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The Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution

Get a ring-side seat on the tremendous intellectual battles fought by our founding fathers as they worked to develop the U.S. Constitution—one of the most influential documents ever created.
Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 168.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! This is indeed a great academic course! Professor is fluent in the American founding, constitution law, civics and history, and provided interesting details in these 12-lecture series. I'd recommend this for history buffs, law buffs and general public who want to learn more about American Founding. Thanks!
Date published: 2024-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Prof. Pangle is a superb lecturer – he possesses a strong ability to explain abstract concepts clearly; his lectures are well organized; and he is masterful in the cadence and diction. The course is also very helpful with respect to civics – he genuinely helps us understand the debate that led to the creation of our nation.
Date published: 2023-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly educational This is an excellent course not only for the civic eduction that it conveys but also by the mastery of its delivery. Professor Pangle really does a marvelous job at presenting a potentially arid subject into an interesting, eloquent and attention grabbing historical story.
Date published: 2023-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Relevant Today [This course was a much appreciated birthday gift!] The course Scope introduces the opponents in the Philadelphia 1787-8 Great Debate: Federalists (Hamilton and Madison) who wanted a representative rather than a participatory government and Anti-Federalists who wanted to know what would “substitute for state…power against oppression by a strong central government"…a topic becoming increasingly relevant today. Lecture 3 (=L3) gave the source for Anti-Federalism: "Without…God, too many people are tempted to neglect...civic duties for the sake of ...material interests". Benjamin Franklin unsuccessfully pleaded this position. Local power (example: from small farmers) would produce representatives less tempted by ambition and self-sufficiency. Thus anti-Federalists sought (L5) equilibrium between state and national power. Madison the Federalist, however, was darker. He (L7) esoterically sought to use factionalism to control the “self-love" that drives human reason. Madison adopted modern political positioning to sell his POV. For example (L6), the central government would “probably” be financed by only import and export duties…while he promoted a national military and created the open-ended “incalculability of future national needs". State governments would have more positions to fill and provide for the people’s domestic needs and ONLY BY EFFICIENCY COULD THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT ECLIPSE THE PURVIEW OF THE STATES. His idea of the future did not foresee that such "efficiency" would lead to a $32 trillion national debt. The only check on the Feds would be state governments rallying popular disobedience. On the other hand, the Anti-Federalist could not provide a clear central government plan nor could they avoid the possibility of the states splitting up (L6) A point of agreement between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists (L8) was that “the law-making body (must be) directly dependent on, and sympathetic with, the people." Unfortunately, the modern welfare state (see Great Course: European History by Steinberg L36) has reversed the “sympathy and dependence direction”. No longer is the lawmaker dependent on the people, now the people have become dependent on the politician. Hamilton continued Madison’s representative (not democratic) view that virtue could be found only "in a tiny minority" (L8). His elite would consist of lawyers "sympathetic to commerce". Both feared the masses and Madison wanted “representatives who do not resemble their constituents but are…distinguished by their virtues”. He did provide an excellent argument for blending duties (instead of strictly separating them between the House, Senate, and President): “ to give each a constitutional control over the others." State legislature election of Senators was a nice idea of Hamilton’s but was lost in the 1913 17th Amendment as the “virtuous” Senators begat a “millionaire’s club atmosphere" AND locked state legislatures left positions open. The Anti-Federalists (L10) wanted the main checks and balances to be between states and the Feds. They unsuccessfully sought to find a substitute for the class-based competition found in the British government but by L11 they have lost to the Federalists. RELEVANCE TODAY: Anti-Federalists saw the Presidency (L10) as “posing the threat of monarchic despotism". George Washington gave 8 executive orders in 8 years. In the last 3 years, the Supreme Court has had to reverse/informally reject multiple major Presidential mandates as executive over-reach: Federal Eviction Moratorium (2021), Business Vaccine/testing (2022); and Student Debt Retirement (2/2023). In 3/2023 a Federal Court rejected the “Border Parole Policy" mandate. Additionally, modern Federalists briefly called for “court packing” thereby bolstering Anti-Federalist leeriness. Hamilton would have rebuffed court packing because the judiciary was (L11) " keep the (legislators/mandates) within the limits assigned to their authority”. This nod to the need for Anti-Federalist protections brings us to L12’s final Anti-Federalist warning: “fostering civic virtue...must be more vigorously cultivated in the populace.” It is held by some that our schools are losing this battle.
Date published: 2023-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vert thorough series This is an excellent series that discusses what the Federalist Papers really are: a work of advocacy, and not a guide to interpret the Constitution. The speaker does a great job of examining the predictions of the opponents of the Constitution (most of which came true, albeit not for about 200 years). The lectures go back and forth between the two sides, making it easy to understand the competing arguments. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2023-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not "1619" but the REAL history! Dr. Pangle does a fantastic job in showing the real and deep intentions of the creation of America. He brings in arguments from the Federalists and anti-Federalists to show the mixture of "small" and "big" government in order to create an ideal democratic republic. Using original documents and intentions, he shows that America was created not by "white racists" but men of their times who were trying to put together a balance of central and local governments. Essential listening
Date published: 2022-06-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Unfortunately, I have received none of the material. . . as of yet. I hope the material will make it to me some time soon.
Date published: 2022-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb exposition This colurse is really outrstandong in its presentation of this fundamental part of our history.Very well done and the teaching methpodology is superb. Clearly the professor an outstandoing academic and teacher.
Date published: 2021-12-16
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Get a ring-side seat on the tremendous intellectual battles fought by our founding fathers as they worked to develop the U.S. Constitution—one of the most influential documents ever created.


