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The Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution

Get a ring-side seat on the tremendous intellectual battles fought by our founding fathers as they worked to develop the U.S. Constitution—one of the most influential documents ever created.
Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 165.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vert thorough series This is an excellent series that discusses what the Federalist Papers really are: a work of advocacy, and not a guide to interpret the Constitution. The speaker does a great job of examining the predictions of the opponents of the Constitution (most of which came true, albeit not for about 200 years). The lectures go back and forth between the two sides, making it easy to understand the competing arguments. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2023-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not "1619" but the REAL history! Dr. Pangle does a fantastic job in showing the real and deep intentions of the creation of America. He brings in arguments from the Federalists and anti-Federalists to show the mixture of "small" and "big" government in order to create an ideal democratic republic. Using original documents and intentions, he shows that America was created not by "white racists" but men of their times who were trying to put together a balance of central and local governments. Essential listening
Date published: 2022-06-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Unfortunately, I have received none of the material. . . as of yet. I hope the material will make it to me some time soon.
Date published: 2022-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb exposition This colurse is really outrstandong in its presentation of this fundamental part of our history.Very well done and the teaching methpodology is superb. Clearly the professor an outstandoing academic and teacher.
Date published: 2021-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Must See This course is a must-see for anyone interested in American history, politics, or law. Although I’ve seen a lot about the Federalist Papers, this is by far the most thorough treatment of the debate between the advocates of the proposed Constitution (as documented in the Federalist Papers) and the opponents (whose arguments are rarely articulated). Dr.. Pangle provides a fair back-and-forth assessment of the arguments from topic to topic. Topics include division of power between states and the proposed national government, how members of Congress are to be selected, powers of taxation, the nebulous unchecked nature of the Supreme Court, and the advisability of a Bill of Rights. In general, the Federalists were afraid of the weakness, perhaps mild anarchy, of the Articles of Confederation while the Anti-Federalists were afraid of a return to aristocracy and elitism the Revolutionary War was fought to escape. Interestingly, many of the concerns and predictions of the Anti-Federalists have come true, although it has taken much longer to happen than they may have anticipated. Dr. Pangle is fair, open-minded, and not preachy. He notes strengths and weaknesses of all arguments without being judgmental. I used the audio version. I don’t think that the video version would have added anything significant.
Date published: 2021-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative This course presents the arguments pro and con in a clear concise manner. Balances the actual words as quoted with the positions of the various factions of the day. The presenter does and excellent job of illustrating the reality of how our government has evolved in regard to the hopes dreams and fears of the people who created and I acted the constitution.
Date published: 2021-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent summary of opposing views This is an excellent summary of the positions of those who supported the new Constitution, and those who opposed it. The lectures are clear, well presented and closely follow the outline. We tend to take our Constitution for granted. These lectures show that those in opposition also had cogent and compelling arguments, and that ratification of the Constitution was no sure thing. A great “what if” is to speculate what would have happened had ratification failed. These lectures show how many of the fears of the Anti-Federalists, which were minimized by the Federalists, have come to pass. For example, the federal government predominates. The questions remains, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Also, Madison’s vision of the benefits of diffused factions is less compelling today in the age of internet and social media, but it’s hard to see what can be done about it. These lectures don’t attempt to answer such questions, but they constantly must be asked and still are worth pondering. As Prof. Pangle says at the end, what is needed is an ever renewed rethinking of the Great Debate.
Date published: 2020-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lecture series for the current time As a novice in this field of knowledge I am very happy to have heard these lectures. Prof. Pangle gives an excellent summary of the debates by the founders in framing the constitution.
Date published: 2020-07-13
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Get a ring-side seat on the tremendous intellectual battles fought by our founding fathers as they worked to develop the U.S. Constitution—one of the most influential documents ever created.


Thomas L. Pangle

Learning about the original debate over the founding and the meaning of our Constitution has never been more timely, and even urgent, than it is in our strife-ridden civic culture today.


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 Hautes …tudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is the recipient of many awards and accolades, including four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Robert Foster Cherry Great Teacher of the World Prize from Baylor University. He also has given prestigious lectures, including the Exxon Lectures in Humane Approaches to the Social Sciences and the Werner Heisenberg Memorial Lecture at the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation in Munich. Professor Pangle is the author of several works on political thought, including The Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Vision of the American Founders and the Philosophy of Locke; The Ennobling of Democracy: The Challenge of the Postmodern Age; and Leo Strauss: An Introduction to His Thought and Intellectual Legacy. He also serves on the editorial boards of Political Research Quarterly and Polis: The Journal of the Society for Greek Political Thought.

By This Professor

Significance and Historical Context

01: 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.

34 min
Classical Republicanism

02: 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.

32 min
The Anti-Federalists' Republican Vision

03: 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.

28 min
The Argument over National Security

04: 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.

34 min
The Deep Difficulties in Each Position

05: 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.

34 min
Debating the Meaning of

06: 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.

32 min
The Madisonian Republic

07: 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."

30 min
The Argument over Representation

08: 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.

31 min
Disputing Separation of Powers, Part 1

09: 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.

30 min
Disputing Separation of Powers, Part 2

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.

30 min
The Supreme Court and Judicial Review

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.

30 min
The Bill of Rights

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.

32 min