The Constitution, the Articles, and Federalism: Crash Course US History #8


Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course U.S. History, and today we’re going to talk about the United States Constitution. And, in doing so, we’re going to explore how the American style of government became the envy of the entire world, so much so that everyone else copied us. What’s that, Stan? We’re not gonna talk about other countries
stealing our form of government? Because no other country stole our form of
government? That – that doesn’t seem possible, Stan. [Patriotic Rock Music] No, Stan, not the Libertage, cue the intro! [Theme Music] So, today we’re going to learn why the green
areas of not-America didn’t copy us. All right, so as Americans may dimly remember from history classes, the Constitutional system we’ve been living under since 1788, the year of the first Presidential election, was not the original American government. The first government set up by the Continental Congress was called the Articles of Confederation and it was, in a word: Bad. In two words, it was not good, which is why
it only lasted 10 years. The problem with the confederation is that it wasn’t so much a framework for a national government as it was a “firm league of friendship,” which unfortunately only sounds like a team
of Care Bear Superheroes. The Articles set up a “government” that consisted of a one-house body of delegates, with each state having a single vote, who, acting collectively, could make decisions on certain issues that affected all the states. There was no president and no judiciary. You can try to tell me that John Hanson, the president of the congress, was the first American president, but it’s just not true. Any decision required 9 of the 13 congressional votes, which pretty much guaranteed that no decisions would ever be made. Ahh, super majorities: Always so efficient. But besides the 2/3rds requirement, the Congress
was very limited in what it could actually do. The government could declare war, conduct foreign affairs and make treaties – basically, the stuff you need to do to go to war with England. It could coin money, but it couldn’t collect
taxes; that was left to the states. So if you needed money to, say, go to war
with Britain, you had to ask the states politely. The articles could be amended, but that required a unanimous vote, so zero amendments were ever passed. The government was deliberately weak, which followed logically from Americans’ fear of tyrannical governments taxing them and quartering soldiers in their houses and so on. But here’s the thing, weak government is
like nonalcoholic beer: It’s useless. That said, the Articles government did accomplish
a couple things. First, it won the war, so, yay – unless you were a slave or a Native American, in which case, you know, probable boo. Second, the government developed rules for dealing with one of the most persistent problems facing the new nation: Ohio. Which was called the northwest, presumably
because it is north and west of Virginia. Getting control of the land meant taking it from the Indians who were living there, and the Articles government was empowered to make treaties, which it did. Crash Course World History fans will remember the Athenians telling the Melians that “the strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must,” and the Americans definitely went to the Athenian
School of Treaty-Making. Through treaties signed at Fort Stanwix and Fort McIntosh, the Indians surrendered land north of the Ohio River. The biggest accomplishment of the Articles government was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which set up a process to create 5 new states between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Two things to know about this: first, it acknowledged that American Indians had a claim to the land and that they had to be treated better if settlers wanted to avoid violence. And second, Stan, can I get the
foreshadowing filter? Yes, perfect. The ordinance outlawed slavery in all five
of the new states. Still, the Articles government was a complete disaster for exactly one reason: It could not collect taxes. Both the national government and the individual states had racked up massive debt to pay for the war, and their main source of revenue became tariffs, but because Congress couldn’t impose them, states had to do it individually. And this made international trade a total nightmare, a fact worsened by the British being kinda cranky about us winning the war and therefore unwilling to trade with us. In 1786 and 1787, the problem got so bad in Massachusetts that farmers rose up and closed the courts to prevent them from foreclosing upon their debt-encumbered farms. This was called Shays’ Rebellion, after Revolutionary War veteran and indebted farmer Daniel Shays. The uprising was quelled by the state militia, but for many, this was the sign that the Articles government, which couldn’t deal with the crisis at all, had to go. But not for everyone; Thomas Jefferson,
for instance, was a fan of Shay’s Rebellion. “A little rebellion now and then is a good
thing. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time
to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Which is all fine and good, I mean, unless
you’re the bleeding patriots or tyrants. But to most elites, Shays’ Rebellion showed that too much democratic liberty among the lower classes could threaten private property. Also, people who held government bonds were nervous, because without tax revenue, they were unlikely to get paid back. And when rich people feel like something has