Thomas L. Pangle

Learning about the original debate over the founding and the meaning of our Constitution has never been more timely, and even urgent, than it is in our strife-ridden civic culture today.


The University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Thomas L. Pangle holds the Joe R. Long Chair in Democratic Studies in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin. He earned his B.A. from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago. Before joining the faculty at The University of Texas, Professor Pangle taught at Yale University, Dartmouth University, the University of Chicago, and the …cole des Hautes …tudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is the recipient of many awards and accolades, including four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Robert Foster Cherry Great Teacher of the World Prize from Baylor University. He also has given prestigious lectures, including the Exxon Lectures in Humane Approaches to the Social Sciences and the Werner Heisenberg Memorial Lecture at the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation in Munich. Professor Pangle is the author of several works on political thought, including The Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Vision of the American Founders and the Philosophy of Locke; The Ennobling of Democracy: The Challenge of the Postmodern Age; and Leo Strauss: An Introduction to His Thought and Intellectual Legacy. He also serves on the editorial boards of Political Research Quarterly and Polis: The Journal of the Society for Greek Political Thought.

By This Professor

Significance and Historical Context

01: Significance and Historical Context

We introduce the major players in the debate over the Constitution's ratification. Most important are those who took part in the struggle in New York—where some of the most thoughtful Anti-Federalist writings were produced and later responded to with the influential "Federalist" papers organized, and in substantial part written, by Alexander Hamilton.

34 min
Classical Republicanism

02: Classical Republicanism

The Anti-Federalists attack the proposed constitutional order, saying it departs too much from the traditionally revered Greco-Roman ideal of virtuous participatory republicanism. We clarify the Anti-Federalist objections and explore their own reservations about classical republicanism.

32 min
The Anti-Federalists' Republican Vision

03: The Anti-Federalists' Republican Vision

The participatory and virtue-centered vision of the Anti-Federalists dictates a more decentralized arrangement than the more consolidated national government proposed by the Federalists. We introduce the Federalists' response, highlighting their focus on the demands of national security and foreign policy.

28 min
The Argument over National Security

04: The Argument over National Security

Articulating a need for sound defense and foreign policy, "The Federalist" critiques the existing constitution, the Articles of Confederation, and then moves to a general critique of the inadequacy of confederacies. Anti-Federalists counter by suggesting that Federalists may be falling prey to visions of an empire.

34 min
The Deep Difficulties in Each Position

05: The Deep Difficulties in Each Position

Anti-Federalists accuse Federalists of giving national security pre-eminence over republican freedom. Federalists reply by claiming that Anti-Federalists fail to face up to what union and national security truly require.

34 min
Debating the Meaning of

06: Debating the Meaning of "Federalism"

The Federalists' defense of "Federalism" reveals that the state governments are to be strictly subordinate to the central government—thereby intensifying the Anti-Federalist critique.

32 min
The Madisonian Republic

07: The Madisonian Republic

How do the Federalists propose to prevent despotism in the central government? Their answer, articulated by James Madison, rejects the classical republican ideal of a confederacy of small, fraternal democracies in favor of a vast, representative republic, animated by competition among mutually hostile "factions."

30 min
The Argument over Representation

08: The Argument over Representation

Madison identifies majority faction as the overriding danger in republics and calls for a new conception of representative government removed from the populace—a call that echoes, although in a more aristocratic way, the emphasis upon virtue found in the classical tradition.

31 min
Disputing Separation of Powers, Part 1

09: Disputing Separation of Powers, Part 1

For Anti-Federalists, the proposed House of Representatives is too weak and will be overpowered by more powerful branches of government. For Federalists, the House is the most dangerous part of government and therefore most in need of being checked and balanced.

30 min
Disputing Separation of Powers, Part 2

10: Disputing Separation of Powers, Part 2

Anti-Federalists argue that a federal-level "separation of powers" would be merely artificial, with no reliable basis in social reality; they argue instead for state governments to check the federal government. They also argue for a small executive council instead of the proposed presidency.

30 min
The Supreme Court and Judicial Review

11: The Supreme Court and Judicial Review

Hamilton's expectation of a virtuous national leadership is most evident in his defense of the unelected, life-tenured Supreme Court and its historically unprecedented power of "judicial review." The Anti-Federalists predict abuse of this power and insist on a court that includes elected officials.

30 min
The Bill of Rights

12: The Bill of Rights

The addition, by the first Congress, of the 10 amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights, is the one great victory of the Anti-Federalists—but it is won at the ironic cost of giving much more power to a Supreme Court that they fear.

32 min