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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 34.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from We Are In Federal Court Right Now! We started out as pro se plaintiffs, trying to protect the fundamental civil rights of vulnerable energy consumers (of electric power) because we could not afford our electric bills and our neighbors were having trouble paying their electric bills. We ordered Professor Berger's course because we are in a legal battle with a powerful electric company and a state regulatory authority, defended by the Attorney General of Connecticut. Foucault says that "Knowledge is Power!" Well, he is right! Regular citizens NEED the knowledge that law professors are teaching law students. Only, we ratepayers will live and die our case is dismissed for failure to properly state a claim. We are stating constitutional claims for life-saving relief. Quite a few poor disabled seniors have had their electric power shut off for nonpayment. And, they died. National news reports covered these unfortunate deaths: Linda Daniels, Henrietta Moore, Stephanie Pullman, Lester Berry, Marvin Shur. Only Constitutional law properly applied can save indigent seniors in the near future. Prof. Berger's lectures can save lives. We certainly hope so!
Date published: 2024-03-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good but not great I would have liked to have heard more often quotes from the dissenting judges in many of the controversial cases discussed. The Professor is naive in my opinion regarding the extent of voter fraud in the US. One does not have to believe that Donald Trump really won the 2020 election to be concerned about voter fraud. I recommend the book Who’s Counting?, which provides credible evidence that voter fraud has affected elections for the US Senate in Minnesota and the governorship of Washington state. The Professor goes into considerable detail regarding the legal philosophy of Originalism, which guides many conservative judges. However, he did not discuss the philosophical principles guiding liberal judges. He did not give his opinion on the concept of a “living constitution.” I don’t think he should have discussed the leaked opinion in the Dobbs case. He did not even show outrage that the draft opinion was leaked (almost certainly by someone associated with one of the liberal justices).
Date published: 2024-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from outstanding This course was very well organized. Each lecture covered a specific time/issue. The lecturer was very engaging and interesting.
Date published: 2024-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most riveting lectures! These 24 lectures were so well designed and presented that I had to just keep watching them. Eric Berger is a master at making the Constitution and the various interpretations throughout history come to life in his arm chair lectures.
Date published: 2024-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Or US History through the Constitution When I was in college I signed up for a class on the Constitution. On the first day a thick syllabus full of case law was handed out and the professor asked us to raise our hands if we were planning to go to law school. Most in the room raised their hands. I dropped the class and enrolled in a history class instead. This class is for people like me--people primarily interested in US history who want to know more about the Constitution. This is the class I was hoping for when I signed up for that pre-law-school class in college. If you would have stayed in my college class, you may want Professor Berger's other class, which is more focused on the law. This is more of a history class viewed through the lens of the Constitution. I watched the video, but there are minimal visuals, and Berger lectures sitting in a chair throughout. One complaint I would make is regarding the maps used--every map, regardless of the time period discussed, is a generic map of the continental US of today. This obviously does not reflect the reality of the time period under discussion in most of the lectures and could lead to confusion. Therefore not only would an audio version be fine, it might even be preferable.
Date published: 2023-12-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mostly Good I watched this course because I recently wrote a book on this subject at my publisher's request and was interested in how Professor Berger approached it. While I thought his political leanings were very clear in the first couple of lectures, I am probably more attuned to this than most, having researched and written on this topic. Still, I thought most of his lectures were excellent and worth watching. The closer he came to the present day, the more apparent his political views. The primary weakness of his later lectures is he increasingly becomes one-sided in his criticism. While he clearly identifies conservatives and originalism, he never clearly defines the opposing viewpoint. This can lead the viewer to the impression that there is the normal view and a partisan view (i.e., originalism). Thus, for example, I thought lecture 23, History in Constitutional Interpretation, was a fairly good introduction to originalism and its weaknesses, even though it stressed the weaknesses. This lecture was fine, but where is the corresponding lecture on the alternative? Where does even clearly define the alternative? He doesn't. The alternative is, BTW, the Living Constitution view, that our understanding of the document grows and evolves as time changes. Both views have strengths and weaknesses. Many have complained about the last lecture, and with good reason. Yet even here, Berger does fairly well through the first half of the lecture. The problems he raises are valid, but for the most part, his examples only come from one side, those he disagrees with. In the second half, he becomes overtly political and takes sides. There are two valid sides to all the issues he raises, but the farther you go into the last lecture, the more he contrasts the reasonable aspects of his views with the worst parts of those on the other side. For example, in Citizens United, the core issue is often overlooked: could Citizens United make and show a movie about Hillary Clinton without government interference? If Citizens United does not have free speech because they are a corporation, what about other corporations like the New York Times or Washington Post? One can see money in politics as a problem and believe the government should not limit speech. Much the same could be said for Professor Berger's other examples. For example, I have been looking into and writing about redistricting for several decades and share Professor Berger's concerns. I used to think "non-partisan" commissions were a good solution. But as they have worked out, there is no such thing. Who gets to gerrymander becomes who gets control of the commission rather than who wins the election. As bad as the latter is, at least they are accountable to the voters to some extent. Thus I think the Supreme Court was very wise to stay out of the process. In summary, Professor Berger's lectures are excellent for the first 2/3 of the course. The last third are good, but they become increasingly one-sided, with the last half of the last lecture being blatantly political.
Date published: 2023-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent historical summary Many lectures could have been expanded into another lecture series but for a basic course in 24 lectures I doubt that it could have been done better. There were some reviews complaining of bias and "liberal" attitude, especially in lecture 24. Those were the reviews that finally convinced me to buy the course. Anyone who uses the word "liberal" as a pejorative is only revealing what rabbit hole they've fallen into. Lecture 24 was the first lecture I watched and as I suspected it was excellent with a scary but accurate summary of the situation we are in now.
Date published: 2023-08-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very Informative The vast majority of this course provides an insight into to constitution that I had not taken into consideration. I have read the constitution but always took it a face value, Looking at the constitution from the perspective of the people who wrote it and amended it along with their biases and self serving agendas really makes you think. My only problem with the course was the clearly liberal bias of the presenter, In fact I highly recommend that anyone taking this course not bother with the lecture 24. Then final lecture is not a lecture at all but an opportunity for the professor to pontificate on his liberal ideas and provides not value whatsoever.
Date published: 2023-08-04
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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

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