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The US Constitution through History

Explore the history of the US Constitution from its conception through 230 years of discussions and debates.
The US Constitution through History is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 26.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Educational I look forward to more courses by this Professor and on to more courses on topic of the U.S.A. Constitution.
Date published: 2023-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So easy to follow So much information that was not taught in school. This is well organized and well presented. Worth watching more than once.
Date published: 2023-05-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Coverage of Constitutional History I feel that throughout his lectures he did a fairly good job presenting pure history without making strong political judgements about the events that occurred. Overall it was very educational despite ones political leaning until he lectured us on the wisdom of supreme court decisions occurring mainly during the Reagan years by a largely conservative court. In chapter 24 he appeared VERY concerned about a nation that is quite literally splitting apart, but implied simply in the way he presented it to be the fault of only one side, as indicated in his commentary on the 2020 presential election, the aftermath and Donald Trump. I can only wonder why such an erudite gentleman would, in my opinion, ruin such an informative and well presented discourse near the end of it. However, I think you will find the bulk of the information presented fascinating if you're willing to just ignore chapter 24. I'd recommend it to a friend with that condition.
Date published: 2023-03-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Same Old Stuff While it was well organized and presented, this course didn't give the kind of information I wanted. I won't say that I didn't learn anything new but most of the material was familiar to me from other Wondrium courses including a previous one by Professor Berger. What I find lacking in offerings relating to the US Constitution is information on all the hundreds of others that have been adopted in the world since 1787. For example, France has had 17 constitutions since then, all passed by a national referendum. If the US Constitution is so wonderful, why haven't other countries adopted something exactly like it? Thomas Jefferson said in 1816, “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment.” There is an exchange of letters in 1789-1790 between Jefferson and Madison where the former said that a constitution should be written every 19 years while the latter demurred. When asked in 2012 about whether Egypt should adopt a constitution based on the American model, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "You should certainly be aided by all the constitution writing that has gone on since the end of World War II. I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa — that was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, had an independent judiciary. It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recently than the U.S. Constitution, Canada has the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. So, yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?" Such questions are not a major part of US politics these days. Most Americans believe that we are stuck with the 1787 document. I think it might be possible to get a new constitution, better able to act as a foundation for American democracy in the 21st century, but not through the amendment or constitutional convention process. A well funded group could propose a new one and conduct a national referendum on whether it should be adopted. Such a process might after a few years of such pressure lead to it relacing the old one. Remember that the current US Constitution was ratified without having all 13 states on board and thus was "unconstitutional" according to the Articles of Confederation. A new constitution would address the abominations of the current system like the Electoral College, 2 senators per state, absolute judicial supremacy, only two parties (a result of winner take all elections by Duverger's law), gerrymandering, the filibuster, etc. If the majority of the people of the country want gun control, abortion and the rich to pay more taxes, an effective constitution would result in those becoming law. It should guarantee minority rights but not minority rule. Those who praise or condemn the US Supreme Court for granting or restricting rights should realize that it got involved only because of the ineffectiveness of the legislative branch in establishing them. One thing I would preserve from the current system is separate election of the President and Legislature with each being a check on the other. So Teaching Company, there are plenty of fine American academics like Mark Tushnet and Tom Ginsburg who have written on comparative law and government and I hope you will engage one to enlighten us.
Date published: 2023-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Making a 'dry' subject utterly riveting Constitutional law? A snoozer, right? But I thought I might be able to scrape a few scraps of useful information. Oh, my God. This prof really knows how to cut to the key questions and present them succinctly - and engagingly! I thought myself as well-versed in the subject as any non-lawyer could be. Yet there is so much I did not know - and which makes the arguments, then and now, about state's rights, about privacy, about free speech, and so much more, so much clearer. I kept clicking lesson after lesson, even about the history that I lived through, learning so much that matters in my life today. Bravo, prof!! Fascinating, engaging, packed with key facts and relevant biographies. Definitely, you want to take this class!
Date published: 2023-01-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I really enjoyed the course, except for the final lecture. The best professors of the Great Courses present their material in a way that makes it difficult to discern their political leanings. The best trust their audiences to consider what was presented and make their own decisions on how to process it. Sadly Professor Berger used the final lecture as a soapbox for his views, rather than tying the course together and leaving me to chew on its content.
Date published: 2023-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent discussion Professor Berger is an excellent presenter of ,for me, complex issues. He heavily emphasizes slavery and equal rights. Perhaps he can add a few more lectures to delve into freedom of speech a bit more. Personally,I would like to have had the information provided in lecture 23 a bit earlier to get a better feeling on how the SC justices form their opinions . I have suggested this course to several Wondrium followers. I would greatly enjoy a discussion on recent SC opinions !!
Date published: 2023-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking Excellent overview that one hopes would be palatable to any thoughtful citizen. Not to say that our history did not stir up some ire especially toward the Supreme Court. Fair's to say that I'm sure the Course would do the same for folks at the other end of my politics. Well presented controversy!
Date published: 2023-01-03
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In The US Constitution through History, Professor Eric Berger of the University of Nebraska takes you on a journey through America’s constitutional history. In 24 riveting lectures, unpack the ideas of America’s founding and trace the evolution of those ideas through the schisms of the 19th century, the transformations of the 20th century, and into our present era.


