School of Design, Arts, and Humanities




 Course Number

  POL 333-A

Course Title

  American Constitutional History

 Fall Semester


 Spring Semester


Summer Semester

Credit Hours       3

Name of Instructor

 William Miller

Meeting Day, Time, and Room Number
 Mondays and Thursdays, 2:00-3:15pm, St. Joseph’s Hall, G102

Final Exam Day, Time, and Room Number

 Monday, December 10th, 3:00-5:30pm, St. Joseph’s Hall, G102

Office Hours, Location, Phone        Mondays and Thursdays, 12:45-1:45pm, 3:15-4:00pm; Wednesdays by appointment. Rowley 1018. 703-284-1687. Emailing ahead of time is always good!

 E-mail and Web Site Email is always the best way to reach me! All announcements and assignments are posted on this web site, never on Canvas.


Course 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. The course will focus on key Supreme Court decisions and their historical settings. Prerequisite. One of the following:  POL-104, POL-305, HI-110, or HI-111. (3)





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. Items submitted for this course may be submitted to for analysis.


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. 

Please address any special challenges or needs with the instructor at the beginning of the semester.

Students with Disabilities

If you are seeking accommodations (class/course adjustments) for a long-term or short-term (less than 6 months) disability, you must do the following:

1)    Register as a student with a disability with Student Access Services (SAS) in the Center for Teaching and Learning.  This process takes time, so you should engage it as early as possible.

2)    Once registered with SAS, you may be approved for accommodations by SAS.  Approved accommodations will be listed on a “Faculty Contact Sheet” (FCS).  This is important because not all accommodation requests are approved.

3)    After receiving the FCS, meet with each of your instructors as soon as possible to review your accommodations, and have them sign the FCS. This document will help you and your instructors develop a plan for providing the approved accommodations.

4)    Let SAS know if there are any concerns about the way your accommodations are being implemented by your instructors.


Please remember that:

1)    Accommodations for disabling conditions cannot be granted if you do not follow the above steps.

2)    Accommodations are not retroactive.  That is, accommodations can only be applied to a course after they have been approved by SAS and put into motion by you through working with your instructors.

3)    Appointments with the SAS staff are scheduled through the Starfish "Success Network" tab in Canvas.  For more information, check the SAS website, e-mail, or call 703-284-1538.


Students with Temporary Challenges

Temporary challenges due to accident, illness, etc. that may result in missing class or navigating general campus access do not fall under the purview of SAS. If you experience something of this nature, please start by alerting your instructors.  The Dean of Student Success may be involved in alerting instructors in extreme cases.



When students are absent due to a crisis situation or unexpected, serious illness and unable to contact their individual instructors directly, the Division of Student Affairs can send out an Emergency Notification. To initiate an Emergency Notification, students should contact the Division of Student Affairs 703-284-1615 or Emergency Notifications are NOT appropriate for non-emergency situations (e.g. car problems, planned absences, minor illnesses, or a past absence); are NOT a request or mandate to excuse an absence, which is at the sole discretion of the instructor; and are NOT a requirement for student absences. If a student contacts instructors about an emergency situation directly, it is not necessary to involve the Division of Student Affairs as arrangements are made to resolve the absence.

For non-emergency absences, students should inform their instructors directly. 


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 confidentially.



Weather and Emergency closings are announced on Marymount’s web site:, through MUAlerts, area radio stations, and TV stations. You may also call the Weather and Emergency Hotline at (703) 526-6888 for current status. Unless otherwise advised by local media or by official bulletins 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 inclement closing or delayed opening are not generally made before 6:00 AM and by 3:00 PM for evening classes of the working day. Emergency closing could occur at any time making MUAlerts the most timely announcement mechanism. Students are expected to attend class if the University is not officially closed. If the University is closed, course content and assignments will still be covered as directed by the course instructor. Please look for communication from course instructor (e.g., Canvas) for information on course work during periods in which the University is closed.

1.  BROAD PURPOSE OF COURSE Multiple sections of the same course must have the same purpose.

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. The course will focus on key Supreme Court decisions and their historical settings. The course begins with an examination of some legal precedents antedating the independence of the United States. It focuses particularly on the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall, and follows some of the consequences of several watershed opinions from that Court.

2.  COURSE OBJECTIVES:  Upon successful completion of this course students will be expected to:

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

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

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

E. demonstrate an ability to identify the main thesis or theses of a book on a constitutional law issue and to evaluate that thesis in light of the materials studied in the course.



Lecture, class discussion, and short class presentations.  I do not want to lecture all the time! Students must be prepared to discuss, to ask questions, and to answer questions. Ten percent of your grade—a full grade!—is based on class participation!



          Tuesday, September 4, 2018, is the last day to withdraw from a class without academic record

          Friday, November 2, 2018 is the last day to withdraw from a class with a grade of W

The final grade will be composed of the following parts:

Class Presentations 20%, Mid-term Exam 25%, Final Exam 25%, Review-Essay 20%, Class Participation and Quizzes 10%. 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.

The exams and the written assignments are all based on the primary readings of the course: not on the class lectures, which are intended to help you understand the readings and not to substitute for the readings. No grade of "I" or "Incomplete" will be given. If possible, assignments and exams will be graded and returned within two weeks. Assignments handed in late will receive an F.  



