Seminar in
   American Political Development
   Political Science 6431, Spring 2013

Click here for the American Political Development Bibliography

"The past is never dead; it's not even past."  - William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun 

"WHEN, after many efforts, a legislator succeeds in exercising an indirect influence upon the destiny of nations, his genius is lauded by mankind, while, in point of fact, the geographical position of the country, which he is unable to change, a social condition which arose without his co-operation, customs and opinions which he cannot trace to their source, and an origin with which he is unacquainted exercise so irresistible an influence over the courses of society that he is himself borne away by the current after an ineffectual resistance. Like the navigator,  he may direct the vessel which bears him along but he can neither change its structure, nor raise the winds, nor lull the waters which swell beneath him …  "
     -- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Book I, chapter 8


Professor Dave Robertson 
Office: 801 Tower; Phone 314-516-5855, Fax 314- 516-5855; e-mail:

Office Hours: 9:00-12:00 am Thursday; and other times can be easily arranged


1. The Course Agenda

What makes American politics so unique? American government is harder to use than governments in other places. American political parties are weaker and interest groups more fragmented than in comparable nations. Many political scientists have tried to understand these patterns by tracing the path of American politics over time. The field of American Political Development focuses on the ways that political culture, ideology, governing structures (executives, legislatures, judiciaries, and subnational governments) and structures of political linkage (political parties and organized interests) shape the development of political conflict and public policy. Such studies emphasize that the decisions of the past establish recognizable paths and affect contemporary political strategy, institutional design, and policy outcomes.

This course introduces the subfield of American political development. It combines several features of the "new institutionalism" in the study of politics: longitudinal (that is, across time) comparison, the use of developmental evidence to validate hypotheses, the examination of counterfactuals, the effect of rules and structure on political conflict, and the "state" as an autonomous political force. We will ask how political strategy, political structure, and public policy affect one another. We will examine enduring questions about structure, leadership, culture, gender, race, class and religion. 

APD is an inherently comparative field.  If your interest is comparative politics or international relations, the course encourages you to pursue your interests in your projects.

2. Required Books

Six books are required for the course. These are or will be available at the University of Missouri - St. Louis bookstore.

In addition to these books, a number of articles and documents are also required reading. These will be available through My Gateway.

All royalties from the Robertson book will be dedicated to the political science graduate student fund.

You are encouraged to use the American Political Development Bibliography for additional readings in your area of interest and additional research resources.  The American Political Development Website at the Miller Center is a great resource for further information.

3. Grading

4. Participation

You are expected to participate in all seminar sessions and to contribute thoughtful and informed questions and comments to the discussion. If you do so you will receive an "A" for this part of the grade. Remember, this seminar will succeed only to the extent that you participate. Its success depends on you.

5. Area of Interest or Specialization

Each student should select an area of interest or specialization. This area of interest could be a government institution (the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Presidency, a federal agency, or the Supreme Court, an institution in another nation or an intergovernmental organization); a linkage institution (the Republican or Democratic party or political parties abroad, business or labor groups, newspapers or television, or a non-governmental international organization), a policy area (tariffs, education, environmental policy), or some cultural force that affects politics (religion or social movements).  You need to indicate this interest to me in an email message by February 4. Your papers and research design will deal with the area of interest you select.  Your work in your area of interest will connect your substantive interests to the more general material we will cover in seminar discussions.  Ph.D. students can take advantage of this opportunity to develop a dissertation topic, or to refine a topic they've already chosen.

6. Critical Book Analysis

There will be two short (6-10 page, typed) analytical papers for the course. One of the papers will critically examine books that are relevant to each student's area of interest or specialization; these are intended to help you beef up your reading list.  These books may be selected from the American Political Development Bibliography or some other source.  The instructor must approve the student's choice of in advance.  You should devote no less than three pages to summarizing the book's argument and evidence; this material should include a summary of the book's key questions, the author's argument for their significance, the evidence (qualitative or quantitative) she uses to answer the question, and the conclusions she reaches.  You should devote no less than three pages describing its place in the literature and providing a critical analysis of its strengths and weaknesses; the critical analysis should examine the quality of the questions, the evidence, and the logic of the argument. This paper is due February 25.

