WPA Liberty Poster

Isms in American Politics 46.310

Major Movements in American Political Thought

This course surveys some of the major ideological movements and perspectives that have shaped American politics including federalism and anti-federalism, racism, abolitionism, Social Darwinism, anarchism, progressivism, individualism, socialism, creationism, Keynesianism, feminism, anti-communism, libertarianism, neo-liberalism, and what might be described as the “anti-governmentism” of recent decades. As we review representative historical and contemporary documents, we will consider whether the popular ideologies of previous eras continue to inform present-day political preoccupations, assumptions, and trends.

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Introduction: An Overview of Foundational Ideas in American Political Thought

Glorius Revolution
English Civil War:
1650 - 1688
The Republic
The Restoration
The Revolution

classical republicanism, classical liberalism, possessive individualism, classical political economy, history of capitalism


John Locke, "Of Property," Two Treatises of Government (1690)

Adam Smith, selected quotes from the Wealth of Nations (1776)

Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto (1848)

Adam Smith and Karl Marx

John Locke
Learn more about Locke's influence in American political thought.

1. Federalism and Anti-Federalism

Alexander HamiltonPatrick Henry


Declaration of Independence

Declaring Independence, Digital History.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 6, 1787.

Patrick Henry, Remarks at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, 1788. 

Saul Cornell, "Antifederalists: The Other Founders of the American Constitutional Tradition?," History Now, Issue 13, 2007.

2. Racism and Abolitionism in the 19th Century


Ronald G. Walters, "Abolition and Antebellum Reform," History Now, September 2005.

"The Fugitive Slave Law and the Compromise of 1850," Our Documents.

Henry David Thoreau, "Slavery in Massachusetts" (1854), Framingham, Mapping Thoreau Country.

Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857.

Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896 (contextual summary), The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, PBS.

Virginia Luxuries
Virginian Luxuries
. Courtesy of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Va.

3. Contemplating the Course of American Empire

Topics: Transcendentalism, expansionism, imperialism, social Darwinism, paternalism

 An Overview of Manifest Destiny, The U.S. - Mexican War (PBS)

Assignment 3

Harriet Hansom Robinson, The Lowell Mill Girls Go on Strike, 1836," excerpt from Loom and Spindle (1898), HistoryMatters.

Manifest Destiny, US History.org

Donald Scott, "The Religious Origins of Manifest Destiny," Divining America.

Henry David Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government" (1849); alternative link: "Civil Disobedience." 

William Graham Sumner, "What the Social Classes Owe to Each Other" (1883).

Learn more: Muller v. Oregon (1908)

Gold Hunter Kellogg c 1850

4. Capitalism and Anti-Capitalism in the Industrial Age

Bread & Roses Strike, 1912

Topics: nationalism; anarchism; populism; socialism, Keynesianism; economic individualism; modern liberalism


Theodore Roosevelt, "The New Nationalism" (1910).

Eugene V. Debs, "The Socialist Party" (1912).

Emma Goldman, "Anarchism" (1917).

Huey Long, "Every Man a King" (1934).

"Every Man a King,"  campaign song

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "First Inaugural Address" (1933).

Summary of Major Aspects of the New Deal, Miller Center, University of Virginia.


Jacob Riis, Children Sleeping in Mulberry Street, 1890

5. Feminism, Anti-Feminism & Post-Feminism

Is Feminism Dead?


Ellen DuBois, "Reconstruction and the Battle for Woman Suffrage," History Now, March 2006.Third-Wave Feminism

"The History of Second Wave Feminism," Suite 101. (Summary)

R.A.P., "Feminism in America," Mother Earth, February 1915, 26-28 (PBS).

Gloria Steinem, "Women's Liberation Aims to Free Men Too," Washington Post, June 7, 1970.

Katha Pollitt, "Feminism's Unfinished Business," The Atlantic Online, November, 1997.

Roe v. Wade, 1973. (abridged)

Fact Sheet on Abortion, Guttmacher Institute

"Third-Wave Feminism," Suite 101. (Summary)

Meritor Savings v. Vinson (1986), defined liability in cases of sexual harrassment.            

Dahlia Lithwick, "The Death of Roe v. Wade,Slate," April 19, 2011.                                 

6. Fundamentalism in American Politics

Red ProfessorsUpdate in progress...10/12/2012

Douglas O. Linder, "State v. John Scopes," University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Enemies from Within”: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s Accusations of Disloyalty, February 9, 1950, HistoryMatters. 

"National Suicide”: Margaret Chase Smith and Six Republican Senators Speak Out Against Joseph McCarthy’s Attack on “Individual Freedom," June 1, 1950.

Richard Hofstader, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," Harpers Magazine, November, 1964, posted at Columbia University.

Nelson Jones, "The Politics of Creationism," New Statesman, August 24, 2011.

Paul Krugman, "Republicans Against Science," Op-Ed, New York Times, August 28, 2011.

Jeremy W. Peters, "Santorum Writings Voice Strikingly Consistent Views," news analysis, New York Times, March 19, 2012.

The Values and Beliefs of the American Public, Wave III, Baylor University Religion Survey, September 20, 2011. (pdf)Assignment 6

    phreneological head    Midterm Exam Instructions and Materials (Updated 10/12)

7.  Post-War Liberalism, Neo-Liberalism, and the Collapse of the New Deal

"Income Inequality Reaches Gilded Age Levels," Huffington Post, 10/26/11.

New York Cover

"From George Romney To Mitt, A Shrinking Tax Rate," NPR, February 24, 2012.

Historical Top Tax Rates in the U.S., 1913-2011, Center on Tax Policy.

Lyndon Johnson, "War on Poverty," State of the Union Address (1964).

Bill Clinton, "How We Ended Welfare, Together," Op-Ed, New York Times, August 22, 2006. 

Paul Krugman, "The Conscience of a Liberal," New York Times, September 18, 2007.

Naomi Klein, "Disowned by the Ownership Society," The Nation, February 18, 2008.

"As Corporate Profits Rise, Workers’ Income Declines," New York Times, August 5, 2011.

Leon Cooperman, An Open Letter to the President of the United States, November 28, 2011.

"Income Inequality News," Times Topics, New York Times, updated March 22nd, 2012.

Chrystia Freeland, "Super-Rich Irony: Why do billionaires feel victimized by Obama?," New Yorker, October 8, 2012.

UMass Occupy Boston

Economic News Analysis:/strong

 Feeling the Pain of Goldman Sachs

Occupy Boston

 Capitalism & Environmentalism: The Last Showdown?

Occupy Wall St. & Environmentalism

Global Warming Fast Facts, National Geographic News, June 14, 2007.

Ludovic Blaine, "Ain't I an Environmentalist? An Environmental-Justice Advocate Insists He’s Not Dead Yet," Grist, May 31, 2005.

T. Edward Nickens, "Walden Warming," October 1, 2007.

Jean Callahan, "How a Free Society Could Solve Global Warming," The Freeman, September 10, 2011.

Wen Stephenson, "Why I’m Walking to Walden," Grist, September 23, 2011.

Bill McKibben’s Keystone XL Speech at Occupy Wall Street, October 9, 2011.

Naomi Klein, "Capitalism vs. the Climate," The Nation, November 28, 2011.

Times Topics: Global Warming/Climate Change

ASSIGNMENT 8 update in progress...

Occupy Wall St. - baby

Additional Readings for Presentations, Papers, and Pleasure
Final Paper: Instructions and Deadlines
Additional Sample Thesis Statements