Eric Berger

Constitutional law is endlessly rich and fascinating, and it really matters.


University of Nebraska College of Law

Eric Berger is the Earl Dunlap Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Nebraska College of Law. His scholarship focuses on constitutional law, including judicial decision-making in constitutional cases. He received his JD from Columbia Law School and then clerked for the Honorable Merrick B. Garland on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He went on to practice with Jenner & Block, where he worked on litigation, including in the US Supreme Court. He has been voted Professor of the Year by law students at Nebraska six times.

By This Professor

Law School for Everyone: Constitutional Law
The US Constitution through History
The US Constitution through History


America’s Founding Ideas

01: America’s Founding Ideas

America was born out of a group of ideas and a series of conflicts with England. Begin your course on the US Constitution with a look at the English tradition that underpins American law and the tensions with England that led to revolution.

37 min
Failures of Early American Governments

02: Failures of Early American Governments

When war broke out between England and the American colonies, the Continental Congress drafted the Articles of Confederation, a loose framework by which the colonies could be governed as a nation-state. Reflect on the origins of this system, as well as its inability to deal with economic, military, and diplomatic crises of the day.

35 min
Dilemmas of the Constitutional Convention

03: Dilemmas of the Constitutional Convention

While America’s original Articles of Confederation were an imperfect system, transforming the system with a new Constitution was a heavy lift. Delve into the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 to witness the high-stakes debates about a new national system of government.

34 min
The Ratification of the Constitution

04: The Ratification of the Constitution

After the Philadelphia Convention approved the new Constitution, at least nine states needed to ratify it. Travel the new nation in the late 18th century to see how different states viewed a new federal government—and why so many states ultimately voted to ratify the Constitution.

35 min
The Bill of Rights as a Concession

05: The Bill of Rights as a Concession

During the ratification process, many states complained that the Constitution did not include a Bill of Rights. A movement started to create amendments to protect individuals against governmental tyranny. Explore the role of James Madison and others in creating the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution.

34 min
The Rise of Federal Power: Hamilton’s Bank

06: The Rise of Federal Power: Hamilton’s Bank

The size and scope of the national government has been at the heart of American political debates for centuries—and this debate has been part of the country’s dialogue since the beginning. Here, consider Alexander Hamilton’s argument for the central bank’s role in paying debts and setting the economic direction for the country.

34 min
Constitutional Issues of Westward Expansion

07: Constitutional Issues of Westward Expansion

The early republic’s population grew quickly, approximately 35% every decade. This growth required more land—and more farms—which led to incredible expansion. Survey the constitutional issues surrounding American growth during the time of Thomas Jefferson, whose Louisiana Purchase set the tone for an expanding nation.

34 min
The Law of Slavery under the Constitution

08: The Law of Slavery under the Constitution

The US was founded on the principle that “all men are created equal,” but America has not always lived up to that ideal. How do we reconcile the aspirations of the Constitution with the travesty of slavery? What did the Framers and citizens in the 18th and 19th century think of slavery? Dive into the heart of the great American tension.

35 min
Constitutional Roots of Sectional Tensions

09: Constitutional Roots of Sectional Tensions

Disagreement over slavery divided the country along sectional lines. In the infamous Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a person of African descent could not be a citizen. Dive into the rising tensions of the 19th century that culminated in secession and war.

36 min
Lincoln, Civil War, and the Constitution

10: Lincoln, Civil War, and the Constitution

Although Abraham Lincoln was not elected as an abolitionist president, the era’s tension between North and South boiled over into the Civil War shortly after his election. Here, reflect on the many constitutional questions posed by the war, from the right of habeas corpus to the legality (or illegality) of secession.

