American Government: Constitutional Foundations

Thomas E. Patterson, HarvardX

Learn how early American politics informed the U.S. Constitution and why its promise of liberty and equality has yet to be fully realized.

“We the People” are the opening words of the U.S. Constitution, yet the original document did not give citizens much say in the election of their officials. Though some of those issues have been addressed, substantial barriers—gerrymandering, voter registration, and voter ID laws—still restrain the power of the vote. Why? How can a country, founded more than 200 years ago on the ideals of liberty, equality, and individualism, still struggle to empower all of its citizens equally?

This course explores the origins of U.S. political culture, how that culture informed the Constitution, and how that framework continues to influence the country’s politics and policies. We will examine the Constitution’s provisions for limited government, the division of power between the federal and state governments, and the forces that have made federalism a source of political conflict and change.

We will address how the Constitution not only established the structure of the U.S. government but guarantees personal freedoms and civil rights. These rights have been challenged and expanded in significant Supreme Court cases, which will help to illustrate how historically disadvantaged groups have struggled to realize the 14th Amendment's promise of equality.

What will you learn

  • The foundations of the American political culture
  • How the Constitution represented the idea of “limited government”
  • Why the Constitution’s framers felt it necessary to limit popular influence
  • The history of federalism as a constitutional issue
  • How power is divided between the federal and state governments
  • What individual rights are held by today’s Americans
  • Which policies have expanded the rights of disadvantaged groups

Dates:
  • 22 July 2019
Course properties:
  • Free:
  • Paid:
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  • Video:
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  • Language: English Gb

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