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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

The Philosophic Basis of the American Founding

Instructor(s): Timothy Burns, Government

What are the philosophic principles of the liberal democracy under which we live? After examining the thought of the Christian political thinkers who had originally guided political life in the new world—the political thought that our founders rejected—we turn to the work of John Locke, the philosopher who laid out most clearly and explicitly a wholly new understanding of political life, especially through his argument for individual natural rights. We then turn to the writings of the American founders, especially of Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Jay, and the "Anti-Federalists," to see how Locke's understanding of human beings came to guide those who were victorious in the debate over what the guiding principles of the new American regime would be. We conclude the seminar with an examination of slavery in the writings of Fredrick Douglass, and with Lincoln's attempt to defeat slavery by appeal to the original principles of the founding. The seminar will introduce students to the close study of texts in political philosophy, political theology, constitutional thought, political rhetoric, history, and literature.


Course Offered