HIST 423: Creating the Constitution (Summer 2022)

HIST 423: Creating the Constitution
Summer 2022

Professor Terry Bouton
E-MAIL: bouton[at]umbc.edu
Office: 510 Fine Arts
Office Hours: Online
Course Dates: May 31-June 24, 2022

Course Description:
This course examines the creation of the Constitution of the United States in 1787 and adoption of the Bill of Right that followed in 1791.  The course asks some of the central questions surrounding the Constitution’s creation: Why did so many of the nation’s leading men believe that the US needed a stronger national government after the Revolutionary War? What was happening in the 1780s that convinced them the current governments weren’t working? How did they imagine the Constitution would fix the nation’s problems? Why wasn’t a Bill of Rights included in the original document? Who opposed ratification of the Constitution and why? How was the Constitution ratified over this opposition? How did the Constitution’s opponents secure the adoption of a Bill of Rights? Why was the Bill of Rights limited to just ten amendments and who decided how those rights would be defined?

The course answers these questions by examining the people, contexts, and events that produced the Constitution and Bill of Rights. We will debate the mix of motives that drove the founders to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: ideology, trade, treaty, and national security concerns, class elitism, and economic self interest. We will assess how democratic the Constitution was intended to be and how democratic it actually was. We will examine the relationship between the Constitution and slavery and debate whether more could have been done to limit or end it at the founding moment. We will explore the ideals and resistance of the Constitution’s opponents, “the Antifederalists,” who lost the battle to stop the Constitution but won the Bill of Rights as a consolation prize. We will sift through the broad range of Constitutional protections that most Americans wanted and learn how and why that list was greatly scaled back. We will learn how James Madison, originally an opponent of a bill of rights, became the so-called “Father of the Bill of Rights.” And we will explore the relationship between the original meaning of the Second Amendment and how the Supreme Court has interpreted it.

Course Format:
The course will be taught entirely online through its Blackboard site. If you have registered for the HIST 423, then you have access to the HIST 423 Blackboard site (if you don’t, contact me immediately and I will get you added). The course is broken down into four units: Unit 1 “Why Did the Founders Create the Constitution?,” Unit 2 “The Constitutional Convention,” Unit 3 “Ratification,” and Unit 4, “The Bill of Rights.” Each unit has its own folder on Blackboard and contains a distinct set of learning objectives and assignments. At the start of the course, you will only be able to see the folder for Unit 1. The other folders are timed to appear in sequence so that Unit 2 will appear two days before the end of Unit 1; Unit 3 will appear two days before the end of Unit 2, etc. The idea is let you work ahead if you wish but to make sure that no one is rushing to complete the course as quickly as possible. You simply don’t retain information or gain insights in this kind of binge-learning, which severely limits your ability to process information and make connections between ideas. Deep learning requires reflection, which is hard enough to give in a four-week course. Rushing ahead also makes it even more difficult to form any kind of online community because it limits the interactions between students. Consequently, this course will follow the “best practices” of online learning and let the course unfold in timed segments that span the session.

All of the course readings for the essays and debates are available for free on Blackboard. You do no need to buy any books. Everything you need to complete the essays and debates can be found as PDFs or links in the Unit folders on Blackboard.

Course Learning Objectives (CLOs):
By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  1. CLO1: Describe the causes of The First Great Depression and account for its severity.
  2. CLO2: Explain how ordinary Americans resisted the loss of property and land for unpaid debts and taxes and how they tried to reassert their own vision of the Revolution.
  3. CLO3: Compare and contrast the three main historical schools of interpretation that cover the different motivations that caused the founding elite to want to strip powers from the state governments and replace the Articles of Confederation with a much stronger and more centralized national government.
  4. CLO4: Identify the key debates at the Constitutional Convention
  5. CLO5: Assess how democratic the new Constitution was
  6. CLO6: Explain the relationship between slavery and the Constitution
  7. CLO7: List the reasons many Americans opposed the Constitution and the factors led it to be ratified despite a majority of Americans opposing it.
  8. CLO8: Explain how the Bill of Rights came to be and why it only protected the particular rights contained in the first ten amendments.
  9. CLO9: Write analytical essays that are well organized around single-idea paragraphs that start with strong topic sentences and make effective use of evidence in the form of specific examples and quotations from readings.
  10. CLO10: Defend opinions with persuasive arguments and evidence in Discussion Board debates.

