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American Government


When Benjamin Franklin walked out of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787, he was asked, “Dr. Franklin, what have we got, A monarchy? or a republic?” He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it!”

This course surveys the history, principles, and functions of the American government. Students are asked first to consider what Franklin—and the rest of the Founders—meant by a republic, exploring in depth its history and foundations.

They then turn to the three institutions which make up the American political system: Congress, the presidency, and the courts.

Finally, they explore the application of those institutions in practice, looking at the changing notion of federalism, the impact of the Civil War, political parties, the policy making process, and the bureaucracy. The course concludes by looking at factors outside the formal institutions of government, including the media, and the impact of foreign policy in shaping American government.

Throughout the course, students are asked to reflect on the question asked by Franklin: Have we “kept” the republic which Franklin helped launch? Or in the words of Federalist 1, have we shown that it is possible to bring about free government through reflection and choice? And if we have kept it, should we continue to do so? Or would we be better off with a different form of government?