to be done, something is usually done. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. The first attempt to do something was a meeting in Annapolis in 1786 aimed at better regulating international trade. Only six states sent delegates, but they agreed to meet the next year in Philadelphia to “revise” the Articles of Confederation. The delegates who met in Philly the next year
had a funny definition of “revision,” though. Rather than make tweaks to the articles, they wrote a new charter of government, the Constitution, which is, with some significant alterations, the same one that Americans live under and argue about today. Despite what some seem to believe, the 55 men who met in Philadelphia and hammered out a new form of government were not gods, but they were far from ordinary, especially for the time. Most were wealthy, some very much so. More than half had college educations, which was super rare since .001% of Americans attended college at the time. About 40% had served in the army during the
war. But, one thing they all shared was a desire
for a stronger national government. The delegates agreed on many things: the government should have executive, legislative,
and judicial branches; and should be republican, with representatives,
rather than direct democracy. But the devil appeared in the details. Alexander Hamilton, probably the biggest proponent of very strong government, wanted the President and Senate to serve life terms, for example. That idea went nowhere because the overarching concern of almost all the delegates was to create a government that would protect against both tyranny by the government itself and tyranny by the people. They didn’t want too much government, but they also didn’t want too much democracy, which is why our Presidents are still technically elected not directly by regular people but by 538 members of the Electoral College. This system is so byzantine and strange that when American politicians speak of spreading democracy through the world, they never actually advocate for American-style elections. Thanks, Thought Bubble. Yes, I know, you have fantastic elections
in Canada. Yeah, right, OK. All that too.
I get it, OK? It’s U.S. History, Thought Bubble. So conflicts between competing interests arose quickly at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The first being between states with big populations
and those with small populations. Large states supported James Madison’s Virginia Plan, which called for a two-house legislature with representation in both proportional to a state’s population. And smaller states, fearing that the big boys would dominate, rallied behind the New Jersey plan. [muttered] New Jersey. This called for a single legislative house with equal representation for each state, as with the Articles of Confederation. But, of course, coming from New Jersey, it had no chance of succeeding, and sure enough, it didn’t. Instead we got the Great Compromise, brokered by Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, which gave us two houses: a House of Representatives with representation proportional to each state’s population, and a Senate with two members from each state. House members, also called Congressmen, served two year terms while Senators served six year terms, with 1/3 of them being up for election in every 2 year cycle. The House was designed to be responsive to the people, while the Senate was created to never pass anything and it was so masterfully designed that it still works to this day. However, this solution created another problem:
Who should be counted in terms of representation? Slaveholding states wanted slaves to count toward their population, even though of course they could not vote, because they were property. States with few slaves argued that slaves shouldn’t be counted as people because, just to be clear, none of these dudes were not racist. This issue was solved with the notorious 3/5ths
compromise. For the purpose of determining the population, the total number of white people plus 3/5ths the population of “other persons” – the word “slave” was never used – would be the basis for the calculation. So yeah, that’s still in the Constitution. The Constitution also contains a fugitive slave clause requiring any escaped slave to be returned to their master. And this meant that a slave couldn’t escape slavery by moving to a state where slavery was outlawed, which meant that on some level some states couldn’t enforce their own laws. Spoiler alert: this becomes problematic. But except for the tyranny of slavery, the
framers really hated tyranny. To avoid tyranny of the government, the Constitution embraced two principles: Separation of powers and federalism. The government was divided into three branches – legislative, executive, and judiciary, and the Constitution incorporated checks and balances: each branch can check the power The legislature can make laws, but the president
can veto those laws. The judiciary can declare laws void, too,
but that’s a power they had to grant themselves. You won’t find it in the Constitution – I
promise, you can look for it. And federalism is the idea that governmental authority rests both in the national and the state governments. As an American, I am a citizen both of the
