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Welcome to United States Government and Politics! 

This semester we will be studying various topics related to the government of the United States, and its people.  We will be discussing various topics ranging from the Revolutionary period and the founding of the United States, to the relationships and interactions between the three branches of the federal government, to significant cases decided by the United States Supreme Court.    



Along with following the textbook chapters listed below, this class will be dealing with current events (which, as we will see, includes a wide range of issues).  I urge you to keep up (as I do) with current issues of the day both in the United States and around the world.  Below are some useful websites from various ideological perspectives on issues related to economics and politics:


The New York Times 

The Washington Post

The Los Angeles Times

The Wall Street Journal (There is a pay wall protecting this website)


The New York Review of Books blog (academic blog through a libertarian perspective)

New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait archive

The New Yorker (blogs)

Hot Air (one of the leading conservative blogs for breaking news and commentary covering the republican primary, the 2012 election, politics, media and culture)
Red State (leading conservative blog)

The Drudge Report

National Review Online

The Guardian

The Agenda (domestic policy blog maintained by Reihan Salam, an exceptionally gifted conservative thinker, also a Stuy alum!!!)

IntelNews (Intelligence Blog)


The websites of the US Senate, the US House of Representatives, and the White House.

The website of the US Supreme Court.

Fox News

The Central Intelligence Agency

The National Security Archive (George Washington University)

SCOTUS Blog (Supreme Court of the United States Academic Blog)


Homework headings should resemble the following structure:


First name, last name                                                                           Date

Homework#                                                                                         Period

Please see the "course agreement" here.  Please see here for the course syllabus (subject to change).

See below for the study guide for Exam#1.  This exam will consist of 20 MC questions, two short answers, and one essay. 


MC Study Guide:

Articles of Confederation - structure, strengths, weaknesses

Shay's Rebellion

New Jersey Plan

Virginia Plan

Constitutional Convention of 1787

The Great Compromise

"Full Faith and Credit Clause", "Supremacy Clause", and "Necessary and Proper Clause" in the Constitution

The nature of the Senate and the House of Representatives

John Locke - influence on the Framers

James Madison and his concerns over "factions"


Declaration of Independence - structure

Article VI and the Supremacy Clause

Federalist/Anti-Federalist debates

Possible short answers (two will appear on the exam and you will have to answer both:


1.  Describe at least one method for amending the Constitution.  


2.  Why did the Framers make amending the Constitution difficult?  In your answer, you must provide a real example of an amendment that was proposed but did not pass.


3.  Describe three principles of the Constitution as discussed in class.  For each, provide one example from the Constitution.


4.  How can the Articles of Confederation be seen as a success? 


Possible Essay Questions (two of these will appear on the exam, you must write one of them):


1.  The debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists in the aftermath of the Constitutional Convention continue to resonate today.  Discuss the Federalist AND Anti-Federalist positions on the following issues:


a.  the nature of the Senate


b.  standing armies in peacetime


c.  the Federal government and individual liberties  


d.  federal legalization of Marijuana


2.  The Constitutional Convention was characterized by compromise on a wide variety of issues.  Describe how the Convention addressed each of the following constitutional issues:


a.  the structure of Congress


b.  slavery


c.  the election of the President


3.  In his article "Framed Up: What the Constitution Gets Wrong" Hendrik Hertzberg points out many supposed flaws in the Constitution.


a.  explain at least three flaws mentioned by Hertzberg.


b.  of these flaws, which one do you think has done the most damage to the country.  In your answer you must include specific examples to prove your argument.  


4.  According to historian Gordon Wood, Why did the Articles of Confederation fail?  In your answer, be sure to describe problems on both the national and state levels.   


5.  Explain why and how the Framers of the US Constitution included the following concepts:


a.  federalism


b.  separation of powers


c.  checks and balances in the Constitution.

HW#12, due Thurs. 9/28. Current Events!!!  Choose any article from any media source on American government/politics (foreign policy included).  Read the article, print it out, and bring it in to class tomorrow for discussion.   