7. Analysis of the Political Development of the Focus of Your Research Design

For the second paper, you will write an analysis of the political development of the institution or policy that is the focus your research design.  First, it should provide a sequence of key events along the path of the development of the policy or institution. Second, it should provide a list of key readings about your topic.  Third, it should identify and define the key researchable questions (questions that begin with "how" or "why") in your area of interest. Some of these questions should derive from applying the larger questions for American political development identified in seminar.  You are developing an inventory of questions worth asking in your area of interest, and you need to explain explicitly (1) why these questions are merit research and (2) how in general they can be researched (is the research doable?). The purpose of the assignment is to develop the ability to ask good, answerable questions and to decompose large questions into smaller, manageable questions. It will provide the basis for your research design. This paper is due April 1.

7. Research Design

There will be a research design assignment of 12-15 pages. See below for more detail on this assignment. You will not have to turn in a completed research project - only a rigorous plan for such a project. This design is due on May 13.

If you want to do a conventional 15-20 page seminar paper instead of the research design, discuss the topic with me and get approval before you begin.

8. Final Exam

You will write a 5-10 page typed essay in response to each of two questions. Take this opportunity to show how much literature you've  mastered (if you like, you can bring in literature from other courses you've  taken), and how well you can apply the literature and information from those courses. The Exam is due May 15.

- The Research Design Assignment -


The research design assignment requires a 12-15 page research proposal based on answers to the following questions. You will not have to turn in a completed research project -- only a rigorous plan for such a project.


Here are the key elements of the research design. Remember, the methods you use should be directly related to the question you are trying to answer. Qualitative methods may be more appropriate than quantitative methods, or the quantitative methods may be more appropriate. You might use rigorous analysis of archival sources, or you might model data. You might use some of both methods. The object is to frame an important, enduring, and open question about politics and write a plan for exploring information, including historical information (that is, information at least ten years old) to answer the question.


1. Topic. What is the central issue that will motivate your research? Explain precisely what topic you will examine. Explain why it matters (it may matter because it is central to scientific theory, because it is a central policy or political issue today, because it was a decisive turning point in political development, or because conventional wisdom about the topic may be wrong). There are many ways to get ideas for topics.  Several are included in our readings. You can find others in key journals, such as The American Political Science Review or other general political science journals, or more specialized journals such as Studies in American Political Development.  Your topic should be interesting to you.


2. Literature Review. What do we know about this topic? Who has written about it? What are their central arguments and assertions? What are the key concepts? What are the important open questions in the field? (Sources include bibliographies, literature reviews, computer-assisted references, and discussions with faculty).


3. Theoretical Question. Once you have chosen a topic, you have to specify the problem you want to study.  You will have to try to isolate one precise question about the topic to answer in a discrete research project. Precisely what question will your research try to answer? This may take the form of a relationship between a dependent variable and several independent variables (that is, Why did something happen the way it did? What caused it? Factor A? Factor B? Some combination?). It also may take the form of the relationship between two non-recurring events. 


(a) - What behaviors, event, or outcomes are you trying to explain?

      (b) - What behaviors, events or outcomes can account for (a), above?

      (c) - What is the relationship between (a) and (b)?  For example,

           (1) For (a) to occur, was (a) necessary and / or sufficient?

           (2) Does (a) occur more frequently when (b) occurs?

           (3) Does (a) occur more frequently when (b) occurs?

           (4) Does (b) determine (a) (when a happens, b necessarily happens)?


(d) - What other factors may need to be taken into account?


4. Information. What information will you collect to answer the central theoretical question? Define 3 (a) and 3 (b) precisely. How do I know them when I see them (are they Congressional votes? If so, precisely which ones? Where can I find them?). Specify why historical information is required to answer the question.


