Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students
The U.S. Congress in Historical and Comparative Perspective
In this seminar we will trace the development of legislatures from their medieval European origins to the present, with primary emphasis on the case of the U.S. Congress. You will learn about the early role played by assemblies in placing limits on royal power, especially via the "power of the purse." As Daniel Webster put it, in a speech to the United States Senate in 1834, “The contest, for ages, has been to rescue Liberty from the grasp of executive power. Whoever has engaged in her sacred cause…has struggled for the accomplishment of that single object.” About half the course will then turn to a more detailed consideration of the U.S. Congress' contemporary performance, analyzing how that performance is affected by procedural legacies from the past that affect most democratic legislatures worldwide. There will be no exams. Instead, you will write several short essays and one long essay. You may offer either analytical responses to class readings or engage in original research. If you choose original research projects—and some will be suggested during the course—then you also have the option of forming teams to work on them.