Why is it important to understand the Declaration of Independence? What does the Declaration say, and why and how does it say it? What does the Declaration not say, and why and how does it not say it? What is the significance of Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration? What does the Declaration mean, and what does the Declaration not mean?
Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided, chap. 17, esp. 374-76
Session 2: The American Mind, Part 1
Thomas Jefferson wrote that in drafting the Declaration of Independence he meant to give expression to “the American mind.” What does the Declaration tell us about the American mind as it related to the foundations, forms, and purposes of the newly sovereign United States? What is the political logic of the argument of the Declaration? What is the philosophical and historical heritage on which the Declaration draws? Reflections on the course of human events, people, the laws of nature and of nature’s God, decent respect for the opinions of mankind, self evident truths, equality, rights, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, consent, prudence, the ends of government, the right to abolish government and institute new government, facts submitted to a candid world, sacred honor, and more.
The political logic of the argument of the Declaration, continued: Further reflections on the course of human events, people, the laws of nature and of nature’s God, decent respect for the opinions of mankind, self evident truths, equality, rights, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, consent, prudence, the ends of government, the right to abolish government and institute new government, facts submitted to a candid world, sacred honor, and more.
How did the American colonists define liberty and freedom as they sought to secure their independence from mother England? During the Revolutionary War, what difficulties did the Americans face in fighting for liberty while maintaining the supremacy of civilian over military authority?
Session 5: The Constitutional Convention, pt1 – The Alternative Plans
Of what significance were the rules adopted by the Convention? In what respects did the Virginia Plan represent a new constitution rather than a mere revision of the Articles? What were delegates’ initial reactions and questions concerning the Virginia Plan? What parts of the Plan were rejected or amended? What did the delegates mean when they spoke of a national government as opposed to a federal government? What different principles animate the New Jersey and Virginia Plans and the Hamilton Proposal? Why were they even introduced? What are the arguments for representation of the states, as opposed to the people, in the federal government? Consider the discussions of the executive power, bicameralism, and the role of the judiciary in the context of “republican principles.” What do “republican principles” say about the sources of power, the powers, and the structure of the federal government? Is Madison’s extended republic argument a departure from republican principles?
Session 6: The Constitutional Convention pt2 – The Connecticut Compromise
What accounts for the persistence of the New Jersey Plan supporters despite their defeat earlier? What are the arguments against the “legality” and “practicality” of the Amended Virginia Plan? When and how did the Connecticut Compromise emerge as a viable alternative? How did the “partly national, partly federal” concept enter the discussion? Why did Madison argue that the issue facing the delegates was not small states vs. large states but the slavery question? What is the significance of who was elected to the Gerry Committee? Who changed their minds and why during this month long discussion over representation? Who favored and who opposed the Connecticut Compromise? What else, besides the representation issue, was discussed during this part of the Convention?
Session 7: The Constitutional Convention pt3 – The Committee of Detail Report and the Close of the Convention
Who was elected to the Committee of Detail and what has been their position so far with respect to the republican and federal issues? How does the Committee on Detail Report differ from the original and amended Virginia Plans and what significant recommendations did it make? Who was elected to the Slave Trade Committee and what had they said about slavery up to that point? How did the slavery provisions undergo changes during the deliberations?
Session 8: The Constitution and American Self-Government
How does the Constitution work? How do constitutional means produce constitutional ends? How do the principles of the regime work their way into the mechanisms of the federal government? What role does public opinion play in constitutional self-government?
Session 9: The Proposed Constitution of 1787 and Its Defense in The Federalist Papers
What is the structure of the argument of The Federalist? What improvements in “the science of politics” did Publius think necessary to make the republican form of government defensible? What isFederalist 10’s republican remedy for the problem of faction? What are the defects of the Confederation, according to Publius? Why is there “an absolute necessity for an entire change in the first principles of the system”? What “inducements to candor” and to the “spirit of moderation” does Publius present in Federalist 37-38? What were the difficulties “inherent in the very nature of the undertaking referred to the [constitutional] Convention”? What are (some of) the ingredients of republican government? Of good government? How is the proposed government both federal and national according to Publius in Federalist 39? How, in Federalist40, does Publius answer the question of “how far the conventions were authorized to propose such a government”?
Session 10: The Federalist Papers – The Sum of Power and the Separation of Powers
What is “delicate” about the two questions raised at the end ofFederalist 43? “The time has been when it was incumbent on us all to veil the ideas which this paragraph exhibits. The scene is now changed, and with it, the part which the same motives dictate.” What does Publius mean by this last sentence in the penultimate paragraph of 43? What articles and clauses of the Constitution are discussed in 43 and 44? How, in Federalist 43, does Publius defend the Convention’s proposal to supersede the Confederation “without the unanimous consent of the parties to it”?
Why, in the American representative republic, should the people “indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions” against the legislative branch? What are Publius’ criticisms of Thomas Jefferson’s suggestions for maintaining the separation of powers? Why does Publius think that it is necessary to have the “prejudices of the community” on the side of even the most rational government? What kinds of prejudices is he thinking of? “[I]t is the reason of the public alone that ought to controul and regulate the government. The passions ought to be controuled and regulated by the government.” How does Publius reconcile this principle with the republican principle that government “derives all its powers directly or indirectly from…the people”? Why would “an extinction of parties necessarily [imply] either a universal alarm for the public safety, or an absolute extinction of liberty”? What is the principle of separation of powers? What is the greatest threat in the American republic to separation of powers, and why is this the greatest threat?
Session 11: The Federalist Papers – Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches
What qualities did Publius expect or take for granted in the American people who would be living under the proposed new constitution? In what ways was the constitution a response to these qualities? What qualities did Publius expect in the people who would serve respectively in the House of Representatives, the Senate, the office of President, and the Supreme Court? How did the functioning of each of these branches and of the constitution as a whole involve the operation of these qualities? What are the relations of the composition, powers, mode of selection, and tenure of office of the House of Representatives, Senate, Executive, and Judiciary to the political purposes these offices were meant to serve and to the overall purposes to be served by the constitution? How, in particular, do any of these elements contribute to the effective functioning of the separation of powers?