American Intellectual History

Dr. Allen C. Guelzo HIST 249 Tuesdays & Thursdays

American Intellectual History Syllabus

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This is a course in the history of American thinkers and American ideas. Of course, ideas do not come with a specific nationality attached, nor for that matter is a thinker ‘American’ merely for having been a citizen of the United States. But ideas do have distinctive contours, and with the contours, valences. These valences allow ideas with certain inherent similarities to cohere into recognizable patterns and shapes; and what we are after in this course are the patterns and shapes which have been shaped by American thinkers or have created a pattern we can identify as distinctively American.

Similarly, there are American thinkers who werenot born in America – in fact, who retained ongoing intellectual allegiances to other places – and a number who were, but who repudiated the mainstream of American ideas, either choosing a personal exile, or in a few cases actually becoming expatriates. But even in these cases, they all contributed decisively to the shaping of American and the ongoing re-constructing of American identity.

Because, at root, the United States has always been a republic of ideas. Long before the Declaration of Independence began with an invocation of a natural rights philosophy, people were driven or attracted to the American shores in pursuit of ideas, and they continued to see the American landscape as a theater in which certain ideas struggled for supremacy. The American Revolution was an intellectual event as much as political or military one, and the American Civil War was fought over ideas about human rights. Where other nations identify themselves around race, religion, ethnicity or language, we have been in love with propositions, and we regard assent to those propositions as the single most important identifier of an American. Even our founding documents as a republic are a collection of logical propositions, not a romantic call to blood and soil.

At the same time, however, we frequently describe ourselves in anti-intellectual terms – as a nation of pragmatists or activists or religious visionaries. Yet, behind the pragmatism, activism, and visions, always lie tangled skeins of ideas. Even the most reactionary of anti-intellectuals almost always have some mental framework which they have adopted or inherited, without entirely understanding how or why.

Our task in this course will be to untangle those skeins, trace down the sources of those ideas, and arrive at an understanding of what basic motifs have characterized the formation of an ‘American Mind.’ Three themes will be of continued importance in this survey:

  1. The relationship between Puritanism and the Enlightenment (or, if you will, between religion and science)
  2. The long-term hold of classical liberalism on the American political imagination
  3. The ongoing interaction between American and European ideas, from the 17th century onward.


There is no ‘textbook’ for this class. Instead, there will be a list of

primary texts for you to acquire; additionally, I will supply you with a self-edited notebook of readings. The primary texts are as follows: 

  • SERMONS (Dover Publications, 2005)
  • OF THINKING, ed. Bruce Kuklick (Hackett Publications, 1980) 
  • W.E.B. DU BOIS, THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK (Dover Publications, 1994)
  • REINHOLD NIEBUHR, THE IRONY OF AMERICAN HISTORY (University of ChicagoPress, 2008)
  • FRIEDERICH A. HAYEK, THE ROAD TO SERFDOM, ed. Bruce Caldwell (University of Chicago Press, 2007)


Appropriately to a 200-level course, the requirements and expectations involve consistent class attendance, examinations and quizzes. The quizzes may be announced or unannounced, at the discretion of the instructor, and will be based on the assigned readings. There will be a mid-term examination and a final exam, based on the classroom lectures and composed of both short answer and multiple-choice questions.


Quizzes 30%

Mid-Term Examination 35%

Final Examination 35%

Class Schedule

Week 1: January 14

  • Topic: The Intellectual Geography of America
  • Reading
    • Wilfred McClay, “Do Ideas Matter in America” Wilson Quarterly (Summer 2003)
    • Bruce Kuklick, “Does American Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” American Philosophy, ed. Marcus Singer (Cambridge, 1985)

Week 2: January 19 and January 21

  • Topics: 
    • The Technology of Puritan Thinking
    • The Enlightenment in America
  • Readings: 
    • Ames, The Marrow of Theology
    • Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God & Other Puritan Sermons 1-30, 32-65

Week 3: January 26 and January 28

  • Topics: 
    • Jonathan Edwards & The Great Awakening
    • Nature’s God & The American Revolution
    • Deism, Science & Revolution 
  • Readings: 
    • Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God & Other Puritan Sermons 140-184
    • Edwards, Distinuishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God
    • Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography
    • Locke, Two Treatises of Government 
    • James Otis, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved

Week 4: February 2 and February 4

  • Topic: 
    • Hamilton & His Money
    • Jefferson & His Debts
  • Readings: 
    • Jefferson, “Manufactures,” from Notes on the State of Virginia ( 1787)
    • Jefferson, Letters to Albert Gallatin, the Marquis de Lafayette, and William B. Giles
    • Taylor of Caroline, New Views of the Constitution of the United States
    • Hamilton, “Opinion as to the Constitutionality of the Bank of the United States”

