Would the Framers of the Constitution be dismayed to see the state of our polarized politics today? Would they be equally dismayed at the dysfunction that characterizes the 21st Century Congress? Many argue that today’s Congress is dysfunctional because of the influence of political parties on our legislative branch. This program will examine how the Constitution’s Framers thought about Congress and political parties, and the major changes that have taken place in Congress over time. We will seek to understand the complex relationship between partisanship and the evolution of Congress’s rules and leadership structure, and analyze whether political parties are a threat or a benefit to our republican form of government.
Through reading and discussing primary documents from American constitutional history, this seminar is designed to help teachers think more deeply about these fundamental issues, so they can teach the principles of American constitutionalism more effectively.
Joseph Postell is Associate Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College. Prior to arriving at Hillsdale, he was Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. His research and teaching focus on American political institutions, particularly Congress, political parties, and the administrative state. He is the author of Bureaucracy in America: The Administrative State's Challenge to Constitutional Government, and the editor of several books on American political thought. His scholarly writings have appeared in a variety of academic journals and law reviews, including American Political Thought, Constitutional Studies, the Review of Politics, the NYU Journal of Law and Liberty, and the Georgetown Review of Law and Public Policy. He is also a frequent contributor to popular journals such as the Claremont Review of Books, Law and Liberty, and National Review.
Sarah Burns is a fellow at the Quincy Institute and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Rochester Institute of Technology. Her research examines the process of constitutional design in the United States using Montesquieu’s understanding of the separation of powers to develop a model for salutary institutions. She demonstrates how the branches have evolved to forgo the struggle created by the Montesquieuan system, allowing the executive branch to assert broad unilaterally powers, instead. She has written on war powers, American foreign policy, democratic peace theory, elections, and Montesquieu’s constitutionalism. In her book, The Politics of War Powers, she demonstrates how the Constitution purposely locks the president and legislature in a battle for control over military affairs. As this has broken down over time, the United States increasingly produces and executes reactive policy untethered to grand strategy. Her current book project examines American efforts to democratize other states due to a longstanding adherence to the concept of Democratic Peace Theory.