America's Founding Fathers

In partnership with
Professor Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.
Princeton University
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Course No. 8525
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Get a clear new perspective on the complex story of the U.S. Constitution.
  • numbers Discover why we still argue over the meaning and interpretation of the Constitution.
  • numbers Learn the important role played by often overlooked Founders including Elbridge Gerry and Aaron Burr.
  • numbers Examine the fierce political arguments between Founders like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
  • numbers Understand the key role played by committees during the Constitutional Convention.

Course Overview

The story of America’s founding—great men who debated, argued, persuaded, and negotiated their way to the U.S. Constitution—is as dramatic and instructive as any in the nation’s history. And there is no better way to tell the story of the Founding Fathers than by pairing an eminent U.S. historian with the very institution that is most synonymous with American history, the Smithsonian.

These men —Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and many others—are larger than life in our collective memory, having near-mythical status. Similarly, The U.S. Constitution is the oldest continually-operating instrument of government anywhere in the world serving as the backbone to the world’s most powerful democracy. Yet, few among us realize just how turbulent, contentious, even suspenseful the process was to draft and ratify it. That’s why The Great Courses and Smithsonian have joined forces to tell how this crucial drama in Western history unfolded.

Professor Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College, whose Great Courses on U.S. history are among our most popular and highly rated, worked in close collaboration with the Smithsonian’s own curators of early American history to present a three-dimensional picture of the men who powered this unprecedented journey from colonies to nation and the resulting U.S. Constitution.

The truth is that the Founders were flawed, contradictory people with their own radical views on what America’s new government should look like. Through their lives, opinions, and deeds, one can see just how messy and rancorous a process was the formation of a “more perfect union.” By understanding this messiness, by seeing the creation of the Constitution as a process fraught with controversy and compromise, you can better appreciate just how much a miracle of government the U.S. Constitution is, and why we’re still arguing over it hundreds of years later. Now, more than ever, any well-informed citizen should understand how the Constitution lives, breathes, and endures.

America’s Founding Fathers is a deep dive into the creation of the U.S. Constitution as it actually happened – not as many are led to believe it happened. Professor Guelzo delivers 36 compelling lectures on the remarkable men who played their own unique role in the creation (and survival) of American democracy. Using the Founding Fathers as a lens through which to see powerful truths about the early political history of the United States, you’ll better understand both the document under which Americans live and the people who brought it into being.

Into the Forge of American Democracy

Designed as a chronological narrative and richly supported by images and artifacts from the Smithsonian’s unparalleled collections of historical Americana, giving you a multifaceted experience you can’t get without visiting the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C., America’s Founding Fathers takes you from the closing days of the American Revolution to the opening decades of the United States under the newly created U.S. Constitution. While these 36 lectures are detailed, they are highly accessible for all learners, from high school students to retired history buffs.

Told like the dramatic, turbulent story that it is, each lecture uses an individual Founder as a doorway through which to examine the process involved in crafting the Constitution. Less a biography of individuals, Professor Guelzo’s course is instead a composite biography of one of the greatest political documents in history.

  • Struggling and Questioning: The Articles of Confederation, crafted during the chaos of the American Revolution, was fast becoming an out-of-touch document at the start of the American experiment. In a series of lectures on the men who questioned the Articles, you’ll learn how the Founders quickly understood just how untenable they were for solving serious crises facing the new nation, and how they worked both separately and in concert to replace the Articles with someone more solid and sound.
  • Convening and Ratifying: You’ll plunge into the forge of American democracy, namely the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Professor Guelzo helps you make sense of the tempest of arguments waged and committees established over representation, a new national executive, the issue of slavery, and human rights. You’ll also learn about the struggle for state ratification of the proposed constitution, in some ways an even more arduous task than drafting a new government.
  • Governing and Evolving: The story doesn’t end with the official ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The new government had to adjust to a new set of rules – and, in some cases, work tirelessly to change or adapt them. Once the U.S. Constitution was put into place, the nation saw the rise of political parties, the increasing connection of the new nation with Christianity, the dawn of a new national character, the creation of a national army, international conflicts, and domestic acts of treason.

