Books That Matter: The Federalist Papers

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cogently taught; vital for our time! I suspect that many persons might balk at purchasing this course for fear that it would be "too dry." Happily, I can assure you that it is not! Professor Hoffman does a most admirable job of explaining the major arguments found in this important collection of arguments for adopting the Constitution offered by Founders Madison, Hamilton, and Jay in a clear, forceful, and interesting manner. Given the serious trouble the American Republic is in these days, every American ought to review the ideas behind, and the proposed operation of, the federal government created in the US Constitution. It is very interesting to see and consider the many ways Americans have, over the intervening centuries, changed both the intent of the Constitution through amendments, by vastly expanding the powers of the executive branch, by the Congress effecting delegating many of its powers to the executive (and to the many agencies unforeseen by the Founders), and by using the judicial branch to decide key issues in lieu of them being resolved by either the state legislatures of the Congress. The last two lectures in this 12-lecture course are, in fact, devoted to showing how some of these changes came about, but Professor Hoffmann leaves it to each viewer's opinion as to whether some -- or all -- of the changes are desirable. While the Constitution, as originally constructed, did give us a remarkable form of government that SHOULD have ensured a balanced and well-performing national government, it was the Founders' grave error of not anticipating the rise of political parties -- and the effect this would likely have on the character and focus of persons elected to the Congress -- that has subsequently gravely weakened the balanced functioning of the federal government. Nor did they foresee how alliances between "factions" -- our parties -- in the Congress and the presidency could create powerful incentives to pursue the self-interest of some over and against the needs of the country as a whole. While it was their intent that both the Congress and the executive care for the whole commonwealth, we have seen throughout our history -- and no more powerfully than the present -- how sectional competition for resources and power has effectively left some portions of our country and of our people under-represented and under-cared for. Personally, both as an American historian and as a person who has held both local and state elected office in my lifetime, I am deeply concerned about some of these changes. I believe we have seriously erred in giving too many powers to the executive branch while deeply weakening the congressional oversight the Founders thought critical to ensuring that the executive and its agents were staying true to the "faithful execution" of the laws and Constitution. This is a thoughtful course which invites thoughtful reaction, and I strongly endorse it for that reason. Thank you, Dr. Hoffmann, for this enlightening tour of this important collection of papers!
Date published: 2020-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I'm a naturalized citizen and keenly aware and appreciate the freedom in this country. Very concerned about what's happening in this country now. This course really helps me to understand the founding principles. Look forward to other courses on American history and government.
Date published: 2020-09-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Detailed explanation I wish we'd had this course in my Constitutional Law class in law school! The lecturer is sharp and precise, and covers a really impressive array of topics. The reason for not rating this 5 stars is that the discs, even though brand-new, have several skips in the middle lectures that are annoying. The subject matter, though, is worth five stars, if not more.
Date published: 2020-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Packed with Well Presented Information I began four courses at once. This was the first one I finished. I loved every moment of it. The presentation was excellent; the professor was clear and precise and I learned a great deal. What a pleasure to listen to this course.
Date published: 2020-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Federalist Papers Very fascinating and so prescient for the times! In order to vote in current elections, people need to educate themselves about what our forefathers intended.
Date published: 2020-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What to do After Reading/Watching Hamilton Several years ago I read Chernow's biography of Hamilton and then saw the play. I thought I knew something about civics, but this course was truly instrumental in teaching me so much more. What I learned from all this was just how fortunate we were to have framers such as Hamilton, Madison and Jay. And the instructor makes the whole experience so approachable and timely as well. I HIGHLY recommend this series and only wish that our elected officials would watch it as well.
Date published: 2020-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding lecturer! I have viewed a number of Great Courses, and I have watched and listened to a number of lecturers. Joseph L. Hoffman is one of the best that I have experienced so far! He is interesting, witty, humorous when it adds to the presentation, and he provided a fascinating presentation of a very important yet complex subject. He turned a lengthy series of 85 18th century articles into a clear and concise set of 12 lectures. Thank you!!
Date published: 2020-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Federalist Papers Matters This is a great course taught by an outstanding educator, Professor Hoffman. While I am familiar with the Constitution and United States history, I learned so much more about the opinions and reasoning that went into it. Federal vs state government, the roles and powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, system of checks and balances along with taxation, interstate and intrastate commerce, et al. It should be a must for each citizen and especially each student in our schools and universities. Madison, Hamilton and Jay understood the risks inherent in any form of government even our republic form and their writing turned out to be so prophetic in regard to human nature, government and power. We could avoid many of the issues, unrest and abuse in our government and society today if more people understood there is a right way and a wrong way to propose and make changes, why law and order are very key and so necessary to a functional society and understood each person's right to life, liberty and property and that property owned collectively or individually cannot be allowed to be taken or destroyed by others. That is the major reason for government.
Date published: 2020-08-16
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Books That Matter: The Federalist Papers
Course Trailer
A Blueprint for American Government
1: A Blueprint for American Government

Understanding The Federalist Papers starts with understanding who wrote them and why they were written. In this opening lecture, go back to 1787 to meet Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to find out what challenges they faced in communicating the need for the new U.S. Constitution.

