Marymount University

  2807 North Glebe Road  Arlington, Virginia  22207-4299      (703) 284-1560        FAX (703) 284-3859


                School  of

Arts and Sciences



 Course Number

POL/HI 333

Course Title

United States Constitutional History

 Fall Semester


 Spring Semester


Summer Semester




Name of Instructor

William Miller


Meeting Day, Time, and Room Number

Tuesday-Friday, 2:00pm, Butler Room G132


Final Exam Day, Time, and Room Number

Tuesday, December 9th, 3:00pm, Butler Room G132


Office Hours, Location, Phone

Tuesdays and Fridays, 1:00 to 2:00 and 3:30 to 4:00; Wednesday afternoon and  other times by appointment. Ireton G107, 703-284-1687. Always email ahead of time!

 E-mail & Website (Email is the best way to reach me!) (All assignments and course announcements will be posted here, not on Blackboard)




Academic Integrity

By accepting this syllabus, you pledge to uphold the principles of Academic Integrity expressed by the Marymount University Community. You agree to observe these principles yourself and to defend them against abuse by others.

Special Needs and Accommodations

Please advise the instructor of any special problems or needs at the beginning of the semester.  If you seek accommodation based on disabilities, you should provide a Faculty Contact Sheet obtained through the Office of Student Access Services.

Access to Student Work

Copies of your work in this course including copies of any submitted papers and your portfolios may be kept on file for institutional research, assessment and accreditation purposes. All work used for these purposes will be submitted anonymously. 

Student Copyright Authorization

For the benefit of current and future students, work in this course may be used for educational critique, demonstrations, samples, presentations, and verification.  Outside of these uses, work shall not be sold, copied, broadcast, or distributed for profit without student consent. 

University Policy on Snow Closings

Snow closings are generally announced on area radio stations. For bulletins concerning Marymount snow or weather closings, call (703) 526-6888. Unless otherwise advised by radio announcement or by official bulletins on the number listed above, students are expected to report for class as near normal time as possible on days when weather conditions are adverse. Decisions as to snow closing or delayed opening are not generally made before 5:00 AM of the working day. Students are expected to attend class if the University is not officially closed. 


1.    BROAD PURPOSE OF COURSE   (Include the catalog description)

The purpose of this course is to study the evolution of several constitutional issues from the inception of the Constitution in 1787 in Philadelphia to the present day. In particular, the course will focus on several key Supreme Court decisions of the Marshall Court, their historical settings, and their legal and historical consequences.


2.    COURSE OBJECTIVES  (For core courses, include writing, critical reasoning, and information literacy as appropriate)

      Upon successful completion of this course students will be expected to:

A. to demonstrate familiarity in oral and written work with the principal doctrines and themes reflected in the United States Constitution;

B. to demonstrate familiarity with the development of several constitutional issues or themes as they developed in United States history;

C. to recognize the leading cases decided by the Supreme Court that reflected these constitutional issues and crises, the historical background that gave rise to these cases, the Court's decisions and rationales in these cases, and the immediate and long term effects of those decisions on American history;

D. to be familiar with the sufficient source material to conduct research in the historical and legal issues surrounding selected Supreme Court decisions that reflect the constitutional issues studied in this course.

3.    TEACHING METHOD   (lecture, laboratory, audio-visual, clinical experience, discussion, seminar, tutorial)


Lecture, seminar, and class discussion.


4.    GRADING POLICY  (i.e., number of graded assignments, weight given to each)

The final grade will be composed of the following parts:

Class Presentations, Assignments, and Quizzes 30%

Mid-term Exam 25%

Final Exam 25%

Review-Essay 20%

The usual scale of 90-100%=A, 80-89%=B, 70-79%=C, 60-69%=D, and 59% and below=F will be used for all graded work.

The class presentations will be short (two to three pages) written accounts of Supreme Court cases, their historical background, the legal issues that they presented, the Court's resolution of those issues, and the rationale for the resolution. The number of presentations will depend on the size of the class; I expect a minimum of two presentations from each student in the course of the semester.

