Political Science | American Political Traditions
Y675 | 9869 | Hanson

In this seminar we will explore two traditions in American political
thought. One is inspired by the Declaration of Independence and is
concerned primarily with the use of political authority to uphold
rights, on the one hand, and the abuse of rights by political
authorities, on the other. Debates over specific rights are an
important part of this tradition, as are disputes about who is
entitled to claim them. In the seminar we will examine several of
these debates, showing how various rights-based movements, including
the civil rights movement, drew on the Declaration of Independence to
advance their cause.

The Constitution is the touchstone for a second tradition in American
political thought. This tradition is concerned mainly with the basis
of political authority and its proper distribution in a federal
system.  Key moments in the evolution of this tradition include the
movement from confederation to union, the reconstruction of the union
after the Civil War, the assumption of regulatory powers by the
national government during the Progressive era, and the construction
of a “welfare state” during the New Deal. On each occasion important
constitutional issues were debated, and in the seminar we will review
primary sources from some of these debates, including the Founding

These two traditions are deeply entwined in the United States, and
always have been: metaphorically speaking, they are the “double
helix” of American political culture. Understanding their
relationship in all its twists and turns is the main goal of this