Americans are often said to be obsessed with their Constitution.  So be it; but then it behooves us to know something about it.  The approach taken in this course is to return to the early debates surrounding its writing and ratification. We make no use at all of textbooks; rather we study the political thinking of the early Americans in their own words.

Another old saw is that history is written by the winners.  However, this is not be a course in winner-worship:  Equal attention and respect are given, on the one hand, to those who wrote the Constitution and argued for its ratification, and on the other, to those who argued against it or demanded sweeping changes in its content.  There are several good reasons for such evenhandedness.  One is that, for all we know, the losers might have been right.  Another is that they might have had some influence on the winners.  Still a third is that we can't fully understand the arguments by which the winners won unless we understand what they were arguing against.

Having spoken of history, I should now admit that this is not a history course in the ordinary sense.  Rather it is a course in early American political thought -- in political theory and philosophy.  Another thing that you should understand is that this course puts heavy emphasis on the development of skills in interpretive reading, critical thinking, analytical writing, and logical response to what you are hearing.  For instance, it doesn't matter that you can read what a writer has written and figure out what he believes.  What matters is whether you can learn to figure out why he believes it, and how it is logically related to other things he believes.  In other words, when you read you are expected to look for arguments, not just propositions.


Selections from James Madison's Notes on the Constitutional Convention.

Selected Federalist essays by Publius (Hamilton, Madison, and Jay).

Selected Anti-Federalist essays by Centinal, the Federal Farmer, Agrippa, and Brutus.