Course Requirements:
(NOTE: If circumstances arise that make it difficult or impossible to complete an assignment, like Blackboard being down, I reserve the right to make changes to the requirements, assignments, and due dates for essays and debates.)

There are two types of assignments: essays and debates. Students will be required to complete a mix of primary and secondary source readings. All of the readings are available directly in the unit folders on Blackboard, either as PDF files or links to external sites. Students will analyze the readings in five five-page essays and five “debates” conducted on the Blackboard Discussion Board. The debates will be interactive and put students in direct conversation with one another through an exchange of evidence-backed opinions expressed in a series of Discussion Board postings and replies. The essays and debates will each have specific guidelines, due dates, and grading rubrics.

1) FIVE FIVE-PAGE, DOUBLE-SPACED ESSAYS: 600 points (100 points each):

Each of the essays asks students to respond to a particular question based on required course readings. For each question students will write a five page double-spaced essay. Essays will be graded based on the critical thinking displayed in answering the question, the evidence used to support the essay’s arguments, the length of the essay, and its writing mechanics (good organization and the use of strong topic sentences). Each essay has a specific set of guidelines and its own due date (the guidelines can be found in the Unit folders on Blackboard along with the due dates). All of the essays follow the same grading rubric, which, for your convenience, I have posted throughout the course Blackboard site.

A note on citations. Each essay (and debate) requires you to provide evidence from the readings to support your points when specific examples and quotes. Cite parenthetically by putting the reading number followed by pages numbers (when there are page numbers). For example: (R1, 245). If there aren’t page numbers just use the reading number. For example: (R14).

READING TIP: Before you start doing the reading in any particular unit be sure to read the unit essay question and debate prompts first. Knowing the questions you’re trying to answer before starting the reading can help you read more efficiently and save you time preparing your assignments. When you consult the assignment question/prompt first, you can read with an eye toward picking out specific examples and quotes that answer the question. I highly suggest opening a word processing file when you read to capture the evidence you might use for your essays and debate responses. With a good PDF reader (like the Adobe one that you can download for free on UMBCs site license) you can cut and paste directly from many of the PDFs into word processing programs. For other readings, you’ll either need to type a transcription the old-fashioned way or get a decent OCR converter that can read the PDF and create a Word file from which you can cut and paste. When you transcribe or cut and paste quotes or examples, remember to include the page number where you got the quote or example so you don’t have to go back and scour readings to track down page numbers later (which is a big PITA).

2) FIVE SETS OF DEBATE POSTINGS: 500 points (100 points each):

The “Debates” will serve as the class discussion part of the course. For each debate, students will complete the required readings and then respond to the Debate topic prompt (all of the specific debate requirements and prompts can be found in the unit folders on Blackboard along with the Debate Rubric, called “Grading Rubric for Discussion Board”). Your Discussion Board Debate grade will depend on the quantity and quality of your participation. Students are required to make at least THREE substantive postings, at least TWO of which must be detailed replies to the postings of other students. I encourage you to make more than three posts. If you post more than three times, they need not all be substantive, meaning you can also include short posts asking questions, looking for clarification from a peer, or making a brief statement to spur debate. The only requirement is that, at some point, you also make at least three longer, substantive posts that include citations to examples and quotes from the readings. The Debate topic prompts ask a wide range of questions to spur discussion, so everyone should be able to find something new to add to an existing discussion or else start a new debate thread on different question when the older conversations have run their course.

Each Debate will have a 48-hour window in which students must make all of their postsStudents MUST post within that 48-hour window to receive credit for the debate. Moreover, to receive full credit, students must post throughout that 48-hour window rather than all at the very beginning or end. The point of the debates is for there to be interaction among students in the course and that means responding to one another’s posts and then replying to the responses from others. If you try to get all your posts done at once, by making three postings as soon as the window opens or (more likely) right before it closes, you are not really engaging in the conversation and are denying yourself and your peers the give-and-take discussion and feedback needed to make the debates a success. For these reasons, I am requiring that at least one of the substantive posting be made during the first 24 hours of the debate window and at least one other substantive posting be made during the second 24 hours of the debate widow. When you post the third substantive posting is up to you provided you have posted at least once in the first half and once in the second half of the full Debate Window.