The 36 Men Who Made America

What makes America’s Founding Fathers such an interesting way to probe the story of the U.S. Constitution is Professor Guelzo’s use of the perspective of these historic figures as fresh angles on unknown or often unconsidered perspectives. Familiar or unfamiliar, these 36 individuals were each, in their own way, integral to what makes the Constitution the complex document it is today. Each profile of these significant figures and their contributions is supplemented with images from Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American History, giving a human dimension to near-mythic figures such as:

  • Thomas Jefferson: Enlightenment philosophers like Locke, Montesquieu, and Adam Smith were crucial to the political ideology of Thomas Jefferson, and helped him see the glaring inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation.
  • Elbridge Gerry: As head of the Constitutional Convention’s Grand Committee, Elbridge Gerry helped to settle the question of what America’s new Congress would look like and how representation would be distributed among the two branches.
  • Alexander Hamilton: The Federalist Papers were so named by Alexander Hamilton as a daring act of aggression to give him the high ground over the anti-Constitutionalists, who saw themselves as defenders of federalism.
  • John Marshall: A veteran of the Continental Army, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall did not hesitate to use the federal judiciary, in landmark cases like Marbury v. Madison, to save the republic from the dangers of Republicanism.
  • James McHenry: As Secretary of War under John Adams, James McHenry put the nation’s army and navy into play for the first time. His aim was to dispel the fantasy that professional armies were the enemy of the republic and militias its only salvation.
  • Aaron Burr: The case that resulted from the “assassin” Aaron Burr’s infamous duel with Alexander Hamilton (in which the latter was killed) actually highlighted the willingness of the Constitution to protect the liberties even of those who meant it harm.
  • James Madison: The last Founder to serve as president, James Madison’s tenure was subsumed by the War of 1812, a national catastrophe that history now looks on as an obscure conflict for which the United States of America was ill-prepared.
  • Alexis de Tocqueville: In his Democracy in America, the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville found that the glue holding the American republic together was not virtue so much as self-interest (which also made equality more important than liberty).

A Battle Still Being Waged

Professor Guelzo is acclaimed by Great Courses customers for his engaging, dramatic delivery. And as a New York Times bestselling author whose books have won numerous awards, including the Lincoln Prize, he knows how to craft a story. One of our most highly rated professors, he transforms stories of meetings, arguments, and committees into a grand narrative of political intrigue, philosophical dilemmas, and international tension.

Professor Guelzo’s lectures are packed with information and insights you won’t find in a cursory reading of a history textbook. And this course offers something few other historical surveys can: the combination of a dynamic professor with the unrivaled American history collections and expertise of the Smithsonian. Thanks to unprecedented access to their archives and expert guidance, the video version of this course features historic portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, important historical documents and artifacts from the National Museum of American History, and highlights some of the most eminent quotes in American history.

Free government, according to Professor Guelzo, is an awkward, constantly-adjusting dance between liberty and power that doesn’t take efficiency into account. “But the Founders were not concerned with efficiency,” he says. “They were concerned with liberty. And they knew that its life was always precarious.”

