term Limits: Now More Than Ever” (HTML)
 
Instructions: For the Public Policy article, please click on the above link, then click on the link matching the title indicated, and read the article in its entirety.  For the Bandow article, please click on the above link and also read the article in its entirety.  Consider which author provides the more convincing argument on term limits.
 
These readings should take approximately 30 minutes to complete.
 
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