The seminar aims to understand the ideas and intellectual framework that gave rise to the U.S. Constitution and thereby, more generally, to consider the role of law in American society. Although this will be relevant for understanding the Constitution and its meaning, the main focus of the seminar will be on broader questions of about the nature of early American society and its law. The topics discussed will include theories of liberty and legal obligation, revolution, types of constitutions, the drafting of constitutions, judicial review, the freedom of the press, religion and religious liberty, and slavery. The readings will consist of a wide range of contemporary sources, including eighteenth-century newspapers, letters, sermons, poems, philosophic tracts, court cases, and debates.
This seminar is open to all types of students, and there are no prerequisites. Grades will be based on class participation, four two-page discussion papers, and a research paper. The discussion papers should focus on a segment of the required reading for the following week and will be due 5:00 pm the day before the meeting at which the reading will be discussed. The research paper must be based on original research in primary sources on a subject to be chosen by the student with the permission of the teacher. Ordinarily, the paper should be about 15 pages long, but with the permission of the teacher, a student may substitute a paper of about 25 pages for an extra academic credit that must be registered separately. Either paper can earn a Writing Credit, and the longer paper can earn a Major Writing Credit.