America’s Founding Fathers invites you to experience this precarious, tense battle between power and liberty – a battle that’s still being waged, and that will be waged for decades to come.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    George Washington's Doubts
    Could the American experiment succeed? George Washington, one of the most iconic Founders, had strong doubts. After explaining the importance of getting a well-rounded understanding of the Founders, Professor Guelzo explores Washington's fears about post-Revolutionary America and his concerns about how people could administer their own affairs. x
  • 2
    Thomas Mifflin's Congress
    Before the ratification of the Constitution, there were presidents not of the United States but of the Congress created by the Articles of Confederation. As you'll discover, the failures of one president, Thomas Mifflin, offer a window into the potent problems facing the United States of America in 1783. x
  • 3
    Robert Morris's Money
    Money issues abounded in the new United States. Why was the abundance of land (and the lack of hard coin) such a problem? What compelled states to print so much of their own unsecure paper money? How did Robert Morris attempt to restore the links between commerce, agriculture, and government finances? x
  • 4
    Benjamin Franklin's Leather Apron
    No one in the 1780s defined the idea of an “American” as much as Benjamin Franklin. Here, explore the many roles Franklin played in the formative years of the republic: as independent printer, public “gentleman,” nobleman of nature, and tradesman cynical of the wealthy and powerful. x
  • 5
    Thomas Jefferson's Books
    Explore how books by Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith influenced Thomas Jefferson's political philosophy. Also, consider Jefferson's fierce critiques of religion and commerce, and the ways he nevertheless betrayed (as a large-scale slave owner) the Enlightenment principles he held so dear. x
  • 6
    Daniel Shays's Misbehavior
    Shays's Rebellion would spark unease not just about tax increases and their impact on landowners - but on the entire Confederation. As you follow this dramatic insurgency and its fascinating leader, you'll learn how Shays's Rebellion prompted many to consider a strong government as essential to liberty and property. x
  • 7
    Alexander Hamilton's Republic
    Professor Guelzo takes you inside Alexander Hamilton's views about the American Republic: the fictions of hierarchy and aristocracy; the voluntary compact between rulers and ruled; the division of power into small packets; and his suspicions of the behavior of the Confederation Congress. x
  • 8
    James Madison's Conference
    How did James Madison become the prime mover of the United States Constitution? The key, it turns out, is a 1786 conference he organized between several states. Originally intended to discuss commercial regulations, the assembly would transform into a deliberation over how to put the Confederation out of business. x
  • 9
    Patrick Henry's Religion
    Come to see Patrick Henry in a new light: as the most self-contradictory—and most often defeated—Founder. Topics include the influence on Henry of the Reverend Samuel Davies, how the Awakeners shaped his brilliant oratorical skills, the public funding of Christianity, and his unremarkable accomplishments as governor of Virginia. x
  • 10
    James Madison's Vices
    In a private study, James Madison detailed what he called “the vices of the political system of the United States.” Here, explore these vices, including state failure to comply with constitutional requisitions and the provincial nature of state legislatures. Also, examine his most important suggestions for a new frame of government. x
  • 11
    Edmund Randolph's Plan
    Go inside the start of the Constitutional Convention, where you'll learn how and why the Founders assembled to craft a new, improved system of government. Central to this was the plan set out by Edmund Randolph, which aimed at stopping a jealous Congress or greedy state legislatures from destroying it. x
  • 12
    William Paterson's Dissent
    One speech by William Paterson, a member of the New Jersey delegation, halted the Randolph Plan from sailing smoothly to adoption. What were Paterson's arguments? Why did he support a simple amendment to the Articles of Confederation instead of a rewrite? What did his alternative plan look like? x
  • 13
    Roger Sherman's Compromise
    Turn to a moment of great exhaustion at the Constitutional Convention: a deadlock between the New Jersey and Virginia plans for a national government. Roger Sherman's compromise of two branches of government (one equal, one proportional) would play an important role in moving the debate forward. x
  • 14
    Elbridge Gerry's Committee
    Discover how the report by the Convention’s Grand Committee, chaired by Elbridge Gerry, ended the first great battle over the U.S. Constitution. As you’ll find out, it settled for good what the American Congress would look like – but also raised an issue that would soon dominate the debates: slavery. x
  • 15
    James Wilson's Executive
    Turn now to the next great issue facing the Convention: the shape of the new national executive. After pondering some of the concerns and fears the delegates had about executive power, you'll focus on James Wilson's argument for the need of an executive chosen not by Congress but by national election. x
  • 16
    John Rutledge's Committee
    John Rutledge’s Committee of Detail answered the call to help answer unresolved questions about the role of the national executive. Here, learn how “Dictator John” helped develop a working document that included a number of features now seen as the cornerstone of American constitutionalism. x
  • 17
    Rufus King's Slaves
    It was Rufus King who, at the debates, questioned the admission of slaves into the rule of representation. First, explore the dissonance between liberty and slavery in the new United States. Then, come to see how Rufus King predicted the angry tiger slavery would become in America. x
  • 18
    David Brearley's Postponed Parts
    The Committee on Postponed Parts, headed by David Brearley, was the Convention's most effective committee. Its business, as you'll learn, was to reconcile demands about the shape of the new national president. You'll also learn about the Committee on Style, whose sole task was to wordsmith the Convention's agreements into a single document. x