Week 5: February 9 and February 11

  • Topics:
    • The Edwardseans: From Hopkins to C.G. Finner
    • The Moral Philosophers
    • Whigs & Democrats
  • Readings: 
    • Edwards, Freedom of the Will
    • Hopkins, An Inquiry into the Nature of True Holiness 
    • Alexander, Outlines of Moral Science
    • Wayland, “Discourse on the Philosophy of Analogy”
    • Kennedy, “Address of the Friends of Domestic Industry”
    • Kennedy, Defense of Whigs

Week 6: February 16 and February 18

  • Topics:
    • American Romanticism
    • Faith & Reason at Princeton
    • Romanticism in Mercersburg
  • Readings:
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Divinity School Address” 
    • Park, “The Theology of the Intellect and That of the Feelings”
    • Hodge, Systematic Theology
    • Nevin, The Anxious Bench

Week 7: February 23 and February 25

  • Topics: 
    • Slaveholders & Abolitionists
    • Lincoln & The Preservation of Liberal Democracy 
  • Readings:
    • Holcombe, “Is Slavery Consistent With Natural Law?”
    • Garrison, No Compromise with Slavery
    • Selections from Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln

Week 8: March 2

  • Topics: 
    • The Failure of the Fenteel Elite
    • Darwin in America
  • Readings: 
    • Hodge, What Is Darwinism? 
    • Sumner, “The Forgotten Man”

March 4: Mid-term Exam

Spring Break: March 6 – 15

Week 9: March 16 and March18

  • Topics: 
    • Liberalism & The Social Gospel
    • The Agony of William James
    • The Absolutist
  • Readings: 
    • James, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, 7-57, 77-105
    • C.S. Peirce, “The Fixation of Belief” and “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” 
    • Royce, The Philosophy of Loyalty

Week 10: March 23 and March 25

  • Topics: 
    • John Dewy & Social Pragmatism
    • American Socialism
    • Populists, Progressives & War
  • Readings: 
    • “People’s Party Platform”
    • Bryan, “Cross of Gold” Speech
    • Debs, “Opening Speech Delivered as Candidate of the Socialist Party”
    • Godkin, “The Eclipse of Liberalism”
    • Wilson, The New Freedom, “Leaders of Men,” and “First Inaugural Address” (March 4, 1913) 
    • Progressive Platform of 1912

Week 11: March 30 and April 1

  • Topics: 
    • The Disenchanted
    • The Social Science Revolution
  • Readings: 
    • Dewey, “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology” 
    • Boas, The Mind of Primitive Man
    • Watson, “Psychology and Behavior”

Easter Break: April 2 – 5

Week 12: April 6

  • Topics: 
    • The New South vs. The New Negro
    • FDR and The Intellectuals
  • Readings: 
    • W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1-164
    • Washington, “The Atlanta Exposition Address”
    • Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896) 163 U.S. 537
    • Randall, “Booker T. and W.E.B”
    • Three Popular Front Lyrics
    • F.D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address
    • F.D. Roosevelt, “State of the Union Message’ [1944]

Week 13: April 13 and April 15

  • Topics: 
    • Scientist Under the Cloud
    • Chastened Judgments
    • Mass Culture & Mass Consumption
  • Readings: 
    • Niebuhr, The Irony of American History, 1-174
    • Mills, “The Higher Immorality”

Week 14: April 20 and April 22

  • Topics: 
    • Integration and Separation
    • The Rebellion of The Privileged
  • Readings: 
    • Elijah Muhammed, “What Is Islam? What Is A Muslim?” and “Black Man of U.S.A. and Africa!”
    • King, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” 
    • Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance” Mills, “Letter to the New Left” Howe, “New Styles in Leftism”
    • Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society (1962)
    • Tom Wolfe, “Radical Chic”

Free Day: April 27

Week 14: April 29

  • Topic:
    • The Neo-Conservatives
  • Readings: 
    • Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, 65-239
    • Buckley Jr., “Our Mission Statement” 
    • Kristol, “The Neoconservative Persuasion”

Attendance & Participation Expectations

Being a natural-born classroom leader is not a requirement for this course, but being able to speak to a particular question in an informed and balanced fashion is part of what makes for any liberally-educated person. I encourage people to volunteer questions, comments, evaluations, &c.; similarly, I have no reluctance in calling upon individuals, especially in precepts. Hence, attendance is a matter of the highest priority.

Absences for any but legitimate excuses are a gesture of contempt for your fellow students, and each un-excused absence will drop your final grade by one letter.

Gettysburg College Honor Code

The Gettysburg College Honor Code specifies that the student has maintained the highest standards of integrity in academic matters, which includes having neither given nor received unauthorized aid and nor witnessing such. This is understood to include incidents of plagiarism in written work; consequently, it is assumed that all written work turned in for this course is the product of your own labor, and that materials it cites from other sources are competently identified as such.