Although the debates are about expressing your opinions, each of the three required posts for every Debate must include evidence to support your opinions. This will primarily be in the form of specific examples and quotations from the readings. The idea is to show me that you have understood and grappled with the readings by using examples from them as evidence to dramatize the points you’re trying to make. Be sure to explain your examples and ideas with enough depth so that your points are clear and persuasive.

Also, although the requirement is three substantive posts, you do not need to limit yourself to just those three or make every post a substantive one if you do more than three. My goal is to have you reading one another’s ideas and engaging with the course materials and with each other. Any level of engagement with one another is a positive as far as I’m concerned. So, if you read someone’s post and think it’s good but don’t have much to offer, it’s perfectly acceptable (and encouraged) just to say “good point” or “I agree” or “well put” and leave it at that without any further elaboration. Even a short reply gives your classmates some feedback and offers the potential for further discussion as we can see where there seems to be consensus around a topic and where people seem to disagree. That said, I don’t want you to go through the postings and say “That’s great” to every post–that’s as unhelpful as not commenting at all. But, if someone makes a good point, I encourage you to let them know you think they are on the right track. (I would expect that if you disagreed with a post, you would take some time to explain your disagreement and provide evidence to show why you think your position is more persuasive). As long as you make three substantive postings that cite course readings, you are free to engage however you wish (provided it’s relevant and civil) with whatever other entries you make in the debate.

I also encourage you to push one another to refine points and ideas. If you think someone has made too sweeping a generalization, then by all means express your concerns (hopefully backed by examples and quotes from the readings). My hope is that in a civil, evidence-based back-and-forth we can spark critical thinking and see the complexity and contingency in the topics we are studying.

I will grade the Debate postings based on several factors: 1) The length of the combined responses and whether they were submitted throughout the 48-hour window; 2) The mechanics of writing, including clear, logical organization, the use of topic sentences for paragraphs, and proper grammar and spelling; 3) The use of evidence in from of specific examples and quotations from the readings; 4) The critical thinking and analysis displayed by the posts, including the originality of the points made, the level of engagement with course material demonstrated, and the factual accuracy of the posts; and 5) The student’s overall contribution toward creating community, promoting interaction, and observing “netiquette.” All of these elements are spelled out in the Debate Grading Rubric.

FIVE FIVE-PAGE ESSAYS:                        500 points (100 points each)
FIVE SETS OF DEBATE POSTINGS:       500 points (100 points each)
TOTAL GRADE:                                       1,000 pts.

At the end of the semester:
900 to 1,000 points will be an A
800 to 899 points will be a B
700 to 799 points will be a C
600 to 699 points will be a D
Below 600 points will be an F

Backup Copies of Work Submitted Online:
IMPORTANT: I require each student to save a personal copy of all of their essays and debate postings on their home computer, thumb drive, cd, or whatever storage device they choose.

IMPORTANT: Blackboard is occasionally buggy. I HIGHLY suggest that you type out your response with a word processing program and then cut and paste it into Blackboard rather than the other way around. If you have a problem with Blackboard, it is your responsibility to ensure that I receive a copy of your posting by the deadline. DO NOT automatically email me a copy of every essay or posting. ONLY email essays or postings in the event of a Blackboard emergency.

Policy on Submitting Late Work:
For the debates, I will NOT accept late work. You either make your three postings within the debate window or receive no credit for that debate or partial credit for whatever you have posted posted short of the required three substantive postings. The point of the debates is for students to interact with one another. Late work submitted after the debate has closed would not be entering into conversation with anyone and, therefore, would not meet the assignment objectives and as a result will not be counted.

For the essays, late work will be penalized 10 points per day late. NOTE: if you post one minute past the due date and time (11:59pm on the date the essay is due), I will consider your essay to be 1 day late and deduct 10 points from whatever score it would have earned had you submitted it on time.

If Blackboard goes out, this will affect everyone trying to post and can be easily verified (it can likewise be easily verified by OIT if Blackboard has not gone down–so don’t use this as an excuse unless it actually happens because I will check. If Blackboard does go out, simply wait to see if it comes back online. If it does not come back before the assignment deadline or if you are unable to wait, submit your assignment to me via email by the deadline.

Finally, I understand that emergencies happen. These will be handled on a case-by-case basis and will require documentation of proof.

(Note: the “internet was down at my house” is not an excuse. In this day and age, free internet and temporary fee-based internet is available nearly everywhere. Work could also be submitted via smartphone. In other words, there are plenty of reasonable backup options even if your home internet goes out).