The review essay will be an 8 to 12 page paper that reviews an approved book from a list of books to be made available by the instructor and also provides additional research material to explain how a particular Supreme Court case (1) reflected a critical response to existing historical, political, and legal factors and (2) how the decision affected subsequent historical, political, economic, and legal conditions in the country.


Attendance: Beginning with the second week of classes, students are allowed a total of nine absences, excused and/or unexcused. Students who miss ten or more classes for any reason whatever will receive an “F” in the course.   

Each unexcused absence beyond three—up to the absolute limit of nine—will result in a lowering of the final grade by one percentage point. To be excused, an absence must be explained to and approved by me, preferably before it occurs. Excused absences are typically those that are documented, such as medical-, legal-, or job-related excuses. Note: Occasionally coming to class late—even real late once or twice—is not considered an absence. Coming to class without hard copies of the text for the day or leaving class after taking an announced quiz without the prior permission of the instructor, however, is considered an absence.


Merely informing me ahead of time that you will be absent from class does not mean I excuse the absence, though I appreciate your courtesy. I will not excuse your absence because you are simply not feeling well or because you choose to do something worthwhile other than come to class even if you inform me ahead of time. If you are coughing and sneezing and coming down with a cold or the flu, and you don't want to spread your virus to your classmates, your fellow students and I salute you! Staying home may be the right thing to do, but it is not an excused absence. You all get three unexcused absences to use as you see fit, and it is your decision to use them to stay home when you don't feel well or want to attend some other event or need to prepare for another class instead of going to my class. Use them for good reasons: that's what they are for.


The limit of nine total absences recognizes that excessive excused absences may also be a problem. You should discuss such situations with me well before the last month of the semester. This is not a distance learning class. Any absence prevents you from participating in the class, but if your job or an illness keeps you away from class, it will significantly affect the class participation component of your grade and may be a good reason to drop the course and take it another time. All of us find ourselves in these situations from time to time and have to deal with them appropriately. You also have an obligation to report this to a University office (see the section titled “Attendance” in the University Catalogue).


When in doubt about any of these policies, please come and talk to me. They have been formulated with our substantial commuter and working student population in mind and are intended to be fair to everyone. You should also review the University's policies on absenteeism in the section titled “Attendance” in the University Catalogue.

Make-up Exams: The same basic rules about excused absences apply to taking mid-terms. My policy of giving makeup exams on the same day as the final does NOT mean that you may choose to take the mid-term exam on that day rather than on the regularly scheduled day: it is not an alternative test date. To be eligible for a makeup, you must qualify for an excused absence, and this you should do a reasonable time before the day of the mid-term, if that is at all possible. You may be excused from taking a mid-term if you are certifiably sick or your job prevents you from attending class or you have a serious family or personal or employment emergency on the day of the test. If one of these applies and I am informed in a reasonable time before the exam and you have written documentation to support your request, you may take the exam on the same day as the final exam. If none of these reasons apply, you may not take the exam at another time, and you will get a zero for the exam. If you are late for the exam because of events outside of your control, let me know immediately or as soon as possible that day, and I will let you take the exam later that same day if possible.  

5.    CLASS SCHEDULE   (List topics to be covered with approximate dates of presentation) In this initial offering of the course, the schedule of dates for the various topics is tentative and subject to much revision. I shall try very hard not to change the date given for the mid-term. Refer to the link entitled “Constitutional History: John Marshall and American Nationalism (Fall 2014)” for the particular assignments for each topic.

(8/26-29) Week I: Introduction to the course. Identification of primary sources. Articles of Confederation and purposes of the 1787 convention.

(9/2-5) Week II: The Constitutional Convention

(9/9-12) Week III: Topic One: The Early Supreme Court.

(9/16-19) Week IV: Topic One.

(9/23-26) Week V: Topic Two: Establishing the National Judicial Power.

Friday, September 26, 2014, is the last day to withdraw from a class without academic record.

(9/30-10/3) Week VI: Topic Two.


(10/17) Week VIII: Topic Three: The Implied Powers of Government.