  • 19
    John Dunlap and David Claypoole's Broadside
    One day after the Constitutional Convention ended, the document was printed in 500 copies by John Dunlap and David Claypoole and shared with the general public. What happened next? How did George Washington use a cover letter to mitigate shock? How did the Founders brace themselves for the inevitable state conventions? x
  • 20
    Alexander Hamilton's Papers
    Chief Justice John Marshall would call the Federalist Papers the “complete commentary on our constitution.” Here, Professor Guelzo explains the daring act of aggression these lanmark political writings were, and outlines the six themes Hamilton (under the pseudonym “Publius”) believed would demonstrate the indispensability of the new constitution. x
  • 21
    Patrick Henry's Convention
    The fate of the new constitution depending on the state ratifying conventions. And because Virginia's consent was necessary to make the overall ratification process work, neutralizing Patrick Henry was the Federalists' most important task. Go inside the battleground of the ratifying convention at Richmond on June 2, 1788. x
  • 22
    George Washington's Inaugural
    First, examine hurdles to electing George Washington as the first president of the United States. Then, follow the story of how the Constitution finally got its bill of rights, and how this task was undertaken by the one man who most vehemently opposed such a bill: James Madison. x
  • 23
    Alexander Hamilton's Reports
    As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton had the responsibility of handling the new nation's foreign, state, and domestic debts. In this lecture, learn how Hamilton saw debt not as a problem but an asset, and discover how he argued for the establishment of a national bank. x
  • 24
    Thomas Jefferson's Party
    In the past, Thomas Jefferson denounced political parties. Now, after the ratification of the Constitution, he began to form the nation's first political party. Discover how he did this by assembling allies, appealing selected individuals to run for Congress, and playing for control of the media. x
  • 25
    William Findley's Whiskey
    Whiskey, on the frontier of the early Republic, was a major business. So when the national government proposed an excise tax on whiskey, it led to the Whiskey Rebellion. Go back to the summer of 1794 and meet William Findley, a self-styled republican who saw Republican societies as vehicles for political strategy. x
  • 26
    Benjamin Banneker's Survey
    How was the location of the nation's new capital decided upon? How were the streets of Washington organized? What happened when Washington asked Congress for money? It all started, as you'll learn, with Benjamin Banneker's surveying mission of the iconic site on the eastern branch of the Anacostia River. x
  • 27
    John Jay's Treaty
    With a new nation came new international crises. In this lecture, go inside the 28 articles of John Jay's eponymous treaty with Great Britain, which addressed unfinished business from the Treaty of Paris, and the subsequent uproar that gave a boost to polarization between America's political parties. x
  • 28
    John Adams's Liberty
    According to Professor Guelzo, if George Washington was the heart of republic, John Adams was its brain. Follow the Founder as he becomes the first vice president, then the second president of the nation, where he suffers catastrophic blunders that sap him of any political advantages he once had. x
  • 29
    Hector Saint John de Crèvecoeur’s Americans
    Crevècoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer presented Americans at the end of the 18th century as a people unlike any other nation. From this starting point, explore the demographics of the early United Sates, witness the early stirrings of abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements, and probe America’s cultural fear of strangers. x
  • 30
    Timothy Dwight's Religion
    Timothy Dwight, a president at Yale University, played a pivotal role in cementing the early nation's ties with the Christian faith. Come to see how Christianity, when defined and defended as a virtue, was seen by Dwight and others as a necessary component of republican government. x
  • 31
    James McHenry's Army
    Meet another often-overlooked Founder, Secretary of War James McHenry, who was responsible for putting the nation's army into play for the first time. Despite political backstabbing, and against the backdrop of the Quasi-War with France, McHenry brought about military changes still with us today. x
  • 32
    Thomas Jefferson's Frustration
    Focus on some of the many conflicts between Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophies and the reality of American life. Chief among these was his belief that an economy based on the virtuous independent farmer had no need of imports or exports – which led to the controversial Embargo Act of 1807. x
  • 33
    Aaron Burr's Treason
    Aaron Burr's duel with Alexander Hamilton, resulting the latter's death, is one of the most infamous chapters in the history of the Founding Fathers. But, as you'll learn, what's equally important is what happened next: that the Constitution protected even the liberties of someone like him, who meant it harm. x
  • 34
    John Marshall's Court
    Explore the court of Chief Justice John Marshall. In major court cases like Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland, Marshall would devise a national judicial sovereignty to match the constitutional and economic sovereignty envisioned by Madison and Hamilton, and to save the United States from Jacobin Republicanism. x
  • 35
    James Madison's War
    The “age of the Founders” ends with the War of 1812 and James Madison at the helm of government. You’ll learn why the United States was disastrously unprepared for war, and you’ll get a closer look at the state of the nation as it was bequeathed to Madison’s successor, James Monroe. x
  • 36
    Alexis de Tocqueville's America
    In the first part of this last lecture, learn the fates of each of the Founding Fathers discussed in this course. Then, close with a look at Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, which suggests the new nation's focus on self-interest instead of virtue (as well as a lack of art and culture). x