HW#11, due Wed. 9/27.  In Remy, read chapter 3, section 4 on The Amendments.  Answer the following questions based on the reading:


1.  What do you think are the three most important Amendments?  The three least important?  Explain your answer using evidence from the text.  Please exclude the Bill of Rights and the so-called Civil War amendments.   


2.  Next, check out sixteen good, bad, and  insane ideas for a twenty-eighth Amendment to the Constitution.  After examining this list, identify one amendment that should be included into the constitution and explain your decision.  


HW#10, due Tues. 9/26.  For this assignment we are going to skip one section in Remy.  I would like to merely skim chapter 3, section 2.  You all must read chapter 3, section 3 on Amending the Constitution


1.  Why is the process of amending the constitution so complex?


2.  Describe the informal ways to change the Constitution? 


Also, read this article by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig on calling a so-called "Article V convention."  


3.  Do you agree with Professor Lessig?  Why?  In your mind, what issue(s) require the calling of such a convention?   

HW#9, due Mon. 9/25. In Remy, read chapter 3, section 1.  Next, read this review of Robert Dahl's book "How Democratic Is the American Constitution?", written by Hendrick Hertzberg (the editorial editor at The New Yorker magazine).  Finally, READ THE CONSTITUTION IN FULL.  Find an interactive version here. Answer the following questions based on the readings:


1.  What do you see as the most important constitutional checks on each branch of the federal government? (feel free to make a fun chart!)


2.  In his article, Hertberg claims that "If we worshipped the framers a little less, we might respect ourselves a little more. If we kept in mind the ways in which our constitutional arrangements distort our democracy and hobble our politics, we might gain a deeper, more useful understanding of the sources of our various national discontents. If we didn't assume that the system was perfect, we wouldn't assume that everything we don't like is the fault of bad people. We'd judge our politicians more shrewdly, and more charitably, if we reminded ourselves regularly of the constraints that the system imposes on them."  Explain this quote using his article and the textbook.  Do you agree with his conclusion? Why?   

HW#8, due Wed. 9/20. Federalist VS Anti-Federalist debate!!!  Read the essay's, and summarize them in no more than one page total.  In your summary, be sure to include all main points and the ultimate position on the issue that the author makes.  Bring in both the essays, and your summaries to class.  You do not have to read all four essays.  If you were born on an even day, you are a Federalist.  If you were born on an odd day, you are an anti-Federalist. 


If you are a Federalist, see here on the nature of the Senate, and here on standing armies.


If you are an Anti-Federalist, see here on the nature of the Senate, and here on standing armies.

HW#7, due Tues. 9/19.  
In Remy, read chapter 2, section 4 on The Constitutional Convention.  Next, read this article about the Convention.  Answer the following questions:


1.  Describe the major compromises between the delegates.  What were the primary causes of conflict and debate? 


2.  "The United States Constitution contained serious flaws that gave small states too much power and allowed slavery to continue ultimately culminating in the American Civil War."  Agree/disagree with this statement.  If you agree here, what were the alternatives?  


Optional but very interesting:  Does the US Constitution enshrine slavery as a national institution?  This question has been the subject of a recent heated debate.  See this provocative piece by historian Sean Wilentz that reignited the debate and this response by David Waldstreicher.  For a lengthy piece on why this all matters, see this new controversial article by Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.    


HW#6, due Fri. 9/15.  In Remy, read chapter 2, section 3 on The Articles of Confederation.  Next, read The Articles of Confederation.  Finally, I would like you to check out this article by American Revolutionary historian Gordon Wood on the period leading up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.  The article is dense, but well worth a read, it will help you to understand the challenges of this time more so than Remy.  Answer the following questions based on the readings:


1.  Describe the structure of government under the Articles (executive, judicial, legislative branches, etc.)

2.  What were the strengths of this structure? - In this answer, you should analyze at least one of the articles and discuss why it is a good idea and why.  


