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PSC 201: American Government

Serow (ed) Lanahan Readings in the American Polity, 3e, 4e & 5e

Part 2: Constitution.  Student Outlines

compiled from student contributions (thanks) by Jeremy Lewis. revised 09/17/17

9. Alexis de Tocqueville, from “Democracy in America”
9: Richard Hofstadter, Amer. Pol. Tradition
10: James Madison, "The Federalist 10"
12: C. Wright Mills "The Power Elite"
14: Robert Dahl, "Who Governs"

9. Alexis de Tocqueville, from “Democracy in America”
By Justala Simpson, Fall 2017
Young, French Aristocrat that traveled throughout America for nine months to study the American democracy.
He believed that the idea of equality was an American national virtue.
The Impact of the Majority
de Tocqueville argues that the strength [authority] of the majority comes from an abundance of intelligence and wisdom.
The intelligence and wisdom, however, are only viable on collective scales. The intellect of the individual man can, oftentimes, weaken the faction because pride can overshadow the true goals of the faction.
The majority has acquired physical and moral powers that allow them to defeat all contest and controversy.
The Downfall of the Majority
The strength that de Tocqueville praises the American for is also identified as their greatest weakest.
de Tocqueville notes that the “overpowering strength” of the majority cripples the faction.
The majority compromises individual rights because, even after a consensus has been reached, it is still extremely difficult to uphold the desires of every member of the faction.
The Struggles of the Minority
The interests of the faction [interest group/political party] possessing the majority will always outweigh the interests of the minority. The natural inclination of men, in de Tocqueville’s eyes, is that each individual lives for self-promotion, even in the most subtle of ways. This nature is crippling to the minority because, regardless of their level of perseverance, it is virtually impossible to even create a ripple in the political sea. The inability to make a difference provides a window of opportunity for potential tyranny and, as de Tocqueville reports, there is no barrier for tyranny in America.
The majority bears an incredible amount of collective strength. However, the avoidance of individual concerns dismisses the value of personal rights. The minority will always have a difficult time receiving support for their concerns. This can either cause an increase in their motivation or tyranny.

Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition (1948)
by Amanda Wineman, Fall 2011 (another is below)

-Hofstadter was a public intellectual, professor at Columbia University, highly acclaimed historian
-Book is about the political ideologies of past presidents and the nation's Founding Fathers
Founders' Ideas

-had a Thomas Hobbes outlook on human nature
-“selfish and contentious”
-distrust of the common man
-Founding Fathers were afraid of being too conservative
-government by the people
-relied upon checking “vice with vice”
-didn't want the poor and rich to “plunder each other”
Advantages of a Federal Constitution
1) maintains order against uprisings and majority rule
2) representation
3) bicameral legislature, executive branch, judicial branch
Liberty = Property: liberty measured by the amount of property owned

8: Richard Hofstadter, "American Political Tradition."
by Melissa Braun, 2001

I. Hofstadter background

    A. Nation's leading historian.
    B. His work The American Political Tradition points out Founding Fathers'
true views of the human nature in relationship to religion and politics.

II.Founders' views of human nature

    A. Calvanistic view of human evil and damnation.
    B. Believed men are selfish and contentious.

III. Government of the people

    A. Government could not violate prejudice of the people
    B.Could not change the nature of man in order to conform to an ideal system of government.
    C.Human nature could control vices in government.

IV.Quest for form of government

    A. Fearful poor would plunder the rich.
    B. Wanted various interests to check and balance each other.
    C.Various people represented in government.
    D.Each element given its own house with veto power.

V. Prejudices of Fathers

    A.Believed liberty was menaced by democracy.
    B.No high regard for what is considered basic civil liberties.
    C.Liberty alone linked to property.
    D. Constitution did not deal with rights of slaves or the poor class.
    E. Freedom for property was only for what might be deemed as worthy men.

VI. Influence of land in government

    A. Broad dispersion of land property influenced Fathers
    B. Influence in government would be proportionate to land owned.
    C.Merchants and great landowners dominate government.
    D. Small land owners would have a say in government.