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  • Download 36 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
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  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 328-page printed course guidebook
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  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 328-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos and illustrations
  • Suggested reading
  • Foreword by David C. Ward, Senior Historian, National Portrait Gallery

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Your professor

Allen C. Guelzo

About Your Professor

Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.
Princeton University
Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Senior Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities and Director of the Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Among garnering other honors, he has received the Medal of Honor from the Daughters of the American Revolution. He is a member of the National Council on...
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Reviews

America's Founding Fathers is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 157.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not what I expected I thought this would be more biographical but was a lot about the constitution & laws that formed the nation. Have to admit I only listened to 3 sessions.
Date published: 2020-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthralling Prof Allen C. Guelzo is extremely knowledgeable and a wonderful performer too. I enjoyed these lectures and am really glad that I bought them
Date published: 2020-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt I enjoyed this so much as a Library Loan and moved to a town whose Library is not so vast, and wanted to see this course again with Professor Brier. Unfortunately, as with other courses, this one is not available for streaming which I learned after purchasing the DVD.
Date published: 2020-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Insight into the Foundation of the United St I had never fully realized the challenges faced by the Founding Fathers until I took this course.
Date published: 2020-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great insights The crucial take-away point is that the nature of American domestic politics remains constant. What changes are the names and issues involved. If the average American comprehended the the “why” behind our federal system in design as it is, the nature of parties, and the infinite goals contained with the Constitution we may not be so polarized today.
Date published: 2020-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love to learn from best teachers! I have been buying these courses for ten years. I love to learn while I exercise. I get science, history, literature, travel, and writing courses. I have never had any negative experience. Great teachers, great customer service and a great company will keep your mind active.
Date published: 2020-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful lectures Dr. Guelzo is among the best lecturers that I've ever had.He presents a lot of material in incredibly entertaining manner.
Date published: 2020-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Founding Fathers I recently read in turn Chernow's Books on Washington, Hamilton and Grant. I wanted to go into the formation of our country a bit more in depth to give background to Washington and Hamilton's contributions. Given the current political discourse now in play, I want to gain perspective from an historical context. Although the lecturer's presentation might have been overly stated at times, he knows his stuff which I appreciated.
Date published: 2020-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a story! Excellent close-up view of all the major participants in America's Constitutional convention. What an eye-opener! I had no idea how complex the process was and how intense the debates and cross-purposes of the delegates. It is amazing that it turned out as well as it did. Prof Guelzo is a fantastic performer as a lecturer. Quite animated and expressive. Loved his dramatizations and found them spell-binding.
Date published: 2020-04-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Difficult to listen to While I'm sure the material in the course is accurate, the presentation leaves much to be desired. Most of the lectures read like an ancient document, largely because so much of it is extensive direct quotes from the people featured in the course. GIven how the lecturer naturally speaks, it's not always obvious where the quotes start and end which makes it difficult to follow at times. One ends up thinking "Wait, so is this still a quote from Franklin?" or "Oh, that was apparently a quote from something, I wonder what.". There are also multiple references to things that I would argue are not commonly known and require pauses to look up (for example, I had no idea with a "bill of attainder" was, or why they might be undesirable). All in all, this feels scholarly to the point of not being enjoyable if you're not already familiar with the material.