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 documented, unless I indicate otherwise. Excused absences are typically medical-, legal-, or job-related excuses. Acceptable documentation typically consists of a statement or form on official stationery (1) signed by a third party (doctor, police, judge, supervisor—not a parent or family member!) that (2) refers specifically to the day of absence from class and (3) the reason for the absence.


Occasionally coming to class late—even really late once or twice—is not considered an absence. Coming to class without hard copies of the text for the day, leaving the classroom for most of the class-time, or leaving class early without the prior permission of the instructor, however, is always considered an unexcused 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 legal 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. Travel plans will never excuse an absence. Parental or family notes do not constitute proper documentation. 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.



This schedule is approximate and subject to revisions, though I shall try to keep the dates for exams the same as listed herein. Always check the Weekly Assignments link, “United States Constitutional History (Fall 2018),” for revised assignment deadlines.

(8/27-30) Week I: Introduction to the course. Identification of primary sources. Background to the Philadelphia Convention. Political Thought in the Late 18th Century. Urofsky and Finkelman, A March of Liberty (hereinafter “Urofsky”), chapter 3.

(9/6) Week II: State Constitutions.  Articles of Confederation. Urofsky, chapters 4 & 5.

                Tuesday, September 4, 2018, is the last day to withdraw from a class without academic record

(9/10-13) Week III: The Philadelphia Convention. Convention Notes: James Madison’s Notes; Farrand’s Records. Fundamental Constitutional Doctrines. Madison's Notes: The proceedings of the convention through late June, 1787. Readings from Urofsky, chapter 6, and Madison’s Notes.

(9/17-20) Week IV: Madison's Notes: The July proceedings leading to the Report of the Committee of Detail (July through August 6th). Readings from Urofsky and Madison’s Notes.

(9/24-27) Week V: Madison's Notes: The Report of the Committee of Detail; the formation of the presidency; the completion of the Constitution (August 6th to September 17th). The marking-up of the first draft of the constitution; the development of the institution of the presidency in counterpoint to the development of Congress. Readings from Urofsky and Madison’s Notes.

 (10/1-4) Week VI: The Ratification Debates; the Bill of Rights; Federalists v. Anti-federalists; the nationalism project. The Supreme Court in the 1790s. Elliot's Debates, selections. Readings from Urofsky and Elliott’s Debates.

(10/9—A TUESDAY!—and 10/11) Week VII: The Early court, Urofsky chapter 8. And selected cases..

(10/15-18) Week VIII: Tuesday—Mid-Term Exam. The Early Court:  Urofsky, chapter 8, and selected cases.

(10/22-25) Week IX: The Marshall Court: The Independent Judiciary. Urofsky, chapter 10, Marbury and related cases.

(10/29-1/1) Week X: The Marshall Court: Promoting Nationalism. Urofsky, chapter 11, McCulloch, and related cases.

                Friday, November 2, 2018 is the last day to withdraw from a class with a grade of W

(11/5-8) Week XI: The Marshall Court: Promoting Nationalism. Urofsky, chapter 11, Gibbons, and related cases.

(11/12-15) Week XII: Later developments of the Commerce Clause.

(11/19) Week XIII:  The Marshall Court and the Bill of Rights. Urofsky, chapter 14, Barron, and related cases.

(11/26-29) Week XIV:   The Taney Court. Urofsky, chapters 14 & 16.

(12/3-6) Week XV:  The Taney Court. Urofsky, chapter 17, and Dred Scott.

The Final Exam will be given only at the time scheduled on the University Final Exam Schedule: Wednesday, December 10th, at 3:00pm.



William Miller. A Primer on American Courts. New York: Routledge, 2005. ISBN  978-0-32-110615-5

Melvin Urofsky and Paul Finkelman. A March of Liberty. 3d ed. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-19-538273-0

The Library of Congress. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, which includes the following:

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

John A Garraty. Ed. Quarrels that have Shaped the Constitution. Rev. ed. New York: Harper, 2009. ISBN 978-0061320842 On Reserve.


James Madison. Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. 2d ed. Ohio University Press, 1987. ISBN 978-0821407653 A paperback edition of material that is also included in Max Farrand’s Records of the Federal Convention of 1787.

Winton Solberg. The Constitutional Convention and the Formation of the Union. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0252061240  This includes an abridged version of Madison’s notes as well as other related material.


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

Cogan, Neil H. Contexts of the Constitution. New York: Foundation Press, 1999.

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.

Farrand, Max. The Framing of the Constitution of the United States. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1913, 1962.

Jensen, Merrill. The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1959. ISBN 978-0299002046

McLaughlin, Andrew C. A Constitutional History of the United States. Simon Publications, 1936, 2001.

Peltason, J.W. and Sue Davis. Corwin and Peltason's Understanding the Constitution. 17th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2007.

University Press of Kansas series on “Landmark Law Cases and American Society.” Currently (2018) about fifty books on famous American cases. The books for the review essay will be taken from the University of Kansas catalogue.

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

Avalon Project at Yale University Law School

The Founders' Constitution (University of Chicago/Liberty Fund)



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, reduce your class participation grade, and 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, 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. Most assignments will be handed out in hard copies.

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.