5. Techniques. How will you analyze the question? That is, what is your proposed research strategy answering the question? How will you decide that a relationship between (a) and (b) is confirmed or refuted by the evidence? Will you statistically assess the relationship between variables? If so, how? If not, what qualitative methods will you use to rigorously assess their relationship? Will you use a mixture of methods? How will you assess the role of other factors (3 d).


6. Validity and Objectivity. How do you know that your conclusions will be valid? Are there flaws in your method that could cast doubt on your findings about the relationship of (a) and (b)? How do we know that the numbers and documents offer reasonably reliable measures of what you claim they measure? What explicit steps will you take to assure a reader that you are being fair-minded and objective in each step of the process?


7. What is the projected outline of the final written product?


8. What timetable will you have for the project? Give a realistic estimate of the time it will take to complete each step above.


9. Provide a bibliography.


Brief Schedule     
(*) indicates material available for download from My Gateway

January 28 (Monday):     Course Introduction

February  4 (Monday):     American Political Development Perspectives

February 11 (Monday):     American Political Development Perspectives

February 18 (Monday): Founding

February 25 (Monday): The Early Republic

March  4 (Monday): Civil War & Institutional Change

March 11 (Monday): The State of Courts and Parties

March 18 (Monday):  Transitions to Modern American Politics

March 25 and March 27: Spring Break - Class does not meet

April  1 (Monday): Progressivism

April 8 (Monday): New Deal

April 15 (Monday): Cold War and the Garrison State

April 22 (Monday): Liberal Ascent

April 29 (Monday):  Conservative Ascent

May 6 (Monday): Our Inheritance

May 13 (Monday
):        Research Design (or Approved Paper) Due  


May 15 (Wednesday)     EXAM DUE


Comprehensive Course Schedule

January 28 (Monday):     Course Introduction

READ:     Linda Greenhouse, "History Lessons," New York Times, October 3, 2012 (*)
            Jonathan Weisman, "The Senate's Long Slide to Gridlock," New York Times, November 24, 2012
            Draft Introduction to the Oxford Handbook of American Political Development (*)

Cal Jillson and David Brian Robertson, "Introduction," in Jillson and Robertson, eds., Perspectives on American Government:
                 Readings in Political Development and Institutional Change
(New York: Routledge, 2009), 1-9 (*)

            Abramowitz, The Polarized Public, xi-17


Discussion questions:

1). Is history important for understanding people you know?  Why?

2). What can an understanding of history tell us about contemporary politics that we don't already know?

3). What is a rule? Why do we have rules?  Why do we have the rules we have?

4). What is an institution? Why do we have institutions?

5). Is political development the same as progress?

6). Why is it important to ask these questions:      

             “Compared to what?
            “What would have happened otherwise?”

            “Who cares?



February  4 (Monday):     American Political Development Perspectives

READ: James Morone, Hellfire Nation, 1-99
             James March and Johan Olsen, "Elaborating the 'New Institutionalism'"
               in R. A. W. Rhodes, Sarah A. Binder, and Bert A. Rockman, eds.,
              The Oxford Handbook of  Political Institutions
               (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) (*)
            Paul Pierson, Politics in Time, 1-53
(Note: we dropped the Peters reading)

1) What is Morone trying to accomplish?

2) How has religion affected the institution-building in America?  How is religion affecting institution-building today? Be sure draw on Morone, pages 31-54.

3) How has religion affected the role of outsiders in America (Morone chapter 2)? Is there evidence of these effects today?

4) How has religion affected political change in America? 

5) Explain and give concrete examples (such as UMSL) with which you are familiar:

March & Olsen page 3: “An institution is a relatively enduring collection of rules and organized practices, embedded in structures of meaning and resources that are relatively invariant in the face of turnover of individuals and relatively resilient to the idiosyncratic preferences and expectations of individuals and changing external circumstances (March and Olsen 1989, 1995).

