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America's Founding Fathers

Historian and Professor Allen C. Guelzo reveals how America's Founding Fathers played their own unique roles in shaping the grand story of the U.S. Constitution.
America's Founding Fathers is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 220.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Invaluable Perspectives for Today's America I'd asked for this course as a Christmas gift from my wife, and even then, it was a delightful surprise—one of the most impressive of the more than 70 Great Courses editions I've owned. By tying the events of the nation's founding to the associated personalities, it paints a striking picture of the discord and clashing goals that made creating and preserving this republic a challenge right from the start. As those challenges continue in 2024, this course places them in a historical context that's invaluable. If every high school student in America viewed these lectures, our voting public would be the better for it. As a side note, something about Professor Guelzo reminds me of the actor Kelsey Grammer, including the subtle, theatrical flourishes with which he livens up his material. His delivery is memorable and really quite engaging.
Date published: 2024-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course These lectures detail the trials of a young country attempting to develop a constitution and a new form of government. Professor Guelzo is a riveting presenter who seems to lecture without notes or a teleprompter. This is a fascinating course and I was unaware of many of the facts the professor divulged. If all teachers had the knowledge and enthusiasm that Professor Guelzo possesses, history in school would not have been boring.
Date published: 2024-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Encyclopedic For the first few lectures, I was somewhat put off by the Professor’s style of presentation. After about six lectures, I began to find his style very effective. At times, as he read the words of the Founding Fathers it was as though they were speaking directly to me.
Date published: 2024-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A superb look at the founding of America I have bought dozens of courses and many were great. But this one is the best. Prof. Guelzo presents the founding of America with enthusiasm, great detail, and unique insight, often in the words of the creators of the constitution. Guelzo's animated presentation is riveting. As watch and listen to each lecture, you get to feel what it was like to live during these uncertain times. Even if you are a history buff, you will find this course fascinating... and enjoyable.
Date published: 2023-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT This professor made you feel as if you knew each of the Founding Fathers by the time the lecture was over. It is excellent. I would recommend it to anyone interested in this period of American history.
Date published: 2023-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceedingly Excellent Course Our constitution, while short, is a complex document full of compromises that have continued to haunt us until this very day. The founding of UNITED States of America was no sure deal. There many forces competing with other visions for our future. Professor Guelzo does an excellent job of presenting and explaining the history of the forces in play, the compromises resulting and the personalities involved. While I have been a casual student of American History all my life, this course gave me many new insights. Now let’s talk about Professor Guelzo… without a doubt he would have made a great Shakespearean actor. I do not recall seeing many more animated presenters than Professor Guelzo. His presentation added immensely to my enjoyment of this course. I wholeheartedly recommend this course to anyone with any interest in history and the founding of our country.
Date published: 2023-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Revelation I majored in biology and didn't study much history after high school. I'm enjoying this course immensely. So refreshing to hear references to primary source material. Professor Guelzo is a gifted teacher - always keeps it interesting and in context.
Date published: 2023-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course! I throughly enjoyed this course. The professor is knowledgeable and can teach the subject in an interesting manner. Highly Recommend
Date published: 2023-01-24
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In collaboration with Smithsonian, the Great Courses presents America's Founding Fathers, a deep dive into the creation of the U.S. Constitution as it actually happened. Using the Founding Fathers as a lens through which to see powerful truths about the early political history of the United States, you'll better understand both the document under which Americans live and the people who, for better or worse, brought it into being.


Allen C. Guelzo

For Lincoln, no matter what our political persuasions, moral principle in the end is all that unites us and all that ensures that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.


Gettysburg College

Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Among garnering other honors, he has received the Medal of Honor from the Daughters of the American Revolution. He is a member of the National Council on the Humanities. Professor Guelzo is the author of numerous books on American intellectual history, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War era. His publication awards include the Lincoln Prize as well as the Abraham Lincoln Institute Prize for two of his books-Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America–making him the first double Lincoln laureate in the history of both prizes. His critically acclaimed book, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2008. Professor Guelzo has written for The American Historical Review, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and he has been featured on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, C-SPAN's Booknotes, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

By This Professor

America's Founding Fathers
America's Founding Fathers


George Washington's Doubts

01: George Washington's Doubts

Could the American experiment succeed? George Washington, one of the most iconic Founders, had strong doubts. After explaining the importance of getting a well-rounded understanding of the Founders, Professor Guelzo explores Washington's fears about post-Revolutionary America and his concerns about how people could administer their own affairs....

31 min
Thomas Mifflin's Congress

02: Thomas Mifflin's Congress

Before the ratification of the Constitution, there were presidents not of the United States but of the Congress created by the Articles of Confederation. As you'll discover, the failures of one president, Thomas Mifflin, offer a window into the potent problems facing the United States of America in 1783....

26 min
Robert Morris's Money

03: Robert Morris's Money

Money issues abounded in the new United States. Why was the abundance of land (and the lack of hard coin) such a problem? What compelled states to print so much of their own unsecure paper money? How did Robert Morris attempt to restore the links between commerce, agriculture, and government finances?