VII. Conclusion

    A. Fathers were compelled by class in the design of the Constitution
    B. Statesmanlike sense of moderation was also present.
    C.They thought man was a creature of self interest.
    D. No matter the flaws of human nature, however, and no matter the
prejudices present in the time of the Fathers, they wanted man to be free.

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James Madison, Biographical notes
by Katie Bianco, Fall 2015


Most, if not all of us, know who James Madison is, or have at least heard of him
American statesman
Political theorist
Fourth president of the United States
Was also hailed the “Father of the Constitution” for his instrumental role in drafting the US Constitution
Early Life
Born in Port Conway, Virginia on March 16, 1751
Parents: James and Nelly Madison
Oldest of twelve children - no need to say the personal stuff in italics; the personal development stuff (although very interesting in his case) should be kept to a minimum in order to step through the reading, Federalist 10.
His father, James, Sr. was a tobacco planter who grew up on an estate in Orange County, Virginia, which he inherited where James spent his early years
But unlike many sons’ of farmers, madison had no interest in taking over his father’s estate.
From ages 11 to 16, Madison was sent to study under Donald Robertson, an instructor at the Innes plantation
Madison learned mathematics, geography, and modern and ancient languages. He became especially proficient in Latin.
When he was 16, he returned to Montpelier, where he began a two-year course of study under the Reverend Thomas Martin in preparation for college
In 1769 he enrolled at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University
Madison graduated in 1771. His studies included Latin, Greek, science, geography, mathematics, and philosophy.
After graduation, Madison remained at Princeton to study political philosophy under the university president, John Witherspoon, before returning to Montpelier in the spring of 1772.
Post Graduation
Military Service
After graduation, Madison took an interest in the relationship between the American colonies and Great Britain, which at this point had began to deteriorate over the issue of British taxation.
So in 1774, Madison took a seat on the local Committee of Safety, a patriot pro-revolution group that oversaw the local militia, and was later commissioned as the colonel of the Orange County militia
Although Madison would never go on to actually serve, being that his slight stature of only 5’4” and weight of 100 lbs had put great limitations on him.
Political Career
Madison began working his way up when he served in the Virginia state legislature (1776–1779), where he also became known as a protégé of the delegate Thomas Jefferson.
Madison attained prominence in Virginia politics, working with Jefferson to draft bills like the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
Late became the youngest delegate to the Continental Congress (1780–1783)
Madison was considered a legislative workhorse and a master of parliamentary coalition building
Rises in the Ranks
Madison was elected a second time to the Virginia House of Delegates, serving from 1784 to 1786
During these final years in the House of Delegates, Madison grew increasingly frustrated with what he saw as excessive democracy.
He criticized the tendency for delegates to cater to the particular interests of their constituents, even if such interests were destructive to the state at large.
He believed that legislators should be disinterested and act in the interests of their state at large, even if this contradicted the wishes of constituents.
Factions (Federalist 10)
In these years, Madison began recognizing an increased number of factions.
A faction is a small group of people within a larger group, who band together to promote their own ideals.
Madison believed that factions worked against the good of the general public, but that they were something that the Government can control.
Controlling Factions
In order to prevent these factions from happening, Madison proposed that we must remove the causes and control its effects.
Two ways to control factions:
destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence
by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests
Why this is unreasonable … now the good part: Federalist No. 10!
Liberty to citizens is like air to an animal, as a society we need liberty to thrive and survive.
the second one is very impractical just based on the fact that we are all different, and therefore have varying thoughts and opinions.
Therefore, removing the causes of faction are virtually impossible, but controlling its effects is far more probable
Ways to control
Madison believed that by being a republic, factions can be controlled.
by being a pure democracy, a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, will only lead to more problems.
Madison believed that the more citizens there were, the higher the chance of the corrupted being out numbered.
James Madison, The Federalist 10
By Paul Mielke, Fall 2008
• A  well constructed union will break up faction
• A faction is a  single groups who try to dominate the political process.
• He calls factions  mortal diseases
• Madison also says one of the problems with factions or rival political parties is that politics become more about what’s good for the party than what’s good for the people of the nation
• Madison says he relizes why people join factions over common interest for the betterment of the community
• The way to destroy factions is to destroy its causes or control its affects
• The way to destroy its causes are to take away it liberty which is essential to its existence or to make everyone have the same opinion
• However he understands that Taking away liberties is worse than having factions
• He also understands it is impossible to control peoples opinions and says it’s the governments job to protect these rights
• He says our upbringings cause us to oppress each other instead of working to a common good
• Madison says the reason to most factions is the distribution of land and wealth
• He says that people who still won businesses, land, and wealth are unfit to run the gov because they will make decisions to benefit themselves
• Says there is no cure for factions in a true democracy
• Madison says America should be a republic and not a true democracy
• Says a republic promises the cure people were seeking
• Names two points that are different from democracy.
That republics elect people to vote for them which is faster and more efficient but he warns that the same people may betray the people who elected them.
• He says the way to guard against this is to have a large number of representatives to outweigh the corrupt ones.
• Madison believed that the more citizens a country had the more people their where to combat against the factions.
• Says a republic (states under national government) within a republic will stop the spread of factions.

