Educational Resource

Principles of American Democracy

Brief Course Description
Students in grade twelve pursue a deeper understanding of the institutions of American government. They compare systems of government in the world today and analyze the life and changing interpretations of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the current state of the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government. An emphasis is placed on analyzing the relationship among federal, state and local governments, with particular attention paid to important historical documents such as The Federalist. These standards represent the culmination of civic literacy as students prepare to vote, participate in community activities and assume the responsibilities of citizenship.

Course Objectives

  • Students explain the fundamental principles and moral values of American democracy as expressed in the U.S. Constitution and other essential documents of American democracy
  • Students evaluate and take and defend positions on the scope and limits of rights and obligations as democratic citizens, the relationships among them, and how they are secured
  • Students evaluate and take and defend positions on what the fundamental values and principles of civil society are (i.e., the autonomous sphere of voluntary personal, social, and economic relations that are not part of government), their interdependence, and the meaning and importance of those values and principles for a free society
  • Students analyze the unique roles and responsibilities of the three branches of government as established by the U.S. Constitution
  • Students summarize landmark U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution and its amendments
  • Students evaluate issues regarding campaigns for national, state, and local elective offices
  • Students analyze and compare the powers and procedures of the national, state, tribal, and local governments
  • Students evaluate and take and defend positions on the influence of the media on American political life
  • Students analyze the origins, characteristics, and development of different political systems across time, with emphasis on the quest for political democracy, its advances, and its obstacles
  • Students formulate questions about and defend their analyses of tensions within our constitutional democracy and the importance of maintaining a balance between the following concepts: majority rule and individual rights; liberty and equality; state and national authority in a federal system; civil disobedience and the rule of law; freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial; the relationship of religion and government

Course Outline

  • What Should We Know About American Government?
    • The Meanings of Democracy
    • Representative Democracy
  • The Constitution
    • The Problem of Liberty
    • The Weaknesses of the Confederation
    • The Constitutional Convention
    • The Challenge
    • The Constitution and Democracy
    • The Constitution and Liberty
    • The Constitution and Slavery
    • Political Ideals or Economic Interests?
    • Liberty and Equality
    • A Recipe for Moderation
  • Federalism
    • Governmental Structure
    • Federalism: Good or Bad?
    • The Founding
    • The Evolving Meaning of Federalism
    • The Division of Powers: Federal and State
    • Fiscal Federalism
    • Federal Aid and Federal Control
    • Federalism and Public Policy
    • Evaluating Federalism
  • Public Opinion and the Media
    • What Is Public Opinion?
    • The Origins of Political Attitudes
    • Cleavages in Public Opinion
    • Political Ideology
    • Political Elites and the “New Class”
    • The Impact of the Media
    • The Structure of the Media
    • Rules Governing the Media
    • Government and the News
    • Interpreting Political News
    • Are News Stories Slanted?
  • Political Parties and Interest Groups
    • Parties-Here and Abroad
    • The National Party Structure Today
    • State and Local Parties
    • The Two-Party System
    • Nominating a President
    • Do the Parties Differ?
    • Interest Groups and Political Parties
    • Kinds of Organization
    • Funds for Interest Groups
    • The Problem of Bias
    • The Activities of Interest Groups
    • Regulating Interest Groups
  • Campaigns and Elections
    • Political Participation
    • Historical Voting Patterns
    • Explaining—and Improving—Turnout
    • Political Campaigns
    • The Effects of Campaigns
    • How to Win an Election
    • Election Outcomes
    • Modern Technology and Political Campaigns
    • Elections and Money
    • The Effects of Elections on Policy
  • Congress
    • The Evolution of Congress
    • Who Is in Congress?
    • Getting Elected to Congress
    • The Organization of Congress: Parties and Interests
    • The Organization of Congress: Committees
    • The Organization of Congress: Staffs and Specialized Offices
    • How a Bill Becomes Law
    • How Members of Congress Vote
    • What It All Means
    • Ethics and Congress
    • The Power of Congress
  • The Presidency
    • The Powers of the President
    • The Evolution of the Presidency
    • The Modern Presidency
    • Who Gets Appointed
    • Presidential Character
    • The Power to Say No
    • The President’s Program
    • Presidential Transitions
    • The President and Public Policy
  • The Bureaucracy
    • Distinctiveness of the American Bureaucracy
    • The Growth of the Bureaucracy
    • The Federal Bureaucracy Today
    • Congressional Oversight
    • Bureaucratic “Pathologies”
    • Reinventing Government.
  • The Judiciary
    • The Development of the Federal Courts
    • The Structure of the Federal Courts
    • The Jurisdiction of the Federal Courts
    • Getting to Court
    • The Supreme Court in Action
    • The Power of the Courts
    • Checks on Judicial Power
  • Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
    • Freedom of Expression
    • Church and State
    • Crime and Due Process
    • Equal Protection of the Laws
  • Politics and Public Policy
    • How the American System Affects Policy Making
    • How Things Get Done
    • Four Kinds of Political Coalitions
    • Some Cautionary Remarks
  • American Government: Continuity and Change
    • Restraints on Growth
    • Relaxing the Restraints
    • Can or Should We Go Back to the Old Politics?
    • Should the Constitutional System Be Changed?

Methods of Assessment
Assessment tools include the following but are not limited to:

1. Written examinations
2. Research projects
3. Portfolios
4. Oral communication
5. Student demonstrations,
6. Student grades
7. Periodic review of work by independent study teacher (IST)
8. Parent facilitator and education specialist observation


  • Houghton Mifflin—American Government: Brief Version. 5/e
  • Allyn & Bacon—American Government: Continuity and Change (Paperback), 5/e
  • Brown University Choices for the 21st Century Education Project—A More Perfect Union: Shaping American Government. 3/e
  • Center for Civic Education—National Standards for Civics and Government