• Course Introduction

        • Time: 125 hours
        • Free Certificate
        The scope and emphasis of this course go beyond a general understanding of civics to incorporate the core concepts of the American system of government, the workings of its myriad of actors and agencies, the key components of "politics" in the American system, and how American government shapes and influences the individual freedoms and rights of its citizens.

        In the first unit, you will consider the core concepts and theoretical underpinnings of the American system of government: American political culture, the Constitution, and federalism. A solid grasp of these concepts will help you better understand the underlying basis for the structure of the American political system. In the second unit, you will explore the processes citizens use to learn about politics, including public opinion, the mass media, political parties, interest groups, campaigns, elections, and electoral participation. In the third unit, you will discuss the organizations and processes that impact the political and electoral landscape and how candidates and voters are affected. In the fourth unit, you will analyze the major governing bodies in the United States: Congress, the presidency, the bureaucracy, and the courts. In the fifth unit, you will discover how the American government shapes and influences the individual freedoms and rights of its citizens. In the final unit, you will take a close look at US social, economic, and foreign policies and the ways in which the broad themes of constitutional principles, political behavior, and governmental institutions have intersected to shape them. By the end of the course, you will have a strong understanding of the American system of government.

        • Course Syllabus

          First, read the course syllabus. Then, enroll in the course by clicking "Enroll me". Click Unit 1 to read its introduction and learning outcomes. You will then see the learning materials and instructions on how to use them.

        • Unit 1: American Political Foundations

          The American political system is rich in history. In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of American government, you will need to learn this history and recognize the ways in which it impacts the political landscape today.

          This unit will begin with a brief introduction to the course as well as a concise overview of the American political system. You will focus on broad-based questions and explore the defining characteristics of American government. Next, you will work to identify the origins of American republican democracy, learning how it developed and evolved into our current political system. Finally, you will conclude by examining the key principles embedded in the United States Constitution, particularly federalism, and relate its design and development to the unique American political system we have in place today.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 18 hours.

        • Unit 2: American Political Behavior

          The diverse American public is a major component of the American political system. Politics touches the lives of all Americans – voters, politicians, the young, the old, and everyone in between. Political scientists are extremely interested in studying how the public participates in the American political system. This unit will explore the processes by which citizens learn about politics, political participation and voting behavior, the influence of public opinion, the role of the media, and the variety of factors that predispose citizens to differ from one another in terms of their political perceptions, values, and attitudes.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 12 hours.

        • Unit 3: Political Parties, Campaigns, Elections, and Interest Groups

          There are innumerable factors that impact the American governmental system, often making an already byzantine political process even more complex. In this unit, you will learn about campaigns, the electoral process and how political parties and interest groups shape the political landscape by influencing candidates and voters. You will first focus on the role of political parties (especially in elections), their historical development, and their effect on the political process. You will also discover how the American political system maintains a strong two-party system (made of Democrats and Republicans) that makes it difficult for a third party to gain prominence. Next, you will focus on interest groups, how they impact campaigns, candidates, and voters and can often entrench the system through aggressive issue advocacy and campaign contributions, which are directed to incumbents far more often than challengers, helping to maintain the political status quo.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 20 hours.

        • Unit 4: American Political Institutions

          When many people think of American government, the institutions – Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court – most often come to mind. This unit will focus on these three important pillars of American government, in addition to a fourth and often overlooked facet of American government: the bureaucracy. Each subunit will be dedicated to one of the major institutions and discuss the significant role that the particular institution plays in the American political system. As you learned in previous units, the American system of government relies on a delicate balance of power among many forces; by the end of this unit, you will understand the specific roles that each institution plays in establishing and maintaining that balance of power.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 45 hours.

        • Unit 5: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

          The civil rights and civil liberties granted to Americans are central to the American government. Freedoms and rights were important factors in shaping the American political system, and they continue to play a major role in our society today. The Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, defines our rights and freedoms; however, as society has changed, so too has the perception and realization of civil liberty and civil rights. In this unit, you will explore the freedoms and rights of American citizens.

          The unit will begin by looking at civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution, especially in the Bill of Rights. The unit will especially focus on the rights defined in the First Amendment, the right to bear arms (Second Amendment), and the right to privacy, with an explanation of how the courts' interpretation of these rights have been applied, or incorporated, by the states. Next, the unit will explore the evolution of civil rights in the American political system, with an emphasis on the civil rights movement and political equality of all Americans. The unit will also pay close attention to how the American political system creates a balance between order and freedom, and equality and rights.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 9 hours.

        • Unit 6: Policymaking in American Government

          After having explored the foundations, political behavior, and institutions of the American political system, this final unit looks at public policy in the United States, the place where all of these other components of the American political system intersect. The unit will begin examining the general policy-making process and how each branch of government impacts American public policy. Then, the unit will take a deeper look into the three major realms of public policy – economic, social, and foreign affairs policy. In each of these realms, theories of policy will be discussed, and then you will look closer at how policy has been implemented over time. This unit is a fitting way to end the course as it demonstrates how everything that you've learned thus far comes together to shape the various public policies that impact American society as a whole.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 19 hours.

        • Study Guide

          This study guide will help you get ready for the final exam. It discusses the key topics in each unit, walks through the learning outcomes, and lists important vocabulary terms. It is not meant to replace the course materials!

        • Course Feedback Survey

          Please take a few minutes to give us feedback about this course. We appreciate your feedback, whether you completed the whole course or even just a few resources. Your feedback will help us make our courses better, and we use your feedback each time we make updates to our courses.

          If you come across any urgent problems, email contact@saylor.org or post in our discussion forum.

        • Certificate Final Exam

          Take this exam if you want to earn a free Course Completion Certificate.

          To receive a free Course Completion Certificate, you will need to earn a grade of 70% or higher on this final exam. Your grade for the exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you can take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt.

          Once you pass this final exam, you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.