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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Course No. 4878
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  • 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
 |  Average 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 139.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course It is an insightful and balanced treatment of the great debates our country experienced during the ratification the Constitution. The points of the federalists and Anti-Federalists are well-explained
Date published: 2018-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Marvelous Summary I have not considered the Federalist Papers since college, and this course extended my knowledge and appreciation greatly. The founding fathers were true geniuses in how they absorbed the lessons of history and applied them to building a new kind of governing structure and rules of operation. It is especially interesting to listen to this course material in the present environment and see how the issues that dominated the Great Debate appear in the present age.
Date published: 2018-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Start These lectures are a deeper dive into the foundation of the UNITED States. Prof Pangle adroitly summarizes the debates that raged (mostly in print) from October 1787 and April 1788 (Federalist Papers range) in which the discussions between the Federalists (most notably Madison, Hamilton and Jay...jointly known as Publius) and the Anti Federalists (notably Clinton, Winthrop, Adams and Yates) focused on what form of government should replace the Articles of Confederation. SPOILER ALERT: the Federalists won...sorta. The debate resulted in the formation of a set of elaborate blueprints for our new republic, expertly created by James Madison, but largely designed by Alexander Hamilton, and appeared in the well-crafted Federalist Papers. From the opposing Anti Federalists a less clear agenda was proposed that limited the Federalist's strong central government, giving individual state governments closer controls. While the constitution was eventually approved by all thirteen states the issue of the absolute powers of state governments was not settled until the Civil War. I found these lectures to be a great stimulus to read more carefully the "Federalist Papers", as well as "The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787" (Max Farrand)...a daily log of the proceedings as recorded by Madison (mostly). In addition, I found the biography of Alexander Hamilton (Chernow) to be helpful in fleshing out the fundamental ideas of Hamilton's vision of this new form of government. Highly recommended, and don't debate long when there's a sale and a coupon available.
Date published: 2018-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the Ameri Very appropriate for our current times - US year 2018. If you have any questions and/or concerns with US current administration, it is a must course. The insights of the Great Debate show us the thought process and concerns then are very real even today. Thank you Hamilton and Madison ... and a free Press!
Date published: 2018-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative about history I had not known. Have only watched the first three lectures; have earned that a lot of what I knew wasn't so! Great.
Date published: 2018-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Federalist Papers should be required learning Great detail and insight into the root documents. The founder's wisdom of various forms of government is impressive.
Date published: 2018-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome course I´m studying many works of some of the great writers on liberty, good government forms etc. as I´m trying to deepen my grasp on these issues. This course, through presenting the debate that happened back in the late 1780s regarding our Constitution, opened my eyes to so much we in 2018 aren´t in touch with. Both sides of the debate were brilliant, surprising to me was that I actually learned more from the Opponents arguments than I did from the Advocates. The professor did an outstanding job. I´ve taken apx. 50 Teaching Company courses and this one was simply the best. And that´s saying a lot as the Teaching Company has put out a bunch of great courses.
Date published: 2018-07-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thorough and balanced This is an excellent short course on the debate over ratification of the American Constitution. Professor Pangle thoroughly and clearly covers the major issues dividing the federalists and anti-federalists as they wrangled over how to fix the Articles of Confederation which had led the united colonies through the Revolutionary War. His coverage includes the philosophical backdrop of “classical republicanism,” i.e. how the early Americans viewed the ancient Greco-Roman republics and how republicanism was reinterpreted by Montesquieu. He discusses the various aspects of the new constitution’s proposed government and how the House of Representatives, the Senate, the executive, and the federal judiciary were all points of contention for the anti-federalists. He presents the arguments of the participants in clear language, and when he does use direct quotations, he selects ones that are understandable to people of our time or he paraphrases them to make them intelligible. I consider myself a reasonably well educated person, but I have read the Federalist Papers, and they are often difficult for me to follow. Professor Pangle makes extensive use of them, but he makes them clear to laymen. Professor Pangle does not draw contemporary political conclusions from the eighteenth century debates, but one cannot help ponder carefully the arguments of the anti-federalists who raised concerns about a very powerful central government with unlimited taxing power, a powerful executive, and a completely unaccountable judiciary. Some of those concerns have been borne out, although it has taken many generations for them to come to pass. It made me wonder whether, if I could go back in time, I would have been on the side of Publius or the anti-federalists. In summary, this is a well-organized, informative, and thought-provoking course.
Date published: 2018-05-12
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