At a time when democracies are collapsing all over the world and when American democracy lies in a state of crisis, what, of its future, can be learned from its past?
The history of the United States is the story of a struggle to realize two ideas: that all people are created equal and that people can govern themselves. “Our great experiment,” generations of Americans have called the United States, and with good cause. Democracy has always been, at heart, an inquiry, a question: Can the people rule? In 1787, when Alexander Hamilton asked whether it’s possible to establish a government ruled by reflection and choice rather than by accident and force, that was a hypothetical question. More than two centuries later, though, that’s an empirical question: has it proven possible? Answering that question by studying the past, and arguing about American history is the work of this course. We'll undertake that work, each week, by holding debates. Brace yourself. This course begins with Columbus’s voyage in 1492 and ends, thirteen weeks later, with the Election of 2016. That makes for fast sailing across the ocean of time. Also: the sea is rough. History is unsettling.