36 min
Emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment

11: Emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment

President Lincoln’s most momentous constitutional decision involved emancipation. Whereas the Framers had assumed slavery as an institution gradually would fade away, Lincoln bore the responsibility of ending slavery—first by executive order and then via a constitutional amendment.

36 min
The Fourteenth Amendment and Freedom’s Meaning

12: The Fourteenth Amendment and Freedom’s Meaning

The 13th Amendment ended slavery, but it did not define what rights freed persons would enjoy. After the Civil War, the nation engaged in a prolonged debate about the meaning of freedom and equality. Here, consider the goals and shortcomings of Reconstruction and the ratification of the 14th Amendment, which outlined the rights of free citizens.

35 min
Reconstruction Politics and Voting Rights

13: Reconstruction Politics and Voting Rights

Continue your study of Reconstruction and the political power struggle between President Andrew Johnson (who was obstructing rights for freed persons) and the Congressional Republicans. Unpack the impeachment of Johnson and the struggle to win voting rights for freed persons.

35 min
Reconstruction’s Broken Legal Promises

14: Reconstruction’s Broken Legal Promises

In this final lecture on constitutional changes during Reconstruction, consider the new role of the federal government in securing rights for all citizens. Find out how the realities of Reconstruction fell short of its promises, thanks in large part to corrupt politicians, as well as a national economic depression in 1873.

36 min
Equal Protection at the Turn of the Century

15: Equal Protection at the Turn of the Century

African Americans had made gains during Reconstruction, but that era came to an end when white Southerners seized control of state governments. Here, shift your attention to the myriad state laws that enacted formal racial segregation and disenfranchised African American voters. Then, reflect on discrimination faced by American immigrants and women.

35 min
The Constitution in the Progressive Era

16: The Constitution in the Progressive Era

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw disruptive economic and social transformations. The anxieties of this age inspired major political reform movements—including new constitutional amendments dealing with the federal income tax, the election of senators, and women’s voting rights.

36 min
World War I and the Birth of Free Speech

17: World War I and the Birth of Free Speech

Today, we think of the First Amendment as offering nearly unlimited free speech, but when you step back 100 years, you see surprising restrictions on speech. Here, go back to World War I and explore the Supreme Court’s most important early decisions on freedom of speech.

35 min
The New Deal: The Constitution Transformed

18: The New Deal: The Constitution Transformed

Interpretations of the Constitution often are intertwined with the economy. Following the stock market crash of 1929 and his election in 1932, President Roosevelt made the case for dramatic changes to save the country. Survey the changes and reforms FDR enacted as part of his “New Deal”—and reflect on their constitutionality.

36 min
Challenging Jim Crow in the Courts

19: Challenging Jim Crow in the Courts

The legal transformations of the New Deal brought about remarkable constitutional change, as well as new protections for everyday Americans. But with Jim Crow laws still on the books in many states, not everyone benefitted from the New Deal. Delve into many post-World War II-era civil rights cases that broke the back of Jim Crow.

36 min
The Backlash against Brown v. Board of Education

20: The Backlash against Brown v. Board of Education

The landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education legally ended segregation, but it did not provide a blueprint for desegregation in American schools. For that, a nationwide civil rights movement was needed, culminating in the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

35 min
The ERA and the Battle over Women’s Rights

21: The ERA and the Battle over Women’s Rights

Alongside the push for civil rights, women were engaged in their own battle for equality of the sexes. Review the case law and the push for an Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing rights for women—and find out why activist Phyllis Schlafly worked to defeat it. Although the amendment failed, see what litigation and legislation accomplished in the 1970s.

38 min
Conservatism, Christianity, and the Court

22: Conservatism, Christianity, and the Court

In another swing of the pendulum, the progressive movement of civil rights and women’s equality in the mid-20th century gave way to religious revival and a conservative backlash in the 1980s. Dive into the Reagan era and the new battle for control over the Supreme Court.

38 min
History in Constitutional Interpretation

23: History in Constitutional Interpretation

How much, if at all, should history figure into constitutional interpretation? Throughout this course, we have seen how historical events have shaped constitutional law. In this penultimate lecture, take a step back to consider the debate over the Framers’ intentions and the “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution.

36 min
The Unresolved Constitution

24: The Unresolved Constitution

The American experiment continues. Despite more than two centuries of debates, disagreements, reforms, and setbacks, Americans continue to push for change. In our present age, the political divide and media noise arguably pose a unique threat to the Constitution. What happens next? Will we continue the search for a more perfect union?

41 min