10. James Madison, "The Federalist 10"
By Jarret Layson, 2001

· Born into an aristocratic family in Port Conway, Va.
· Graduated from the college of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1771
· Supported religious toleration and advocate for separation of church and state
· One of the framers of the original Bill of Rights and elected president in 1808

The Federalist 10
· The government is capable of controlling factions
· Factions: group of people who gather together to help promote their ideas
· Factions work against the public interest
· As long as men hold different beliefs factions are inevietable
· Most important source of faction is unequal distribution of proper
· Conflicting interest of landowners and those who don't own land
· Pure and Direct democracies cannot control factions
· Strongest factions rule, cannot protect weak
· Madison hopes good representation will be chosen not prejudice factious men
· Representative government is needed in large countries to protect against mob
· To control faction: remove causes and control it's effects

o First impossible second improbable
· Wrote to stop arguments about the problems of the government and promote the federalist

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12. C. Wright Mills "From The Power Elite"
By Gary Nelson, Fall 2006 (edited to fit, by JRTL)
- Mill’s Background:
- Born in Waco, TX on august 28, 1916.
- Studied philosophy U TX Austin, PhD., U. Wisconsin
- His heroes were Max Weber and Karl Marx
- professor at U MD, and Columbia University
- Most famous books, “The New Men of Power: America’s Labor Leaders” (1948), “White Collar: The American Middle Classes” (1951), and controversial work, “The Power Elite” (1956).
- Ideology of “The Power Elite”
- Power in the United States is and has since the creation of the nation been divided among the elite in three areas: Politics, The Economy, and The Military.
-The elite in these institutions tend to have common ties to the economic and social upper class but in no way comprise an aristocracy.
- Supports the Marxist view that there is a divide between the powerful and the powerless, but argues that the divide isn’t a matter of property.
- One of the original sociologists, believing that a rational view to everything existed in the concept of its ideology as opposed to hard fact.
-Taught that new members of the elite are best accepted when they do a good job of mimicking the success of those to come before them.
- There have been five epochs of power since the formation of the United States
1-The creation to 1824 with the downfall of the congressional caucus. Multi-sided men tied themselves politically to people’s ideas of familiarity. Traditionally powerful families formed almost an autocracy.
2- The second ran to the Civil War and was composed of a loose coalition of the Political, Economic, and Military arenas. This was sparked mostly because of the Jacksonian Revolution which lessened the social divide among classes and briefly weakened the power elite.
3- end of the Civil War to the depression era, transfer from government power to corporate power. Legislators and Judges were simply bought-up in this “culture of corruption”.
4- depression sparked the need for reform and the New Deal era came about. With the expansion of the government into social areas it had never been, the political aspect of the three elites reached new heights.
5- The 1950s:  intertwined interest of the Military and corporations. Military capitalism: corporate executives using the military for economic purposes and both were gaining power, phasing out the political arena which fought for the good of the people.
- Controversy: obscene to question the motives of the military and the policy of its decision makers, at the height of Cold War. Because Wills shared many Marxist views, he was looked at by many as a propagandist against capitalism. Many still viewed this work as critical in the development of sociology and leading to an understanding of the power system in the United States.