28 min
Benjamin Franklin's Leather Apron

04: Benjamin Franklin's Leather Apron

No one in the 1780s defined the idea of an "American" as much as Benjamin Franklin. Here, explore the many roles Franklin played in the formative years of the republic: as independent printer, public "gentleman," nobleman of nature, and tradesman cynical of the wealthy and powerful....

27 min
Thomas Jefferson's Books

05: Thomas Jefferson's Books

Explore how books by Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith influenced Thomas Jefferson's political philosophy. Also, consider Jefferson's fierce critiques of religion and commerce, and the ways he nevertheless betrayed (as a large-scale slave owner) the Enlightenment principles he held so dear....

31 min
Daniel Shays's Misbehavior

06: Daniel Shays's Misbehavior

Shays's Rebellion would spark unease not just about tax increases and their impact on landowners - but on the entire Confederation. As you follow this dramatic insurgency and its fascinating leader, you'll learn how Shays's Rebellion prompted many to consider a strong government as essential to liberty and property....

27 min
Alexander Hamilton's Republic

07: Alexander Hamilton's Republic

Professor Guelzo takes you inside Alexander Hamilton's views about the American Republic: the fictions of hierarchy and aristocracy; the voluntary compact between rulers and ruled; the division of power into small packets; and his suspicions of the behavior of the Confederation Congress....

29 min
James Madison's Conference

08: James Madison's Conference

How did James Madison become the prime mover of the United States Constitution? The key, it turns out, is a 1786 conference he organized between several states. Originally intended to discuss commercial regulations, the assembly would transform into a deliberation over how to put the Confederation out of business....

27 min
Patrick Henry's Religion

09: Patrick Henry's Religion

Come to see Patrick Henry in a new light: as the most self-contradictory-and most often defeated-Founder. Topics include the influence on Henry of the Reverend Samuel Davies, how the Awakeners shaped his brilliant oratorical skills, the public funding of Christianity, and his unremarkable accomplishments as governor of Virginia....

30 min
James Madison's Vices

10: James Madison's Vices

In a private study, James Madison detailed what he called "the vices of the political system of the United States." Here, explore these vices, including state failure to comply with constitutional requisitions and the provincial nature of state legislatures. Also, examine his most important suggestions for a new frame of government....

32 min
Edmund Randolph's Plan

11: Edmund Randolph's Plan

Go inside the start of the Constitutional Convention, where you'll learn how and why the Founders assembled to craft a new, improved system of government. Central to this was the plan set out by Edmund Randolph, which aimed at stopping a jealous Congress or greedy state legislatures from destroying it....

29 min
William Paterson's Dissent

12: William Paterson's Dissent

One speech by William Paterson, a member of the New Jersey delegation, halted the Randolph Plan from sailing smoothly to adoption. What were Paterson's arguments? Why did he support a simple amendment to the Articles of Confederation instead of a rewrite? What did his alternative plan look like?...

30 min
Roger Sherman's Compromise

13: Roger Sherman's Compromise

Turn to a moment of great exhaustion at the Constitutional Convention: a deadlock between the New Jersey and Virginia plans for a national government. Roger Sherman's compromise of two branches of government (one equal, one proportional) would play an important role in moving the debate forward....

30 min
Elbridge Gerry's Committee

14: Elbridge Gerry's Committee

Discover how the report by the Convention's Grand Committee, chaired by Elbridge Gerry, ended the first great battle over the U.S. Constitution. As you'll find out, it settled for good what the American Congress would look like - but also raised an issue that would soon dominate the debates: slavery....

29 min
James Wilson's Executive

15: James Wilson's Executive

Turn now to the next great issue facing the Convention: the shape of the new national executive. After pondering some of the concerns and fears the delegates had about executive power, you'll focus on James Wilson's argument for the need of an executive chosen not by Congress but by national election....

30 min
John Rutledge's Committee

16: John Rutledge's Committee

John Rutledge's Committee of Detail answered the call to help answer unresolved questions about the role of the national executive. Here, learn how "Dictator John" helped develop a working document that included a number of features now seen as the cornerstone of American constitutionalism....

29 min
Rufus King's Slaves

17: Rufus King's Slaves

It was Rufus King who, at the debates, questioned the admission of slaves into the rule of representation. First, explore the dissonance between liberty and slavery in the new United States. Then, come to see how Rufus King predicted the angry tiger slavery would become in America....

30 min
David Brearley's Postponed Parts

18: David Brearley's Postponed Parts

The Committee on Postponed Parts, headed by David Brearley, was the Convention's most effective committee. Its business, as you'll learn, was to reconcile demands about the shape of the new national president. You'll also learn about the Committee on Style, whose sole task was to wordsmith the Convention's agreements into a single document....

31 min
John Dunlap and David Claypoole's Broadside

19: John Dunlap and David Claypoole's Broadside

One day after the Constitutional Convention ended, the document was printed in 500 copies by John Dunlap and David Claypoole and shared with the general public. What happened next? How did George Washington use a cover letter to mitigate shock? How did the Founders brace themselves for the inevitable state conventions?