Students enrolled in this course must have an active email account and access to the internet. HIST 423 uses Blackboard online software. This means that you will have online access to course materials 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most assignments will be submitted online at the Blackboard course website. As a UMBC student, you have a personal email account and access to the internet and through the many on-campus computer labs (locations, hours, etc.).  You can also access Blackboard off campus through a personal account or from the UMBC dial-up.

Getting started on Blackboard: Your registration with the UMBC Registrar for HIST 423 will make you eligible to enroll in Blackboard. To gain entrance to discussion boards and course material, you MUST enroll in the online version of HIST 423 on the course Blackboard site in order to have full access.  BEFORE you do anything else, enroll in the course online at: http://blackboard.umbc.edu.

Because all of this course takes place online, it is absolutely imperative that you have regular access to your email and to Blackboard. I am best reached by email at bouton[at]umbc.edu. You can expect a response from me in 24 hours. If you do not hear back in that time, please resend the email. Please check your school email and at least once per day.

All changes to assignments or the syllabus will be made via Blackboard Announcements, so be sure to check in to stay on top of any changes.

Academic Integrity:
I expect students enrolled in this course to abide by the UMBC Code of Student Conduct for Academic Integrity (http://www.umbc.edu/sjp/articles/code.html). If you are unclear about what plagiarism is, take a look at the Indiana University website: Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It (http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml).

By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC’s scholarly community in which everyone’s academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong.  Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but is not limited to, suspension or dismissal.  To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult the UMBC Student Handbook, the Faculty Handbook, or the UMBC Policies section of the UMBC Directory.

All essays and the research paper will automatically be run through a plagiarism detection program called SafeAssign that is part of Blackboard. This service compares your submissions against all papers submitted to the paper database and most material on the web. If you cheat on this assignment by purchasing a paper from an online cheating factory or if you cut and paste from web-based sources and try to pass it off as your own work without attribution, SafeAssign will undoubtedly catch you. If it does, you will fail the course and I will report you to the University for academic dishonesty. I bust at least one cheater per year for plagiarizing either reading essays or research papers. Don’t let it be you. Stay honest, keep it clean, don’t cheat. Even if you fall behind on work, it is FAR better to email me so we can work something out so you can finish (and hopefully pass) the course ethically rather than cutting corners, cheating, failing the course, and potentially getting expelled from UMBC (with academic dishonesty flagged on your permanent transcript).

Success in this course will require that everyone follow the rules of “netiquette,” which are a set of guidelines to help you communicate effectively and appropriate in online environments with your instructor and your classmates. Following the rule of netiquette will ensure that students maintain civility and respect for each other and one another’s views even as they might disagree over controversial issues on which all sides feel have passionate feelings. For specific guidelines, see the “Netiquette” file in the “Course Policies” folder on Blackboard.

Course Dates/Due Dates for Each Unit:

Unit 1: Why did the Founders Create the Constitution?
Tues., May 31: Readings 1-3
Weds., June 1: Essay #1 due by 11:59PM
Thurs., June 2: Readings 4-7
Fri., June 3: Readings 4-7
Sat., June 4: Debate #1 Window Opens at 12:01AM
Sun., June 5: Debate #1 Window Closes at 11:59PM
Mon., June 6: Readings 8-9
Tues., June 7: Essay #2 due by 11:59PM
Weds., June 8: Debate #2 Window Opens at 12:01AM
Thurs., June 9: Debate #2 Window Closes at 11:59PM

Unit 2: The Constitutional Convention
Fri., June 10: Readings, 10-12
Sat., June 11: Essay #3 due by 11:59PM
Sun., June 12: Readings 13-16
Mon., June 13: Readings 13-16
Tues., June 14: Debate #3 Window Opens at 12:01AM
Weds., June 15: Debate #3 Window Closes at 11:59PM
Thurs., June 16: Readings 17-18
Fri., June 17: Essay #4 due by 11:59PM

Unit 3: Ratification
Sat.., June 18: Readings 19-22
Sun., June 19: Debate #4 Window Opens at 12:01AM
Mon., June 20: Debate #4 Window Closes at 11:59PM

Unit 4: The Bill of Rights
Tues., June 21: Reading 23
Weds., June 22: Essay #5 Due by 11:59PM
Thurs., June 23: Reading 24; Unit 4 Debate #5 Window Opens 12:01AM
Fri., June 24: Debate #5 Window Closes 11:59PM