C. Wright Mills, “The Power Elite”
By: Negin Ahmadi, 2001

• Born in Waco, TX on august 28, 1916.
• He studied philosophy in Texas university
• Earned his PhD., at the university of Wisconsin
• His heroes were Max Weber and Karl Marx
• Was a professor at the university of Maryland, and later at Columbia university in New
York City
• His three most famous books are, “The New Men of Power: America’s Labor Leaders”
(1948), “White Collar: The American Middle Classes” (1951), and his most controversial
work, “The Power Elite” (1956).
• He had Three wives and three children
• Divorced two times
• He died March 20. 1962, in Nyack New York

America in 1940’s and 50’s
• During this period the USA was in the World War II. After the war the United States was
in a bloodless cold war with Soviet Union.
• America was the worlds most wealthy and industrialized nation.
• The United States had 48 States, and 3 territories.
• America was mostly urban, because of heavy industry.
• A modern civil rights movement was born in 1948.
• America developed the atomic bomb.
• Americans were more conservatives than today.

• The Elite has enormous power
• Government as a 3-part Elite rules

a) Composed of corporate
b) Political
c) Military
• The 3-rules are “interlocking” and highly centralized in decision - making.
• The Elite use their Power to run the government  and to rule the public, to accomplish this
they need:
a) Advisors and consultants to help them make decisions
b) Spokesmen and opinion-makers to help them shape public thought.
c) The Elite need these opinion-makers and public relations people, to help them maintain
their power.
• Major national power now resides in the:
a)  Economic: The modern individual depends not only on his family but increasingly on his
 b)  The political: He depends not only on the school, but also the state.
 c) The military:  He depends not only on his religious doctrines, but also his military

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Robert Dahl, Who Governs? & A Preface to Democratic Theory
by Russ Barnwell, Fall 2009
Robert Alan Dahl was born in 1915.
  • He is currently the Sterling Professor (the highest academic rank bestowed on a professor) emeritus of political science at Yale University.
  • He earned his Ph.D. in political science there in 1940.
  • He is formerly a president of the American Political Science Association.
  • He is well-known for his disputes with C. Wright Mills in the 1950s & 1960s.
  • Whereas Mills said that there is one narrow power elite, Dahl states that there are many different groups of elites who both agree and disagree with one another, depending on the issue. This is known as pluralism.
  • Our book tends to agree with Dahl’s theory—it actually uses the term interest groups rather than elites, which I think makes it easier to grasp because the interest groups may not appear elite in any sense, such as an auto union.
  • In A Preface to Democratic Theory, written in 1956, he talks about the many interest groups.
  • He says that the making of governmental decisions is the steady appeasement of the many relatively small groups.
  • These decisions are made by endless bargaining.
  • In Who Governs?, written in 1961, he examines New Haven, Connecticut.
  • He says New Haven has “dispersed inequalities” rather than a “cumulative inequality.”
  • In other words, whereas formerly when one was particularly endowed with one resource, one also had a distinct advantage in accumulating other resources as well.
  • For example, if one was more wealthy than most, then it was probable one was also better off in social standing & legitimacy, one had more control over religion and education, one was smarter, and one was more likely to be elected or appointed to office.
  • Today, inequalities in these areas still remain, but they now tend to be noncumulative, meaning one is not generally lacking in every area.
  • Dahl uses the term “dispersed inequalities” to describe today’s system.
  • He goes on to say leaders are “captives of their constituents,” meaning they are held accountable by those who vote for and fund their campaigns and make decisions based on what the preferences of those individuals are, will be, or have been.
  • But he also states that leaders are influential over their constituents in that the leaders’ decisions directly impact those constituents.
  • Therefore the relationship, as Dahl puts it, is “reciprocal.”
  • He talks about the “political stratum,” which is the group of politically informed citizens.
  • He says most citizens have a basic knowledge of politics but not as in depth as the core stratum.
  • He calls the everyday Americans who aren’t politically involved or especially active the “apolitical stratum.”
  • Those in the political stratum typically make rational political decisions that have been thoroughly examined, whereas those in the apolitical stratum base their decisions on inertia, habit, unexamined loyalties, personal attachments, emotions, or short-lived impulses.
  • The political stratum of the U.S. is not exclusive in any sense and is easily entered by any citizen who is interested or concerned.
  • Because of this ease of access to the political stratum, it tends to be largely representative of the population as a whole.
  • If the entire population is inclined to believe one way, then the political stratum is likely to believe that way as well.
  • The political stratum usually tends to be strongly divided in many ways and on many issues.
  • Politicians often try to skirt these issues and avoid taking a stance to circumvent backlash from one or more of the many interest groups.
  • One of the final things he says in A Preface to Democratic Theory, is that America is not static, but we are constantly evolving as a nation and as a political system.