March & Olsen, page 4: Institutions “are collections of structures, rules, and standard operating procedures that have a partly autonomous role in political life … a core assumption is that institutions create elements of order and predictability. They fashion, enable, and constrain political actors as they act within a logic of appropriate action. Institutions are carriers of identities and roles and they are markers of a polity's character, history, and visions.

Now explain why anyone who wants to understand politics should care.

6) Explain and give an example of why it is difficult to disentangle institutional effects (March & Olsen page 8). 


7) How do institutions originate and change (March & Olsen pages 11-15?  So what?


8) What is "positive feedback?" How does it explain "path dependence?" How do these ideas help us understand the development of government and politics?  Use the current budget debates as an example.


9) What is Pierson saying in the section on the "complexity and opacity" of politics (page 37 ff)? Illustrate.


10) Explain the implications of path-dependent explanations of politics in your own words (Pierson, pages 44-48).  How would a path-dependent explanation approach the problem of political polarization?



February 11 (Monday):     American Political Development Perspectives


1). (Morone): What is the “Great Awakening?” What does Morone mean when he says that “In Europe revivals inspired reaction: in America they roused rebellion?” (115)?  What does he mean when he says the Puritans “left America a religious tradition for every side?” 


2). What are the arguments for American federalism? What does the evidence today suggest about the validity of these arguments?


3). What is a durable shift in governing authority and what difference does it make in studying politics?  Why is authority important in this definition?  Why is durability important?  Are we going through a durable shift in governing authority now?  How does religion illustrate these concepts (use Morone and Abramowitz as well as Orren and Skowronek)?

4). What does Skowronek mean by "the institutional logic of political disruption" (p 15)?  Explain each of the “recurrent structures of political authority” (table 1).  Illustrate with the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama.


5). Explain why timing and sequence matters, according to Pierson.  Use examples (1) from Morone and (2) contemporary politics. Be specific.


6). How does American federalism illustrate the importance of (1) institutions and path dependence as discussed last week, and (2) timing and sequence, as discussed this week? 


February 18 (Monday):     Founding


Discussion questions:  Sign up for 2


1).  What does Pierson teach us about the timing and sequencing of the elements of the Constitution?


2). Was the Virginia Plan doomed from the start?  Give both sides.


3). What lessons does James Madison teach us in general about the ability and the problems of achieving political success? Could / should he have done better?


4). What lessons do Roger Sherman and Madison’s other opponents teach us about achieving political success?  Could / should they have done better?


5). Counterfactual: What would have happened had the Constitutional Convention adopted the entire Virginia Plan, and the document was ratified?  What would be the consequences for federalism? What would be the consequences for the relative power of national institutions?


6). In retrospect, what was the biggest miscalculation the framers made?  


7). What does the Constitution’s design tell us about contemporary politics that we had not considered?


 8). Is Federalist 51 misleading? Is it a prescription for government gridlock? Give both sides.


 9). Using Pierson and your knowledge of the Constitution, explain how slow moving processes and causal chains set in motion by the critical juncture of the Constitution are necessary to account for some aspect of American politics today.





February 25 (Monday): The Early Republic

          Robertson, Federalism and the Making of America, 36-53  
          Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make, 61-154


1). Explain Pierson’s table 3.1 and why it is significant for politics.  Why are cumulative causes, threshold effects, and causal chains important? Can you illustrate from your area of interest?


2). Explain Pierson’s figure 3.2 and why it matters for politics. What is quadrant I, why does it exert so much pull on research, and why is that a problem.  Can you illustrate from your area of interest?


3). Was a religious crusade necessary and sufficient to end slavery in the United States? Give both sides.


4). Was it possible to reconcile slavery and free labor without a civil war? How? How would Pierson explain these circumstances? Explain and evaluate.


5). Explain the conventional story of American exceptionalism, and the reasons that Morone thinks slavery unravels it (181-182).  Do political conflicts over race explain more about American political development than conflicts between economic interests?  Explain how you might go about answering this question.