Date published: 2020-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent One of the best courses I've watched from TGC. Excellent presenter who is obviously knowledgable and knows how to put together the information into and interesting and engaging presentation. I knew some of the material, as I've been reading biographies of early Presidents, but definitely not all of it. An excellent course. I saw another review that said this should be shown in all high schools and colleges in the US, and I agree. I hope this professor does more for the Great Courses.
Date published: 2020-04-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very pleased, content was well organized and well presented.
Date published: 2020-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from in depth, and very accessible I know Guelzo is not a young man--but listening to these lectures it seems as though he was present at the Convention. Guelzo also is a splendid lecturer, and presents at once a colorful but also highly informative glimpse into arguably the most significant episode in the development of modern governance. I am a former history major, and very familiar with the outline of early American history, and some of the major players--but this series takes it much deeper. If this topic is of interest, you will be rewarded.
Date published: 2020-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dynamic Professor! This was an excellent course. I had a prior knowledge of the topic but learned a great deal. The professor did more than just a biography on each founding father - he weaved themes together to tell a cohesive story of how our constiitution was framed.
Date published: 2020-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great History Information I have not listened to all of the lectures, but those that I have, I have throughly enjoyed! I love American history, this is a treasure to own.
Date published: 2020-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting I have not got to watch the dvd, but the book is interesting
Date published: 2020-02-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from founding fathers I bought the course and I am confused as I can't run any of tthe dvds on my computer. Not satisfied.
Date published: 2020-02-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from founding fathers The speaker and backdrop never change. Lectures are not in chronological order.
Date published: 2020-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful This course offers views and thoughts of the founding fathers not normally found in published history. Tidbits from personal conversations, private letters to loved one and other sources. I find the vignettes about how they felt about and for each other make these men more alive with human genius as well as human fobies. Good stuff!
Date published: 2020-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfectly organized, substantive, and polished This series on the founding fathers is deeply informative. The presentation is top flight. Professor Guelzo's passion and knowledge are evident throughout. The professor's style is as precise as it is animated. This series informs us of the political and economic issues pertaining to the country's founding. Meanwhile, the personalities of the various historical characters are vividly characterized. We get a flavor of the motivations, rivalries, dedication, and style of the founders. This series is recommended for both the simply curious as well as more serious students of American history.
Date published: 2020-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from interesting perspective and detail Especially in light of the impeachment trial ongoing, this series is fascinating- a historical period of America with "local" colonial perspective- seeing through the eyes of the 18th century beholders
Date published: 2020-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from American’s Founding Fathers Half way done with this course and I am finding it so fascinating, this should Be a required course for all high school students in this country. Amazing all Of the turmoil and debate leading up to to most perfect document ever written!
Date published: 2020-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Fun and Chiseled Brilliance This course caused laughter for every mile I walked while listening. Guelzo has written for mostly centrist publications, as well as The Daily Beast, etc. This fact supports David Ward’s Forward defending Guelzo’s neutrality. Just reading this 309-page guidebook is very worthwhile though you will miss much of Guelzo’s modulation, wit, and many, many side stories. These stories “put you there” in a very real sense. For example, I now identify a favorite President because I see his strengths and foibles relate to my own. L1 points out why republics were viewed by Enlightenment thinkers as vulnerable. Washington agreed, balking at the limitations of reason and virtue. The math genius Blaise Pascal [L9] noted: “Reason's last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it." L9 