GOV 312L



Professor Budziszewski


This online summary of the syllabus includes only the general design of the course.  It does not include detailed information such as the course calendar, which changes from semester to semester.

Prerequisites and other boilerplate

“The Constitutional Debates” carries what the University calls a Writing Flag, and fulfills the second half of the Texas legislature’s requirement for 6 hours of American Government.  It includes Supplemental Instruction discussion sections, which are statistically associated with significantly higher grades for those students who participate.  Although your attendance at SI discussion sections is not required, I strongly recommend that you do attend.


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.


For Unit 1, analytical outlines are required and are the basis of the grade.  You submit a first draft, receive feedback, then receive a second draft which is graded.

Analytical outlines are not required for Units 2 and 3, but for each of these units you may receive up to five extra credit points for analytical outlines.  To receive extra credit points for a unit, you must analytically outline every reading in the unit, and your work must be original.  Any extra credit points that you earn will be added to your grade for that unit’s examination.  Your analytical outlines for a unit should be turned in on the same day as your take-home exam for that unit.  By the way, even aside from extra credit, analytical outlining strongly improves performance on quizzes and exams, and it develops intellectual habits that will help you in other courses too.

The examinations for Units 2 and 3 are take-home essays.  For Unit 2, you must turn in a first draft for feedback, then a second draft for a grade.  For Unit 3, you are not required to turn in a first draft for feedback, but you must turn in your final draft for a grade.  Several days are allowed for each examination.  Students may study together before an examination has been assigned, but after that point, they must work independently:  Any sharing of notes, drafts, or ideas during an examination period is treated as scholastic dishonesty.  For each day that an examination is late, the grade for the examination is reduced by one letter.

Thirteen short-answer-format quizzes will also be administered.  Only one is based on the lectures.  The others are based on the readings.  They cannot be passed unless you stay on schedule in studying and outlining the assigned texts.  You  are permitted to use hard copies (not electronic copies) of your analytical outlines during quizzes, but you may not use other any other materials during quizzes.  No electronic devices may be used during class.  All must be turned off and stowed away out of sound and sight.

Required Texts

The following required books have been ordered.  Each book must be purchased.  Bring the books we are using at the moment to class.

1. Ralph Ketcham, ed., The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates.  We will be reading pp. 31-180.  In years when Ketcham is out of print, we use the following substitute:  Adrienne Koch, ed.,Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787.

2. George W. Carey and James McClellan, eds., The Federalist.  We will be reading the essays listed in the course calendar.

3. Herbert J. Storing, ed., with Murray Dry, The Anti-Federalist.  We will be reading the essays listed in the course calendar.

The following readings are also required:

4. The U.S. Constitution.  This can be found in Rossiter, in Ketcham, and in many locations online.

5. The Articles of Confederation.  This can be found in Ketcham and in many locations online, but not in Rossiter.

At the beginning of each unit, scan all of the assigned readings at least three times.  The first time, learn the shape of the forest; the second time, study the trees; the third time, inspect all the limbs and leaves. The best time to construct analytical outlines is during your third reading.


The Constitutional Convention and its Background:  Main text is James Madison's Notes on the Constitutional Convention

Course introduction.  Unit 1 introduction.  Discussion of puzzling terms in the Constitution.  Historical background.  Discussion of pitfalls to avoid in reading.  Republics and democracies.  Common threads in early American political thought, part 1.  End-of-unit discussion.

The Arguments of the Federalists:  Main text is Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist

Unit 2 introduction.  Lectures on Federalist 2 (John Jay), 10, 14, 37, 39, 47, 48, 49, 51, 62, and 63 (James Madison), and Federalist 1, 6, 9, 15, 16, 23, 70, 78, 84, and 85 (Hamilton).  End-of-unit discussion.

The Arguments of the Anti-Federalists:  Main text is Herbert J. Storing, The Anti-Federalist.

Unit 3 introduction.  Discussion of terminology.  Lectures on Centinal 1, Federal Farmer 1, 2, 3, 7, and 16, Agrippa 4 and 8, and Brutus 1-15.  End-of-unit discussion.