3.  According to Professor Wood, how did the individual states weaken America under the Articles of Confederation? 

HW#5, due Thurs. 9/14.  In Remy, read chapter 2, section 2 on Uniting for Independence.  Next, read the Declaration of Independence beginning on pg 770 in the textbook.  Compare this document to The English Bill of Rights on pg 803 in the textbook.  Jefferson modeled the Declaration on this document.  Next, read Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration.  Answer the following questions:


1.  Was the American Revolution inevitable?  In your answer, please use specific examples/policies/actions taken that led to the Revolution.  

2.  In what ways was Jefferson's draft edited?  What does this editing process tell you about the significance/purpose of the document? 


Option stuff:  Ever wonder how CIA agents break in to things?

HW#4, due Wed. 9/13.  In Remy, read chapter 2, section 1 on The Colonial Period.  Next, read The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639).  Answer the following questions based on the readings:


1.  How and why did limited governments develop in the colonies?

2.  The Fundamental Orders is considered the first formal constitution written in North America.  Read it carefully.  Describe what you see as at least two strengths and at least two weaknesses of the structure of government established under this document. 

HW#3, due Tues. 9/12.  In Remy (our textbook), read chapter 1, sections 1-3.  For the 10th period students you can find the entire chapter here. Also, check out this excerpt from Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997) by Jared Diamond (apologies for the format of the PDF).  Answer the following questions:


1.  Compare Dr. Diamond's thesis on the origin of the state to the Enlightenment thinkers ideas presented in Remy.  Of all the theories presented on the origin of the state, which is the most plausible to you?  Why?


2.  Remy presents us here with four basic purposes of governments.  In your mind, what is the most important purpose of government?  Why?


3.  In The Federalist No. 51, James Madison famously proclaimed that "If men were angels, no government would be necessary".  Respond to this quote in no more than 50 words.  What do you think he meant? 

Extra Credit:  This Sunday at 7 PM CBS will air an interview with Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist. Watch the interview and write up a response including the following:

Choose three lines that you think best encapsulate the interview and explain your choices.

If you were running for President of the United States would you hire Steve Bannon to give you campaign advice? Why?

Please keep your answer to one page in length double-spaced.

HW#2, due Mon, 9/11.

Part I

For this class you must create a Dropbox account to share with me (see directions below).  Please fill out a student questionnaire here.  Submit questionnaires via your Dropbox account.     

1) Make sure you have a Dropbox account--Create one here.


2) Share a folder with me.  The format should be as follows:  If your name were Jerry Nadler and you are in my 8th period Gov section, the folder would be entitled: Nadler, Jerry, 8.  My e-mail address for sharing is


3)  Upload a headshot (not a full body picture) of yourself that (a) is not too large and (b) actually looks like you. Place it in the shared folder. Name it sebastiangorka.jpg (substitute your first and last names).  Please note that all head shots should be in JPEG form!


4)  You must share your folder with me no later than noon on Tues. 9/12.


Please note:  All HW will be submitted via your Dropbox account.  It should be submitting following the instructions below


1) In PDF form.  You should be able to use Word or any other word processing software to save as PDF. Also Macs and some other programs allow you to print to PDF.  If none of this works, here is a free converter that creates PDFs. PLEASE NOTE THAT HOMEWORK SUBMITTED IN .DOC OR .DOCX FORM IS NOT GRADABLE!

2) Double spaced

3) No longer than two, but no shorter than one page.

4) Uploaded into our shared Dropbox account by the start of class on the day that the assignment is due.

Part II

Check out this overview and timeline of the attacks on September 11, 2001 from the 9/11 Tribute Center.  After reviewing the events you are to interview a parent/guardian, first responder, teacher or other adult who can recall the events of 9-11-2001.  Be prepared to discuss your interviews in class.  Suggested questions are below:


1.  Where were you on the morning of 9/11?

2.  How did you first hear about the attacks?

3.  What do you think is the most important way that the attacks have changed the United States Government?

4.  What do you see as the most important lesson that students should learn about 9/11? 

HW#1, due Fri. 9/8.  Please click here and subscribe to Politico Playbook, the most widely read political daily newsletter in the country.  Choose the story that you believe to be the most important and read it.  Be prepared to discuss in class.