GOVT 2301 - M2
Week One

The Role of the Citizen in a Republic

This is a class about American Government. Since American has a democratic system of government (really more appropriately called a republic--a nuance we will cover below) , and since a democracy is a system where political authority rests with the general population, it is useful to begin with a general discussion of what role each individual citizen is supposed to play in the American political system. The purpose of this opening set of readings is to introduce the concept of a citizen, and the concept of a democratic republic--the type of system established in the Constitution. More importantly, we will try to come to terms with the relationship between the two.

I begin this way because we assume that the reason you are to take this class is to turn you into better, more knowledgable citizens. That being the case, we should start by considering the obligations that citizens have to the republic, and the republic has to its citizens. In other words, what is it that you are to learn in this class that will make you better, more effective citizens? What does it even mean to be a better and more effective citizen?


- The Declaration of Independence, paragraphs 1 and 2. (see below)
- The Founders' Constitution - Chapter 18: Epilogue: Securing the Republic (read the introduction, the original readings are for your perusal)
- Citizenship. (browse through the various entries)
- Republic. (browse through the various entries)

Relevant terminology:

- republic
- democracy
- tyranny
- citizenship
- virtue
- aristocracy
- monarchy
- consent
- rights
- obligations
- virtue
- avarice
- ambition
- moderation
- participation

Assignment: 500 word answer to the following: "What is the proper role of a citizen in a democratic republic? What is risked if citizens do not live up to that role? "

To put this assignment in context, I'd like you to consider the following quote from Chapter 18 of The Founders' Constitution: "While a constitution and its institutions might elicit and shape certain kinds of conduct, it also was true that a corrupt or slavish people could ruin even a very good constitution. What really mattered, in the last analysis, was the kind of people who would make up the American public. Their strengths, their limits, were the outer boundaries of what was possible."

In other words, we might design governmental institutions in a manner that we think works best (provides security while limiting its power), but a government, at the end of the day, is only as good as the people who make it up. This is a roundabout way of saying that citizens must avoid vice and be virtuous, but what does that mean exactly? That is the essence of this assignment.

Due date: March 22
Email the assignment to me at:
Please use either Microsoft Word, or paste the assignment into the email.

The opening two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.