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Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution

Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution

Professor Thomas L. Pangle, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin

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Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution

Course No. 4878
Professor Thomas L. Pangle, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
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4.6 out of 5
126 Reviews
84% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 4878
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring around 95 portraits, charts, and diagrams. Portraits include those of the key figures involved in the crafting of the Constitution, such as Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Jay. There are also charts and diagrams that help you differentiate the political views of both Federalists and Anti-Federalists. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, ..."—U.S. Constitution

While those words were written over 200 years ago, recent years have seen an explosion of interest in and interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Its authority and stature are routinely invoked by voices from every point on the political spectrum who seek to defend their views on issues ranging from separation of powers to the proper role of the Supreme Court to legitimate interpretations of the Bill of Rights, with frequent references to the Founding Fathers and their true "intent."

But how much do most of us really know about that intent?

The fact is, as Professor Thomas L. Pangle makes clear in The Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution, many of those Founding Fathers—men who had been signers of the Declaration of Independence, leaders of the American Revolution, or delegates to the Continental Congress—were highly critical of the new Constitution and staunchly opposed it when it was first put forth for ratification by the states as a replacement for the Articles of Confederation.

Learn Which Founders Opposed the New Constitution ...

Thomas Jefferson, for example, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, was highly skeptical of the proposed constitution and was not among the Federalists who were urging ratification, although his reluctant support for it was eventually won by his good friend James Madison.

Patrick Henry, whose declaration "Give me liberty or give me death!" is arguably the most iconic quote of the American Revolution, was an eloquent voice against ratification, his oratorical skills a potent weapon of the Anti-Federalist side in his native state of Virginia.

And John Hancock, the Declaration's first signer, was still another opponent of the new constitution, but later joined with fellow critic Samuel Adams to lead the effort at compromise through which Massachusetts approved ratification, but with many substantial amendments recommended.

Joined by a chorus of notable essayists—writing, in the style of the day, under the pen names "Agrippa," "Brutus," or "Cato," meant to evoke the ideals of Classical Republicanism they favored—the Anti-Federalists formed a potent opposition.

Which Founders Led the Battle for It ...

On the other side of the argument, an equally distinguished chorus of voices—led by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—was raised in support of the proposed constitution.

They urged that its innovative structure—a structure the Anti-Federalists considered frightening and dangerous—ought to be passed without any substantial amendments. And in The Federalist, the extraordinary collection of polemical papers organized by Hamilton, they presented their side's answer to the objections raised by the proposed constitution's opponents.

The debate that ensued—even while some states ratified the document and others rejected it—raged for the better part of two years. Each side argued to prove and persuade others to their position. And beneath its rhetorical flourishes lay not only the longest and most profound civic argument in our nation's history, but also a civics lesson that deserves to endure for all time.

And How Both Sides Helped Define the Result!

It was an argument that would result in not only the ratification of the Constitution but also of what that Constitution would become—and the finished document was a testimonial to the contributions of the "victorious" Federalist side and the "losing" Anti-Federalists as well.

Why were the nation's planners so divided? What were the concerns that caused so many passionate defenders of American independence to take such different views? And why are the answers so important to us today?

In addressing these issues—including fervently presented renditions of the great debate's most illustrious writings and speeches—Professor Pangle brilliantly revives "the great controversy out of which our Constitution was born, so that we ourselves can begin to re-enact, in some degree, the debates and thus the choices—and, more importantly, the arguments for the choices—that were made by the founding generation."

In an era when contemporary arguments on the national stage so often mirror the same conflicts debated by the Founders, our own reenactment of that original debate can enrich our ability to be active and participating citizens.

"By listening to the original critics of the Constitution," Professor Pangle notes, "and by seeing how the defenders are responding to those critics, we will have better access to the age-old, deeply puzzling problems in the very nature of Republicanism with which our founders were wrestling and trying to solve. We can see precisely what dangers this new Constitution was meant to combat and what it was designed to achieve.

"But also, and equally important, we can see what our constitutional system was not designed to achieve, what alternative concerns and goals of political life were abandoned or subordinated, what costs were consciously paid, what limitations were accepted in opting for this ... new system."