United States and of the state of Indiana. And the national government, the one set up by the Constitution, is supposed to be limited in scope to certain enumerated powers. Most other powers, especially the protection of
health, safety and morals, are left to the states. But the Constitution also seeks to protect against the radicalism that too much democracy can bring. The mostly rich framers worried that the people, many of whom were poor and indebted, might vote in congress people, or God forbid a President, in favor of, like, redistribution of property. To hedge against this, senators were elected by the states, usually by state legislatures, and they were supposed to be, like, leading citizen types. You know, the kind of good Americans who take bribes and have adulterous affairs in airport bathrooms and patronize prostitutes and shoot Alexander Hamilton. Anyway, the other hedge against too much democracy is the aforementioned Electoral College, which many Americans hate because it has the potential to elect a president who did not win the popular vote, but that’s kind of the point. The electors were supposed to be prominent, educated men of property who were better able to elect a president than, like, the rabble. But, the Constitution of the United States is a really impressive document, especially when you consider its longevity. I mean, as Crash Course World History fans will remember, the nation-state is pretty new on the historical scene, and the United States established by the Constitution, is actually one of the oldest ones. But the Constitution would be meaningless if it hadn’t been ratified, which it was, but not without a fight that helped clarify America’s political ideology. 9 out of the 13 states were required to ratify the Constitution in special conventions called for the purpose. In order to convince the delegates to vote for it, three of the framers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote a series of 85 essays that together are known as the Federalist Papers. Taken together, they’re a powerful and ultimately persuasive argument for why a strong national government is necessary and ultimately not a threat to people’s liberty. Oh, it’s time for the Mystery Document? The rules here are simple. If I name the author of the Mystery Document, shock as in surprise. If I don’t shock as in [gurgling noise] All right, Stan, let’s see what we’ve
got here. “If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and
those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.” Federalist Papers. Alexander Hamilton.
[dinging noise] YES. Too easy, Stan, although I appreciate the
opportunity for a rant. The whole idea of the Second Amendment was that the people could protect themselves from a standing army by being equally well-armed. Which, these days, would mean not that citizens should have the right to buy assault rifles, but that they should have the right to buy, like, unmanned drones. And arguably, suitcase nukes. And by the way, in the Constitution, this
is not listed as a privilege, it is listed as a right. And, as a right, if I can’t afford my own predator drone, I guess the government should buy one for me. It’s almost as if Alexander Hamilton had no way of knowing that weaponry would one day advance past the musket. P.S. You know how Alexander Hamilton died? GUNSHOT. Sorry, I just, I had to. I am on a roll. So, it would be easy to ignore the people who opposed the Constitution because, you know, they lost. But some of the ideas of these so-called Anti-Federalists were particularly powerful, and they deserve a bit of attention. Anti-Federalists, unlike the mostly wealthy federalists, were usually supported by common people, small farmers who weren’t as involved in commercial activity. They saw less need for a strong national government
that would foster trade and protect creditors. And, the Anti-Federalists were very afraid of a strong government, especially one dominated by the wealthy. Writers like James Winthrop held that a large group of united states would be like an empire and “that no extensive empire can be governed upon Republican principles.” As evidence, he could point to Britain, or
all the way back to Rome. Smaller, more local governments, are more responsive to the people and better able to protect their rights. To the Anti-Federalists, that meant state
governments. And while ultimately the Federalists won out and the Constitution was ratified, the issue of how large government should be did not go away. So, the Constitution was really only a starting
point. It’s a vague document, and the details would
be worked out in the political process. And then on the battlefield. Thanks for watching.
I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller. Our script supervisor is Meredith Danko. The show is written by my high school history
teacher, Raoul Meyer, and myself. Edited by Stan and Mark Olsen. The associate producer is Danica Johnson. And our graphics team is Thought Bubble. If you have questions about today’s video,
or anything about American history, good news: there are historians in comments, so ask away. Thanks for watching Crash Course and as we
say in my hometown, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. You know how it says all men are created equal? Well, George Washington had 200 slaves and so did Benjamin Franklin when they signed it. It should have been "All mean are created equal, but some are created equaler then others."