6). How did American federalism affect strategies for organizing parties and interest groups to influence government in the U.S.? What was the effect on labor? Are these effects evident in American politics today? Specify.


7). Describe Jefferson’s Reconstruction. Was it inevitable? Would any president have pulled it off in similar circumstances?


8). Describe Monroe’s articulation.  Was this articulation more important for American politics. than Jefferson’s reconstruction? Give both sides.


9). Describe John Quincy Adams’ disjunction. How much is Ad ams’ fault, and how much was inevitable?


10). ALL: what does this period add to APD that we inherit today?





March  4 (Monday): Civil War & Institutional Change


Discussion questions:  Sign up for Two

1). Did American federalism do more good than harm, or more harm than good, for the process of abolishing slavery?  Give both sides, specifying institutional impacts. 


2). Did American federalism do more good than harm, or more harm than good, for the process of eliminating legal segregation? Give both sides, specifying institutional impacts


3). Explain the King and Smith argument.  Are racial orders described here necessary for understanding the contemporary US? Give both sides, specifying why they are necessary and why they are not. 


4). Compare and contrast James Polk and George W. Bush, keeping Skowronek’s categories in mind. 


5). Is Lincoln just a lucky politician?  Is Lincoln more than just a politician? If so, does it make any difference?  Use the concept of actor-centered functionalism (Pierson) to help with the answer. 


6). How did Lincoln’s presidency change the path of American political development and create a durable change in governing authority (use Pierson and Orren and Skowronek. 


7). Explain the significance of “actor-centered functionalism,” and how it would be applied to the design of the U.S. Constitution.  How would you apply this approach in your area of interest? Then illustrate each of the 6 limitations of this approach in the case of the U.S. Constitution. 


8). How do institutions change (Pierson, 124-166)?  Explain the mechanisms for change, including the way they work, and illustrate these mechanisms in the case of the U.S. Constitution. 


9). ALL: what does this period add to APD that we inherit today?




March 11 (Monday): The State of Courts and Parties


Sign up for Two:

1). How does Valelly hope to combine rational choice and historical institutionalism?  Is his approach what Pierson had in mind?

2). Using Valelly, explain how party building and jurisprudence building differ. Why is the distinction important? How does this distinction elaborate the role of federalism in public policy making? 

3). What caused Reconstruction to be reversible? Does Reconstruction count as “a durable shift in governing authority” (Orren and Skowronek)? 

4). What is the “state of courts and parties” and who cares?  How did it work? Was it a break with the Constitution or an articulation of it?

5). How does federalism affect American capitalism?  Are the two major political parties in the U.S. different in any important way on the role of capitalism in American society? Give both sides.


6).  Explain this fully: “Economic development within democratic institutions has been rare, because transitions from agrarian to industrial societies almost always generate intense conflict over the distribution of wealth” (Bensel, page 2). Who cares and why?


7). What makes uneven political development a political problem? Under what circumstances would it not be a political problem? How much of a problem is uneven development in the world today?


8).  What question is Bensel trying to answer in his analysis of state party platforms?  Why does this question matter?  Compare and contrast the role of federalism and state party diversity in Bensel’s account with that of the description of American political parties in Federalism and the Making of America.



March 18 (Monday):  Transitions to Modern American Politics

     [March 25 and March 27: Spring Break - Class does not meet]


1. Using Prasad, explain how the U.S. political economy differs from that of Europe. Describe the different explanations for this difference (PS 6448 veterans will remember Gourevitch here).


2. Carefully explain this quote from Bensel (232):

“All of these conflicts within the local political economies of the great American regions influenced the competitive strategies of mainstream and insurgent party organizations. But as they entered into the calculations of national political actors and organizations, these archetypal claims became situated within a larger national political economy in which southern separatism and the great policy systems underwriting northern industrialization loomed as far larger issues. These issues, in effect, deflected local class claims.”

 Is this claim important for understanding American politics, and if so, exactly why?


3. Using Prasad, explain how farmers viewed monopoly power, monetary reform, taxation; and business regulation in the late 19th century.  What do we learn about APD from this discussion in Prasad?