    14: Robert Dahl "Who Governs" and "A Preface to Democratic Theory"
    By Alicia Burns, 2001

    In the excerpts from "Who Governs" and "A Preface to Democratic Theory," Robert Dahl brings to our attention pluralism: the dispersion of power among many groups of people. He differentiates the "political stratum," made up of interested and involved citizens, from the "apolitical stratum," those who are not active in government.

    Dahl stated that Americans take their democratic beliefs very seriously, to the astonishment of foreign observers, such as Tocqueville and Bryce. He also says that in the political system of the patrician oligarchy, political resources were marked by a cumulative inequality, whereas in the political system of 1961, inequalities in political resources remain, but tend to be noncumulative. He thought that if the pluralist system was very far from being an oligarchy, it was also far from achieving the goal of political equality that almost every American upholds.

    Dahl believed that one of the difficulties people have with answering the question, "Who rules in a pluralist democracy?" is the ambiguous relationship between leaders and citizens. Some people think leaders are enormously influential, while some believe many influential leaders are captives of their constituents. To some, a pluralistic democracy with dispersed inequalities is all head and no body; to others it is all body and no head.

    He thought that among all the people who influence a decision, some do so more directly than others in the sense that they are closer to the stage where concrete alternatives are started or declined in an explicit and immediate way. Indirect influence may work well but is comparatively difficult to observe and weigh. To ignore indirect influence in analysis of the distribution of influence, however, would be to exclude what may prove to be a highly significant process of control in a pluralistic democracy. Next, the relationship between leaders and citizens in a pluralistic democracy is frequently reciprocal.

    Dahl said that in the political stratum, politics is highly salient; among the apolitical strata, it is remote. In the political stratum, information about politics and the issues of the day is extensive; the apolitical strata are poorly informed. In the political stratum, citizens tend to participate actively in politics, and in the apolitical strata, people seldom go beyond voting, if they even do that.

    Dahl believed that the political strata of different communities and regions are linked in a national network of communications. Also, many channels of communication not made specifically for political purposes serve as a part of the network of the political stratum.

    According to Dahl, in many pluralistic systems the political stratum is far from being a closed group. In the United States, for example, the political stratum does not constitute a homogeneous class with well-defined class interests. In an open pluralistic system, the stratum embodies many of the most widely shared values and goals in the society. The apolitical strata can be said to "govern" as much through the sharing of common values and goals with members of the political stratum as by other means. If it we did not have elections and competitive parties, this sharing would rapidly decline, while other things stay the same.

    Robert Dahl defined the "normal" American political system as one where there is a likelihood that an active group in the population can make itself heard at some crucial stage in the process of decision. In American politics, control over decisions is unevenly distributed; and neither individuals nor groups are equal in politics. To appease a group may need one or more of a great variety of actions by the responsive leader, such as the right combination of reciprocal noises.

    Dahl believed that decisions were made by endless bargaining. To have highly integrated, consistent decisions in some areas it often seemed to operate in a way teetering on total collapse.

    He said we should not be too hasty in our appraisal, for where its iniquities stand out, its qualities are hidden. With everything wrong with it, it does give a high probability that any group will make itself heard at some stage in the decision making process.

    Finally, Dahl stated that the "normal" American political system may not work well for others. However, as long as the social prerequisites of democracy are intact in this country, it seems to be a comparatively efficient system for reinforcing agreement and maintaining social peace in a very complex society.

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