American National Government

“A Republic, If You Can Keep It:” Principles and the Many Paradoxes of American Government


Robert E. Botsch, Professor of Political Science, USC Aiken

Copyright 2008-15

A free Web-based text for American Government Students created at USC Aiken


Chapter 1. Introduction


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Chapter 2. The Constitution


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Chapter 3. The Legislative Branch


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Chapter 4. The Executive


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Chapter 5. Bureaucracy


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Chapter 6. The Judicial Branch


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Chapter 7. Federalism


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Chapter 8. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights


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Chapter 9. Interest Groups


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Chapter 10. Political Parties and Elections


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Chapter 11. Public Opinion, Socialization, and the Media + Afterword

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Description: Description: Independence_Hall_Assembly_Room

The assembly room in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the constitutional convention was held, with George Washington’s chair facing the seats for the delegates. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Text Information

This text was made possible by a grant from USCA and is solely for the use of USCA students. Below is a detailed outline of the text. To view each chapter for either reading or printing, click on the chapter headings in the frame to the left. The “pdf” versions of each chapter allow you to do searches for words or phrases. If you want to print the chapters, the pdf versions may look better--your choice!

Please email any errors, corrections, or comments to All corrections and comments are welcome!   Bob Botsch


For Carol Botsch, whose meticulous editing and excellent suggestions greatly improved this text, and for the thousands of USC Aiken American Government students who have asked me thought-provoking questions over the many years.


Abbreviated Text Outline



  Chapter 1. Introduction


I. Purposes of this e-text


II. Some basic terms and ideas


III. Plan of the Text



  Chapter 2. The Constitution: An Overview


I. The Paradoxical American Constitution


II. The Nature of Constitutions


III. The Articles of Confederation


IV. The Constitutional Convention


V. The Battle Over Ratification–-Our Unconstitutional Constitution?


VI. The Structure of the Constitution      


VII. Compromises and Conflicts in the Constitution—A Document with Many Paradoxes   


VIII. The Enduring Problem of Interpretation in a Clearly Unclear Constitution



  Chapter 3. The Legislative Branch: The People’s Branch that the People Hate


I. What you know about and what you like about Congress—not much


II. The Legislative Branch as laid out in the Constitution


III. The Evolution of Congress: from part-time citizen legislators to full-time career professionals


IV. Paradoxical Views of Congress Today: “Throw the bums out” and high re-election rates  


V. The Conflicting Functions of Congress         


VI. The Organization of Congress


VII. Differences between the House and the Senate


VIII. The obstacle course of legislation


             IX. Policy Implications—Energy Policy



  Chapter 4. The Executive: The All-Powerful Weakling


I. Introduction—your image of the president and the paradox of the presidential power trap


II. Constitutional Foundation—invitation to a power struggle


III. Historical evolution—increasing power and expectations


IV. Presidential Powers


V. Checks on presidential power 


VI. Getting good help


VII. Vice presidents—Growing Importance


VIII. The Future of the Chief Executive—Resolving the Paradox of the Presidential Power trap—Lowering Expectations?



  Chapter 5. Bureaucracy: The Dual Demands for Equal and Unequal Treatment, for   Political Responsiveness and Political Neutrality


I. Introduction: the Conflicting Demands We Make on Bureaucracy 


II. Constitutional Basis for Bureaucracy and Conflicts Over Control of Bureaucracy


III. Defining Characteristics of Bureaucracy      


IV. The Evolution of Bureaucracy—From a Few Clerks to Spoils to Civil Service


V. Size and Growth of Government Bureaucracy


VI. Structure of the Bureaucracy at the National Level


VII. The Fourth Branch?


VIII. Policy Implications—Economic Policy




  Chapter 6. The Judicial Branch: The Highly Political Non-political Courts


I. Introduction


II. The Constitutional Foundation for the Federal Court System—Not Much         


III. Growth of the Federal Court System—Structure and Relationship to State Courts


IV. Powers—Judicial Review


V. Caseload in Federal and State Courts and the Judicial Calendar


VI. Selection of Justices and Judges—More Politics


VII. How the Supreme Court Decides Cases    


VIII. Conclusion—A Nation of Laws AND People



  Chapter 7. Federalism: If Everyone Is Responsible, Is No One Responsible?


I. Introduction: The Paradox of Who Is Responsible For What


II. The Constitutional Foundations of Federalism


III. Early Federalism–-State-Centered Federalism      


IV. Secession and Reconstruction: The End of State Centered Federalism?


V. The Late 1800s: Twilight Zone Federalism When No One Was Responsible, Except the Very Rich


VI. The Growth of Nation-Centered Federalism


VII. Cooperative Federalism: Shared and Mixed Responsibilities     


VIII. Devolution: Shifting More Responsibilities Back to the States


IX. Local governments


X. Forces and Factors that Shape the Balance in Who is Responsible for What   


XI. Conclusion



  Chapter 8. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: Constitutional Rights and Liberties That May Not Be Constitutionally Protected


I. Introduction: The Paradox of Our Constitutional Rights and Liberties


II. Review of Rights and Liberties in the Constitution


III. Incorporation of the Bill of Rights to Apply to the States


IV. Some Key Areas of Rights and Liberties     



  Chapter 9. Interest Groups: The Paradox of Factions, Control by Letting them Multiply


I. Introduction—They’re Everywhere!


II. The Problem of Factions—Federalist Number 10    


III. Tactics    


IV. Relative Power of Interest Groups    


V. Evaluation—the Dangers of Pluralism



  Chapter 10. Political Parties and Elections: Good Citizens Acting Irrationally


I. The Logic of Voting—An Irrational Activity


II. Elections Without Political Parties?    


III. A Brief History of American Political Parties


IV. The Organization of Political Parties—Three Part Structure       


V. Why We Have a Two Party System   


VI. Third Parties: Splinter Protest Parties and Ideological Parties


VII. Voting and Election Rules     


VIII. Policy Implications     


IX. Should You Vote?



  Chapter 11. Public Opinion, Socialization, and the Media: Learning to be Ignorant


I. Getting Personal—How You Learned and Didn’t Learn About Politics     


II. Public Opinion—Learning About How Others Feel


III. Political Socialization—Picking Up Identifications and Opinions


IV. The Media—Our Windows to the World 


V. Policy Implications