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12 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    Significance and Historical Context
    We introduce the major players in the debate over the Constitution's ratification. Most important are those who took part in the struggle in New York—where some of the most thoughtful Anti-Federalist writings were produced and later responded to with the influential Federalist papers organized, and in substantial part written, by Alexander Hamilton. x
  • 2
    Classical Republicanism
    The Anti-Federalists attack the proposed constitutional order, saying it departs too much from the traditionally revered Greco-Roman ideal of virtuous participatory republicanism. We clarify the Anti-Federalist objections and explore their own reservations about classical republicanism. x
  • 3
    The Anti-Federalists' Republican Vision
    The participatory and virtue-centered vision of the Anti-Federalists dictates a more decentralized arrangement than the more consolidated national government proposed by the Federalists. We introduce the Federalists' response, highlighting their focus on the demands of national security and foreign policy. x
  • 4
    The Argument over National Security
    Articulating a need for sound defense and foreign policy, The Federalist critiques the existing constitution, the Articles of Confederation, and then moves to a general critique of the inadequacy of confederacies. Anti-Federalists counter by suggesting that Federalists may be falling prey to visions of an empire. x
  • 5
    The Deep Difficulties in Each Position
    Anti-Federalists accuse Federalists of giving national security pre-eminence over republican freedom. Federalists reply by claiming that Anti-Federalists fail to face up to what union and national security truly require. x
  • 6
    Debating the Meaning of "Federalism"
    The Federalists' defense of "Federalism" reveals that the state governments are to be strictly subordinate to the central government—thereby intensifying the Anti-Federalist critique. x
  • 7
    The Madisonian Republic
    How do the Federalists propose to prevent despotism in the central government? Their answer, articulated by James Madison, rejects the classical republican ideal of a confederacy of small, fraternal democracies in favor of a vast, representative republic, animated by competition among mutually hostile "factions." x
  • 8
    The Argument over Representation
    Madison identifies majority faction as the overriding danger in republics and calls for a new conception of representative government removed from the populace—a call that echoes, although in a more aristocratic way, the emphasis upon virtue found in the classical tradition. x
  • 9
    Disputing Separation of Powers, Part 1
    For Anti-Federalists, the proposed House of Representatives is too weak and will be overpowered by more powerful branches of government. For Federalists, the House is the most dangerous part of government and therefore most in need of being checked and balanced. x
  • 10
    Disputing Separation of Powers, Part 2
    Anti-Federalists argue that a federal-level "separation of powers" would be merely artificial, with no reliable basis in social reality; they argue instead for state governments to check the federal government. They also argue for a small executive council instead of the proposed presidency. x
  • 11
    The Supreme Court and Judicial Review
    Hamilton's expectation of a virtuous national leadership is most evident in his defense of the unelected, life-tenured Supreme Court and its historically unprecedented power of "judicial review." The Anti-Federalists predict abuse of this power and insist on a court that includes elected officials. x
  • 12
    The Bill of Rights
    The addition, by the first Congress, of the 10 amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights, is the one great victory of the Anti-Federalists—but it is won at the ironic cost of giving much more power to a Supreme Court that they fear. x

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Your professor

Thomas L. Pangle

About Your Professor

Thomas L. Pangle, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Thomas L. Pangle holds the Joe R. Long Chair in Democratic Studies in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin. He earned his B.A. from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago. Before joining the faculty at The University of Texas, Professor Pangle taught at Yale University, Dartmouth University, the University of Chicago, and the …cole des...
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Reviews

Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 126.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In depth, insightful, thoughtful. Maybe because I like the subject, but this was fascinating. Sent me back to the Federalist and anti-Federalist papers. Most Americans would benefit greatly from this course. Most particularly those who think they know what is and is not Constitutional and is intended by the 'Fathers.'
Date published: 2017-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Lectures on the Constitution I purchased this and watched the lectures. I was more than pleased with the quality and depth of the discussion, especially the balance in presenting all sides of the arguments as they were presented. While I had a working knowledge of this topic, the professor delved more deeply into the debates than I had ever done. It was truly enlightening. BTW: I have a degree in history, so I am not a novice to the subject. However, I never took a course in this particular topic.
Date published: 2017-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Two points of view Fantastic course. I am not a history buff, so almost everything in this course was new and very interesting to me. Gave me a whole new perspective on the issues in writing the Constitution and also made me wonder a bit whether some of the ideas of the Federalists weren't actually right.
Date published: 2017-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Content is just like the title I was curious about the claim of staying true to the Constitution by people who have opposing political views. This course helps me understand.
Date published: 2017-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Content, Timely, and Forcefully Presented I have taken well over 100 of the Teaching Company’s courses and I cannot recall another as cogently argued, or more riveting in content and delivery, than this one. This course contains valuable insight into some of the most fundamental questions of political order and governance that remain vital – even urgent – for us today. Persons of all political persuasions should find Professor Pangle’s presentation of the most central arguments of the proponents of the Constitution – the Federalists – and those opposing the Constitution – the Anti-Federalists – absolutely relevant to the issues that still challenge and divide us today. Dr. Pangle does not, in any way, “take sides” on the issues under discussion but, rather, lays out – using the words from the writings of the contending Founders themselves – the most clearly and powerfully presented arguments, both pro and con, on the central features of the newly proposed Constitution. In doing so, he enables us to better follow the logic – and occasional gaps in – those arguments as well as to more clearly understand both the many areas in which these opponents shared common principles as well as those matters where they disagreed. There were times when I found that the Anti-Federalists had the better of the argument, or – at least – had posed significant challenges or questions that were either insufficiently answered by the Federalists or, most often through changing the subject, deflected. At other times I came to be in greater agreement with the position taken by the Federalists. The greatest contribution of this marvelous course is its demonstration of how powerfully alive the Constitution remains. While some may be tempted to dismiss these arguments is being too limited because all of the personages involved were white, upper-class men – and, therefore, could little understand, nor be able to speak for, the concerns of women or nonwhites – that would be a grave error. The reason is that the Founders were quite knowledgeable about human nature, and had few illusions about it. In preparing the Constitution – and in the opposition by some to it – they wrestled with such fundamental, universal matters as how to guard against the oppression by some – the powerful, for instance, but at other times a majority – of others, the honoring of majoritarian decisions while preserving the voice and rights of minorities, the corralling of greed, ambition, and heated passions in order to serve the larger good. These are matters that are universal concerns, albeit ones that can be shaped – in their expression and management – by cultural forces. They all believed in republican government, but differed as to what this meant in practice; they all wanted an effective central government – for which the original Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, proved to be insufficient – but disagreed about how to achieve the proper balance between the central government and those of the states, about how best to ensure individual liberties, the most effective structures that would ensure sufficient checks and balances to prevent concentrations of power, and the duties of the judiciary. I ended this course with a new respect for the depth of knowledge and intellectual vigor for that remarkable generation, as well as reaffirming my appreciation for how persons of good will can, nonetheless, find themselves disagreeing with each other about both ends and means. These debates should also reacquaint us with how matters of fundamental disagreement can be civilly discussed, in sharp opposition to the level of political and civic discourse we so frequently sink to today. The Founders show us how important it is to clearly identify the issue(s) separating us, then to lay out – in detail and through the use of reasoned arguments – both the options before us as well as the pros and cons of various courses. If this approach is taken, reasonable men and women – operating with the larger good of the Republic in mind – can make decisions even on the toughest issues. But where this is not attempted, where, instead, reason is abandoned for slogans and rigid ideologies and opponents denounced as fools or worse, then little can be understood, let alone resolved, and we will inevitably sink back further into the kinds of tribal warfare which the Founders identified with the religious and civil wars of their immediate past. My thanks to the Teaching Company and to Professor Pangle for this high-quality lecture series!
Date published: 2017-05-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the Ameri Several tapes were warped. A second set was sent and again there are warped tapes.
Date published: 2017-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must have course on American Constitution Best discussion ever of Federalist and Anti-Federalists debates. You know know nothing about the American Constitution until you understand the ratification debates. After years in college and law school, I felt like I finally got it.
Date published: 2017-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview I think this is one of my favorite courses to date. The risk I think you run into by taking a course on politics is that the bias of the professor will leak through and become obvious where their personal beliefs are at. That was not the case here. The professor did a fantastic job of showing both sides of the debate with equal argument so that the student could make up their own mind. I went into the course thinking I would immediately default to one side of the debate, but often found myself being pushed back the other way and then vice versa. To me that is the mark of a great teacher that causes to to truly move back and forth among ideas and concepts constantly thinking and re-thinking positions. To work out in your mind how you feel. Absolutely fantastic course!
Date published: 2017-03-12
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