4. Explain the Cross of Gold speech in the context of (1) Bensel, (2) Prasad and (3) Morone. Did the Bryan candidacy permanently change the Democratic Party?


5. Did the growth of interest groups in the period of the late 1800s and early 1900s make it easier or more difficult to “make politics”?  Give both sides, and make sure to specify, “make politics for whom.” Remember, Skowronek argues that in “secular time,” political room to maneuver has narrowed. 


6.  Is “reputation” a critically important variable in American political development? Is it less important now, in a nation with deep partisan splits, than in was a generation or two ago? How has “reputation” changed?


7. How do Carpenter and Skowronek (in the Politics Presidents Make) agree or disagree about the importance of leadership and opportunity in American state building?  What kinds of research projects could help resolve the disagreements, if there are any?

8: ALL: what does this period add to APD that we inherit today?




April  1 (Monday): Progressivism


Sign up for two:

1. Were the “purity movements” of Gilded Age and Progressive Era necessary for the expansion of American government? Were the necessary for the expansion of the national government?


2. What does the Prohibition story tell us (if anything) about the capabilities of American state governments?  About the capabilities of those governments today?


3. Using the Skocpol and Robertson readings, discuss whether the Progressive era did more to strengthen the federal government relative to the state governments, or the state governments relative to the federal government.  Give both sides. Comment the consequences for the tradeoff between prosperity and the protection of people from the consequences of market-driven economic growth?


4. How did Prohibition influence later social movements in the United States? Take both sides, paying attention to different meanings of the term “modernizing.”


5. Theodore Roosevelt "stands as a reliable signpost of the changing shape of political possibilities" (Skowronek, page 259).  Explain.  Do you agree?  Why or why not?


6. Does Theodore Roosevelt belong as one of the four presidents on Mt. Rushmore - that is, is TR one of the best four presidents? Give both sides, carefully defining “best” to include best for the country and best for the presidency.


7. Does the experience of racial policy in the post-Reconstruction South prove that Reconstruction was a mistake?


8. Was Jim Crow in the South inevitable? If not, what could have been done differently during the Progressive Era to change the outcome?


ALL: What is the most important legacy of Progressivism for American political development that we can observe today?




April 8 (Monday): New Deal

Sign up for two:

1). What is the “reification of technique,” according to Skowronek? What other presidents or presidential candidates have emphasized this approach? What are the strengths and weaknesses of Herbert Hoover's political leadership? Was Hoover a victim?

2). Give the case for and against this proposition: the “new moral frame” that Morone describes at the end of chapter on the New Deal still endures today, and it affects American public policy.  Could this frame have had so much influence without Herbert Hoover?

3). Did Franklin Roosevelt’s “Call for Federal Responsibility” portend the kind of major durable shift in American government that Abraham Lincoln achieved? 

4). Explain and critique: “Roosevelt’s political achievement was to extort from modernity a measure of legitimacy for radical change in basic governing commitments; the ‘modern presidency’ emerged as the achievement of those who resisted him” (Skorownek, p. 295)

5). Explain and critique: “What we observe is a systematic decoupling of the reconstructive process from the personal will of the reconstructive leader” (p. 315).  How does this explain how FDR could suffer defeats and “without completely losing control of the situation”?

6). What is the National Recovery Administration and why it is so important for understanding the New Deal and its impact on American government? (Skowronek).

7). Explain how and why the New Deal expanded grant-in-aid.  Why are grants in aid so important for understanding the New Deal and its impact on American government? What problems has this strategy caused for national policy since the New Deal? (Robertson).

8). Compare and contrast the political utility of the New Deal’s reliance on grants-in-aid with the state’s rights position of the Democratic Party in the nineteenth century. (Weir, Robertson).  Did this reliance on grants contain the seeds of the destruction of the New Deal political coalition?

9). Give examples of the ways in which Weir’s observations affect (1) politics and (2) policy today.