  2. There is a clear political bias here. As with the video as a whole , you have to watch closely and perhaps a couple of times.

  3. the first 45 secs i learned that everyone copied usa… mmm ok,, moving on to an other vid to actually learn about the constitution.

  4. If you have a test and are crying clap your hands~ CLAP CLAP If your crying and you hate yourself clap your hands~

  5. For the 2.2 THOUSAND people who disliked this video, please tell me why? I liked it and I'm not going to change my opinion, but please leave me a response telling me why?

  6. The next President has to sit down with Congress and together add an amendment to the constitution stating that any sitting criminal President shall be, and will be indicted for high crimes and misdemeanors against the constitution and all Federal law.
    This should fall under checks and balances protecting the one piece of paper that holds this Nation together. This new amendment would supersede any rule in place at the Department of Judice and if the Electoral College got stupid once again and hired off the street the new amendment would crush the traitor.

  7. I’m scared I’m only in 7th grade and this is confusing but I have a quiz tmr so wish me luck

    Edit: he explained it well I’m just stupid

  8. Why do people think Canada’s health care is so good Sure it’s “free” but it sucks. For example if you have a broken leg it takes any where between a week to a month to get treatment. When people say it’s free to it kinda annoying because nothing is free some one (hard working tax payers) pays for it.

  9. ain't property rights part of people's rights? also the true threat to any liberty, not just private property is monopolies on arbitration like a government.

    Oh, and taxation is theft.

  10. (SEEING YOU ADVOCATE FOR GUN CONTROL MADE ME WINCE SO BADLY IT MADE MY EYES BLEED RUST AND HANDS GLITCH)

  11. the original purpose was for the states to be independent and the federal just to join in when stuff actually effected every body, now the states need the federal goverment

  12. Me sitting here at midnight trying to figure out what a Federalist is, for my 250-word political speech that's due in 12 hours in pre-IB US history

  13. I’m here to study for a quiz in civics and I have to memorize the preamble and what the articles are about….heeheee welp there goes my grade

  14. To be clear, the ones who didn’t want any slaves counted where the ones who were against slavery. The ones for slavery like the slave owners wanted extra votes so they wanted them to count as a whole person. Don’t act like both sides where racist

  15. "A President that didnt win the popular vote"???

    Dont come to the future, in 2019 we have a President who lost the popular vote by 3 million votes!

  16. I find it incredibly frustrating to watch these, primarily because whilst they're fantastic tools to show students for educational means, the amount that the history is critiqued in the modern mind-set, and how much the writers have knitted their opinions into this (regardless of whether I agree/disagree) leaves it to be thoroughly flawed. Professional History should refrain from inflicted their current opinions upon History lest they be judged in the same stead.

  17. I think the Constitution is still around over 200 years after its ratification because of tradition. The modern US gov doesnt give af about the Constitution, only revenue generation to stave off bankruptcy while we wage endless wars and police the activity of 3rd world countries will also keepong them poor which that we can continue to exploit their low standard of living and force them to produce consumer goods.

  18. this guy is so easy to under stand, its not like i have to skip back everytime i hear something intresting to properly understand it lol

  19. What do you mean "Canada has better elections". Because NO; we don't. Because the Canadian population is more in the east then the West.

  20. "except for the tyranny of slavery the framers really hated tyranny." yeah, they did. slavery was on its way out at that point. they made that clear. hence things like the 3/5ths compromise. it was a compromise because a lot of people didn't support slavery or have slaves. They outlawed slavery in a lot of states, and any new states, not but a decade or 2 later lots of laws. one of which: "The following legislation, "An ACT to amend the several laws concerning slaves," was passed by the General Assembly on January 25, 1806, and prohibits the importation of slaves to Virginia and requires that any freed slaves leave the state within twelve months."

  21. regarding the second amendment "its listed as a right." um, duh. a god given right as the framers would put it. yes. it is your right to own these things. period. none of your arguments matter. yes that even includes drones (at the time it included canons) you're a liar.

  22. You should try to talk slower because some of us aren’t history geniuses like you and don’t know like half of the words you are saying mean, factoring in how you are speaking them out like a robot. You have a lot of good information in your videos, but I don’t get any of your jokes which leaves me confused on what you are saying. Can you try to stop using a bunch of unneeded information and say only the main ideas and go straight to the point? I’m not trying to spend an hour over a 15 minute video because I don’t know what the heck is going on. I bet a lot of other people who aren’t the best at history would agree with me, thanks.

  23. My teacher sucks. He has us do busy work all day, and springs tests on us like, "Guys there's a test tomorrow so do your 50 page chapter outlines to study for it." So I resorted to the faithful and diligent John Green. I'll let you know if I ace my Constitution test Mr. Green.

  24. Ignorant look up the history a mini shot muskets in the blender Buster they knew what they were talking about when they're making the amendments

    Just look up the history of guns

  25. what is wrong with electoral college? I think its the best system yet, not the most perfect though. I envy you american, you should be grateful to be born there. There's a lot people that is not so fortunate to born in a less successful country.

  26. Might as well tear the thing up. The corporate world and the bankers have been pissing all over it for hundreds of years. Americas a sham now. Self serving, soulless caricatures of human beings have made sure it's not worth the paper its printed on

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