portrays the European Counter-Enlightenment view of the Enlightenment’s limitations: "No single human reason was capable of comprehending, sorting, and retaining all the data that the world offered. Every mystery reason solved opened up two more”. Genuine but flawed Continental Congress members struggle with paper money, inter-state disputes, and judicial circuses leading to mounting unpaid national debt. Eventually Rhode Island's sabotage and a violent mob with a howitzer aimed at Financial Superintendent Wilson’s home disgusted his good faith effort to solve the Confederation’s financial probity. By [L4] we are introduced to Ben Franklin’s pragmatic side-switching career including betrayal of the Massachusetts royal governor via publication of illicit documents leading to his demotion by the Privy Council…yes, Guelzo presents our best as being flawed. Yet he never disrespects. This honest balance makes his in-your-face stories believable. "Why do stones fall to earth?” [L4] is Guelzo's brilliant summation of the pre-Scientific Revolution. Guelzo shows that our thinking is no better than theirs…we just know a LITTLE more. The patchwork personality of Jefferson begins in L5 and is best summarized in L32: the White House East Room mocking bird story, his 1805 buy-off of Yusuf Karamanli’s declared war on the U.S (sounding eerily like our recent Iranian nuclear bomb buy-off bribe), and his own summation of his Presidential career. Despite Washington’s rejection of Jefferson’s position on public stocks [L24], this ideologist provided the amazing Louisiana Purchase. Hamilton [L17] conversely followed Hume’s approach to politics: “(It) should rest on practical realities, not ideology”. Thus his antipathy with Jefferson had deep roots. Our 2016 Federal debt of 102% debt-to-GDP ratio (far above the 70% point-of-no-return) provides a current “feel” for why Hamilton [L23] enlarged Federal powers to solve debt. Hamilton’s concept of aiding manufacturing by “the funded debt” [L24] was the only way out. This upset Jefferson’s agrarian utopian ideals. The result was what Washington feared [L25]: the splitting of citizens into parties (Jefferson had flipped position after 1789 [L24]). So many other characters are portrayed: Washington's closely held circle of officers, the indefatigable James Madison, the colorful Gouverneur Morris, etc. Other controversies echo today’s: “a rich individual should (not) have more votes than an indigent one” [L12]; “If the legislative authority be not restrained [L13], there can be neither liberty nor stability”; the Electoral College [L15, 16 & 18] vs the natural bias of those public-dependent; Guelzo’s well-documented portrayal of the bipolar mortal agonies over slavery from our very foundation; and Ben Franklin’s summary of his time and ours: “No constitution ever corrupted a people unless they were already corrupt” [L18]. [L19] Ratification: even a national Army was suspect: “If you find that … the exercise of a standing army, will always be…exerted for your welfare alone…adopt it”. Madison compromised via 12 Amendments, including a notion forgotten today: “the people shall not be restrained from PEACEABLY assembling”. Washington, however, knew how to respond: see the Whiskey Rebellion [L25] – and Washington’s prophetic words: “If a minority is to dictate to the majority, there is an end put at one stroke to republican government and nothing but anarchy and confusion is to be expected hereafter.” L27: Washington’s Great Rule (“…in regard to foreign Nations…have as little political connection as possible”) can refer to the hard truth of not only the French Revolution [L28] but campus violence today: “…democracies make revolutions but revolutions do not make democracies.” More: L 26: Why haven’t I heard about the free black mathematician, Benjamin Banneker? L31 portrays the error of under-funding the military via the dismal Ohio Wars. Aaron Burr’s selfish story is in L33. The congealing of Federal Judicial powers over states under John Marshall [L34]. L35 the diverse effects on the nation of those who have Great Ideas like Hamilton and those who have Great Personalities like Patrick Henry and Jefferson. In L36, I had to keep stopping the audio to copy nearly every sentence. Here Guelzo first reviewed all majored characters. Then came Tocqueville’s insight: in the US, he heard no mention of virtue, but only of self-interest. This substitution makes “equality more important than liberty”, “resent(s) intellectual superiority and demand(s) conformity to the LCD...” When such a debased public opinion rules, each becomes “a stranger to…all”. His insights into the 2 mechanisms that kept democracy alive show that only one is currently breathing. Guelzo’s insights show how people with strongly differing viewpoints can solve problems as well as the consequences of not solving them. If this all sounds very “today”, there are reasons. This course is a guide for extricating ourselves from the current going-nowhere “Primal Screams” documented by the social analyst Mary Eberstadt. BRILLIANT & RELEVANT COURSE