31 min
Alexander Hamilton's Papers

20: Alexander Hamilton's Papers

Chief Justice John Marshall would call the Federalist Papers the "complete commentary on our constitution." Here, Professor Guelzo explains the daring act of aggression these lanmark political writings were, and outlines the six themes Hamilton (under the pseudonym "Publius") believed would demonstrate the indispensability of the new constitution....

30 min
Patrick Henry's Convention

21: Patrick Henry's Convention

The fate of the new constitution depending on the state ratifying conventions. And because Virginia's consent was necessary to make the overall ratification process work, neutralizing Patrick Henry was the Federalists' most important task. Go inside the battleground of the ratifying convention at Richmond on June 2, 1788....

30 min
George Washington's Inaugural

22: George Washington's Inaugural

First, examine hurdles to electing George Washington as the first president of the United States. Then, follow the story of how the Constitution finally got its bill of rights, and how this task was undertaken by the one man who most vehemently opposed such a bill: James Madison....

31 min
Alexander Hamilton's Reports

23: Alexander Hamilton's Reports

As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton had the responsibility of handling the new nation's foreign, state, and domestic debts. In this lecture, learn how Hamilton saw debt not as a problem but an asset, and discover how he argued for the establishment of a national bank....

32 min
Thomas Jefferson's Party

24: Thomas Jefferson's Party

In the past, Thomas Jefferson denounced political parties. Now, after the ratification of the Constitution, he began to form the nation's first political party. Discover how he did this by assembling allies, appealing selected individuals to run for Congress, and playing for control of the media....

29 min
William Findley's Whiskey

25: William Findley's Whiskey

Whiskey, on the frontier of the early Republic, was a major business. So when the national government proposed an excise tax on whiskey, it led to the Whiskey Rebellion. Go back to the summer of 1794 and meet William Findley, a self-styled republican who saw Republican societies as vehicles for political strategy.

30 min
Benjamin Banneker's Survey

26: Benjamin Banneker's Survey

How was the location of the nation's new capital decided upon? How were the streets of Washington organized? What happened when Washington asked Congress for money? It all started, as you'll learn, with Benjamin Banneker's surveying mission of the iconic site on the eastern branch of the Anacostia River....

29 min
John Jay's Treaty

27: John Jay's Treaty

With a new nation came new international crises. In this lecture, go inside the 28 articles of John Jay's eponymous treaty with Great Britain, which addressed unfinished business from the Treaty of Paris, and the subsequent uproar that gave a boost to polarization between America's political parties....

30 min
John Adams's Liberty

28: John Adams's Liberty

According to Professor Guelzo, if George Washington was the heart of republic, John Adams was its brain. Follow the Founder as he becomes the first vice president, then the second president of the nation, where he suffers catastrophic blunders that sap him of any political advantages he once had....

30 min
Hector Saint John de Crevecoeur's Americans

29: Hector Saint John de Crevecoeur's Americans

Crevècoeur's Letters from an American Farmer presented Americans at the end of the 18th century as a people unlike any other nation. From this starting point, explore the demographics of the early United Sates, witness the early stirrings of abolitionist and women's suffrage movements, and probe America's cultural fear of strangers....

31 min
Timothy Dwight's Religion

30: Timothy Dwight's Religion

Timothy Dwight, a president at Yale University, played a pivotal role in cementing the early nation's ties with the Christian faith. Come to see how Christianity, when defined and defended as a virtue, was seen by Dwight and others as a necessary component of republican government....

30 min
James McHenry's Army

31: James McHenry's Army

Meet another often-overlooked Founder, Secretary of War James McHenry, who was responsible for putting the nation's army into play for the first time. Despite political backstabbing, and against the backdrop of the Quasi-War with France, McHenry brought about military changes still with us today....

30 min
Thomas Jefferson's Frustration

32: Thomas Jefferson's Frustration

Focus on some of the many conflicts between Thomas Jefferson's political philosophies and the reality of American life. Chief among these was his belief that an economy based on the virtuous independent farmer had no need of imports or exports - which led to the controversial Embargo Act of 1807....

32 min
Aaron Burr's Treason

33: Aaron Burr's Treason

Aaron Burr's duel with Alexander Hamilton, resulting the latter's death, is one of the most infamous chapters in the history of the Founding Fathers. But, as you'll learn, what's equally important is what happened next: that the Constitution protected even the liberties of someone like him, who meant it harm....

31 min
John Marshall's Court

34: John Marshall's Court

Explore the court of Chief Justice John Marshall. In major court cases like Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland, Marshall would devise a national judicial sovereignty to match the constitutional and economic sovereignty envisioned by Madison and Hamilton, and to save the United States from Jacobin Republicanism....

30 min
James Madison's War

35: James Madison's War

The "age of the Founders" ends with the War of 1812 and James Madison at the helm of government. You'll learn why the United States was disastrously unprepared for war, and you'll get a closer look at the state of the nation as it was bequeathed to Madison's successor, James Monroe....

32 min
Alexis de Tocqueville's America

36: Alexis de Tocqueville's America

In the first part of this last lecture, learn the fates of each of the Founding Fathers discussed in this course. Then, close with a look at Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, which suggests the new nation's focus on self-interest instead of virtue (as well as a lack of art and culture)....

34 min