(10/21-24) Week IX: Topic Three.

(10/28-31) Week X: Topic Four: Federal Power under the Commerce Clause.

Friday, October 31, 2014, is the last day to withdraw from a class with a grade of “W”.

(11/4-7) Week XI: Topic four

(11/11-14) Week XII: Topic Five: State Power under the Commerce Clause.

(11/18-21) Week XIII:  Topic Five

(11/25) Week XIV: Topic Six: The Contracts Clause.

(12/2-5) Week XV: Topic Six.

The Final Exam will be given only at the time scheduled on the University Final Exam Schedule: Tuesday, December 9th, at 3:00pm.


Max Farrand. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Online edition. Thomas website.

Max Farrand. The Framing of the Constitution of the United States. Online edition. Internet Archive.

________. The Framing of the Constitution of the United States. Online edition. Open Library.

John Garraty. Quarrels that have Shaped the Constitution. Rev. ed. New York: Perennial, 1989. ISBN 0-06-132084-6

Andrew C McLaughlin. A Constitutional History of the United States. Online edition.

Constitutional History: John Marshall and American Nationalism (Fall 2014)



Benedict, Michael Lee. Sources in American Constitutional History. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Currie, David P. The Constitution in the Supreme Court: The First Hundred Years, 1789-1888. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Paper.

Dorf, Michael C. Constitutional Law Stories. 2d ed. New York: Foundation Press, 2009.

Farber, Daniel A., and Suzanna Sherry. A History of the American Constitution. St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1990.

McDonald, Forrest. E Pluribus Unam: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790. 2d ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1979.

Peltason, J.W. and Sue Davis. Corwin and Peltason's Understanding the Constitution. 18th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2007.

Winton Solberg. The Constitutional Convention and the Formation of the Union. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990. ISBN 0-252-06124-1

University Press of Kansas series on “Landmark Law Cases and American Society.” Currently (2010) about fifty books on famous American cases.

Urofsky, Melvin, and Paul Finkelman. A March of Liberty. 2d ed. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-19-512635-8

Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787. New York, W.W. Norton, 1969.

Property Rights Old and New. Michael Ariens's account and Robertson, Lindsay G. 2000. "'A Mere Feigned Case': Rethinking the Fletcher v. Peck Conspiracy and Early Republican Legal Culture." Utah Law Review 2000 (spring): 249–65. Read more: Fletcher v. Peck - Land, Legislature, Law, Marshall, Court, and Contract


Web sites (additional relevant sites are linked on my web page):

Elliot's Debates.  (Website is the Library of Congress “Thomas” website.) Elliot, Jonathan. Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution: as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. New York: Burt Franklin, 1968 [?].

Farrand's Records. (Website is the Library of Congress “Thomas” website.) Farrand, Max. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966.

LexisNexis Academic database in the Aladin system.           

Avalon Project at Yale University Law School

The Founders' Constitution


For the benefit of the class and your classmates, the following rules regarding electronic devices also apply to this course:

1.     Turn your cell phones off during the class. If you are expecting an important call, put your phone on “Vibrate,” sit near the door, and, when the call comes, answer it outside the classroom.

2.     It follows from the foregoing rule, but it must be separately stated: no talking and no texting on cell phones during class. If you do not follow this rule, I will publicly ask you to leave the room for the remainder of the class and will do my best to have you removed from the course for the rest of the semester.

3.     No open lap-top or other computers are allowed in class without my prior permission. Devices such as tablets, Ipads, Kindles, Kobos, and Nooks that lie flat on the desk and on to which the readings can be loaded are permitted if approved by me, but hard copies of the readings are better. You can mark them up and take notes on them in class.

4. Be sure to check your Marymount email address regularly! This is Marymount’s and my principal way of contacting you with important information. Perhaps you rely mostly on Yahoo, gmail, or some other provider, but check your mail daily to make sure you do not miss school information.


These rules are necessary to foster a suitable learning environment in the classroom during class. There are enough distractions with lawnmowers, air conditioners, and other outside forces to combat during lectures and discussions without these controllable distractions within the room.