34 min
A Democracy or a Republic?
2: A Democracy or a Republic?

The Framers of the Constitution believed pure democracy was something to be feared for the way it would lead to the rise of factions, which would in turn tear apart the system. Was it possible to create a new model that offered the benefits of representative democracy without the problems of factions? See how the Framers tackled this conflict.

34 min
A Federation or a Nation?
3: A Federation or a Nation?

When the Framers gathered in Philadelphia to write a new constitution, they essentially were representing a loose federation of nation-states. Their original charge was to modify the Articles of Confederation, but there was a solid case for a strong central government. Examine this dilemma and the compromises that Madison and Hamilton made.

35 min
American Federalism
4: American Federalism

Given all the conflicts and compromises of 1787, how did the American federal system come about? How did the Framers solve the issues of the day while preserving flexibility for the future? Review the enumerated powers of the federal government and see how power was balanced between the federal government and the states.

33 min
Dual Sovereignty
5: Dual Sovereignty

The system that emerged under the new constitution gave the federal government the ability to determine the scope of its own powers. What checks did the system place on the federal government? Who gets to decide when the federal government has violated its powers? Reflect on the powers of the states and the American people.

34 min
Popular Sovereignty and States’ Rights
6: Popular Sovereignty and States’ Rights

The idea of popular sovereignty—the power of the American people—reshaped the relationship between the states and the federal government. In this lecture, consider the ever-changing relationship of the states to the federal government. See how the institution of slavery was the catalyst for a crisis.

33 min
The Separation of Powers
7: The Separation of Powers

In Federalist Nos. 47 through 51, James Madison explains why the concept of “separation of powers” is so important for the future of the American government. Dig into these five amazing essays to understand what the familiar term “separation of powers” really means—and why he was so optimistic about America’s future.

32 min
The Federal Legislature
8: The Federal Legislature

James Madison believed the legislature posed the greatest threat to the integrity of the system the Framers had so carefully designed. In “Federalist No. 48,” “Federalist No. 51,” and elsewhere, he laid out warnings about the legislature seizing too much power, as well as the solution of a bicameral legislature. Delve into this thorny issue.

32 min
The President of the United States
9: The President of the United States

Shift your attention from the legislature to the chief executive, the single most powerful government official in the world today. But, as you will learn in your exploration of The Federalist Papers, the Framers had a different view of the presidency. Review Alexander Hamilton’s essays about the office and the powers of the president.

32 min
The Federal Judiciary
10: The Federal Judiciary

Round out your study of the branches of government with an in-depth look at the federal judiciary, one of the three branches of the federal government. The Framers believed the judiciary was the branch least likely to infringe on the liberty of the American people. Reflect on its role and its power, and then review the most important constitutional law case in American History: Marbury v. Madison.

33 min
The Evolution of American Federalism
11: The Evolution of American Federalism

The story of the Constitution is one of both stability and change. In this lecture, take a look at some of the most important ways the Constitution has evolved over the past 230 years. Consider whether the changes have largely honored the original spirit of the Constitution or broken faith with the vision of the Framers.

33 min
The Future of the United States Constitution
12: The Future of the United States Constitution

What does the future look like for America’s democratic republic? As you have seen, one of the most important trends has been the gradual increase in federal power, but the tension between federal and state power remains. Is there still a future for republican government? What might a Second Constitutional Convention look like? And would we want to find out?

35 min
Joseph L. Hoffmann

Criminal law has become the sole province of the government acting on behalf of society as a whole, rather than on behalf of the crime victims.


University of Washington School of Law


Indiana University Maurer School of Law

About Joseph L. Hoffmann

Joseph L. Hoffmann is the Harry Pratter Professor of Law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, where he has taught since 1986. He received a J.D. (cum laude) from the University of Washington School of Law. After law school, Professor Hoffmann clerked for the Honorable Phyllis A. Kravitch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and for then-associate justice William H. Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court. Professor Hoffmann is a nationally recognized scholar in the fields of criminal law, criminal procedure, habeas corpus, and the death penalty. He was a co-principal investigator for the Capital Jury Project, the largest empirical project ever to study jury decision making in capital cases, and has been a consultant in criminal and death penalty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. At Indiana University, Professor Hoffmann has been recognized with the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award, the Leon H. Wallace Teaching Award, the Trustees’ Teaching Award, the Teaching Excellence Recognition Award, and the Gavel Award. Professor Hoffmann is the co-author of two of the leading casebooks used by law students across the United States: Defining Crimes and Comprehensive Criminal Procedure. In 2007, Professor Hoffmann appeared in the PBS series The Supreme Court.

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