Introduction

“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 you'll 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

Meet The Faculty

Thomas E. Patterson

Thomas E. Patterson

Bradlee Professor of Government & The Press

Thomas E. Patterson is Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is author of the book Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism, published in October 2013. His earlier book, The Vanishing Voter, looks at the causes and consequences of electoral participation, and his book on the media’s political role, Out of Order, received the American Political Science Association’s Graber Award as the best book of the decade in political communication. His first book, The Unseeing Eye, was named by the American Association for Public Opinion Research as one of the 50 most influential books on public opinion in the past half century. He is also the author of the award winning Mass Media Election (1980), and a general American government text, We the People, now in the 11thedition. His articles have appeared in Political CommunicationJournal of Communication, and other academic journals, as well as in the popular press. His research has been funded by the Ford, Markle, Smith-Richardson, Pew, Knight, Carnegie, and National Science foundations. Patterson received his PhD from the University of Minnesota in 1971.

Course Provided By

Back To Top