Date published: 2020-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding...great story telling Professor Guelzo...incredibly knowledgeable; with ongoing anecdotal stories that represent the event with color. Very good stuff.... All has put the Impeachment Hearings this week in perspective. Democracy is very, very messy...
Date published: 2020-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course There are 36 lectures in this course and I am about halfway through. Professor Guelzo does a fantastic job of going into depth about our founding fathers and how the Constitution was molded and adopted. If you love American History this course is not to be missed.
Date published: 2020-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best US history course yet! Professor Guelzo is, hands down, the absolute best narrator in the entire Great Courses inventory. He must have some extensive acting skills in his background, because his presentational style, facial expressions, and superb voice control makes for a spell-binding 30 minutes. My college days would have gone much better if I had professors with Prof. Guelzo's presentation skills. This is the second US history course I've purchased, and this one was primarily because of Prof. Guelzo. Enough about the professor. The course material is in itself extremely well-presented with graphics and maps. I can't believe how much I didn't know about the post-revolutionary years of our Republic and the men who made it survive the early troubles, financial crisis, and political turmoil. Again - excellent presentation with superb documentation and research. I will be first in line for Professor Guelzo's next Great Courses product!
Date published: 2020-01-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from In today's political climate, it is important to review what our Founing Fathers had in mind when forming our constitution. This course clarifies their intent and helps one gain the understanding needed to unravel the political interpretations set forth today.
Date published: 2020-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Different than expected in good way This course is very much focused on the post-Revolutionary war era when the Articles of Confederacy were in place and each state was essentially their own nation. Professor Guelzo makes it clear that America had a really rocky start, and if you were a betting man, you would probably have bet on the entire thing collapsing as the most likely outcome. There's a very detailed breakdown of the Constitutional Convention where the participants were drawing up a document asking the states to give up a lot of their power, which they really had little incentive to do. This is followed by lectures on the debates in each state on whether they will accept the new Constitution--often voting at a narrow margin. Finally, Guelzo ends the course with a few lectures on the first few presidencies. From examining the course lecture titles, you would think that they a series of small unrelated biographies. But actually, the course covers a chronological history of the nation's formation, bringing in new characters as necessary in the overall narrative. Many of the "founding fathers" Professor Guelzo speaks of are not household names, and I was surprised by how much I learned that was new on a topic that I had some familiarity with. When a new important character is introduced, the professor gives you a complete biography of that person, which is interesting, but sometimes breaks the flow of the overall narrative, but this is a minor criticism. The strength of the lectures are the amazing amount of detail and some really well-crafted writing. I felt that Guelzo was reading me an extremely well-written book. His style and tone are very listenable. The Constitutional Convention was the most interesting part of the course and really breaks down the opposing sides on many issues and how they eventually reached compromises. To my surprise, I became much more interested in this course than I expected and can rate it as one of the best courses I've taken from the Great Courses. I really learned quite a bit.
Date published: 2020-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unrivalled thing! Thank you for this course! It is a very informative, interesting and amazing history.
Date published: 2020-01-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The story of a dysfunctional nation I felt the title was slightly misleading. This class isn’t so much about our Founding Fathers, but the conflicting opinions and self-interest of individuals, philosophies and states. This class looks at the drama and instability the United States went through in those early years and continues to this very day. People who argue that present day political conflicts go against the Founding Fathers don’t understand how divided this nation has always been. I felt this class goes to the core of how dysfunctional this nation has always been and looks at the emotional baggage that we’ve been carrying for nearly 250 years. Get the book to follow along; I look forward to watching the DVD again.
Date published: 2020-01-12
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