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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 4.8 out of 5 by 12.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very thorough and helpful lectures I learned that political differences in the United States have always been with us. The early debates about state sovereignty vs. federalism are, at root, still being debated today. Striving for "a more perfect" union seems to be a pretty high bar. The historical context surrounding major developments in the formation and amendments to the Constitution were enlightening.
Date published: 2022-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The US Constitution through History Great course, well organized and covers the evolution of our constitution from the beginning of the government until recent times. The course is easy to follow and covers all major shifts in constitutional history.
Date published: 2022-11-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Too detailed for my taste I enjoy listening to the lecture even though I often have difficulty following the detail. I am sure that many wish to thoroughly understand the whys and wherefores of the decisions made by the founders and writers of the Constitution, I prefer to grasp a general understanding of the document and tend to get lost in the detail.
Date published: 2022-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding in every way This is as thorough a course as 24 weeks will allow. The professor does an outstanding job of weaving together Law and History, with an explanation of the differences between those two disciplines. I recommend the course with no reservations, except to note that election deniers will not like the last lecture.
Date published: 2022-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Like sitting in on a university course. Very informative and educational. Need 17 more chars.
Date published: 2022-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top notch course! Prof. Berger gets high marks for this excellent journey through America’s constitutional history. A political liberal, the professor works very hard to present all sides of the constitutional issues and decisions he discusses and he does so fairly and nearly always without discernible partisan bias. That said, as another reviewer has noted, his political views become more transparent in the last handful of lectures. Although I watched a number of the lectures, this course works very well using audio only. Prof Berger’s voice is a bit raspy, but his manner is pleasant and he presents well in the new “armchair” studio format used in some of the Great Courses’ newer courses. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2022-11-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Almost Perfect I really like this course that that to me was a great mixture of constitutional history blended with US history. It showed just how influential the times surrounding any particular series of events in US history and development effects interpretation of the constitution. This is the course that every high school student should have in their curricula. Rather than the often dry explanations of court decisions, the professor really paints a societal picture surrounding each issue. My only brickbat was the ending of lecture 25 in which he seemed to take issue with the reactions of some election candidates to losing an election.
Date published: 2022-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from GREAT COURSE I enjoyed how the constitution is viewed through the lens of history. It helps a person see how interpretation has evolved over time. The last lecture in the series is extremely important because it addresses the future of the constitution.
Date published: 2022-11-06
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Overview

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.

About

Eric Berger

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

INSTITUTION

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
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The US Constitution through History
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The US Constitution through History

Trailer

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