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


  • William Esping

    Actually many other countries have a similar form of government. They don’t elect their leader via popular vote. They elect their leader via a vote of parliament. We almost had the same thing except the framers wanted separation between the legislative branch and the executive. So they decided on the creation of a temporary parliament whose sole duty was to elect the president and vice president. This would be known as the electoral college.

  • Fabricio Emmanuelli

    You can tell this moron is a democrat! He really thinks he is smart! 😂 let me guess do you believe fossil fuels come from fossils? Of course he does! All morons believe in what the tell them!


    This snowflake screams lefty, we live in a constitutional republic, and no we dont need big govt. Big govt. has killed over 250 million ppl over the last few hundred years, u sheeple need 2 wake the hell up and start thinking 4 urself

  • B C

    To sum up, 12:22 US Constitution bad… Vague piece of paper… Details… blah,blah,blah. The battlefield is meaningless… Thanks for watching… My liberal high school history teacher made me create this video.

  • whitefly2

    The US citizen has no political rights associated with citizenship because the US citizen relies on the 14th Amendment for it's creation. The 14th Amendment doesn't incorporate the Bill of Rights protections into the Amendment. The only inherent right the US citizen has is the right to reside on US territory. The 14th Amendment created a second class of citizens because Dred Scott said blacks could never have Constitutionally protected rights because the Constitution deemed them to be property. To be a US citizen you must have taken the Citizenship Oath in front of someone entitled to administer the oath. The United States is all the land owned by The United States of America.

  • Lakisha Davis

    I know that it is a lot of information, but some of us retain information faster or slower, than others. My request is that you slow down, because you talk really fast. I find myself looking at your videos 3 or 4 times just catch what you were talking about.
    Thank you

  • Thomas McGrath

    A lot of the editorializing done in these videos is pithy but extremely biased and seemingly uninformed (for example it's pretty well established that, despite also likely being racist, representatives from northern states wanted slaves not to count as people to give less political power to southern slave states where, you know, they would be counted as people without being able to vote) . That said, they are pretty amazing broad brush accounts that adhere to the actual events.

  • Stephen LeBlanc

    This summary does not emphasize compromises thought necessary to protect slavery. Using Virginia and New Jersey as large and small states are not good examples. The point of the electoral college was to protect slavery. Federalism was to protect slavery.

  • Stephen LeBlanc

    The point of "the electors" was always a lie used to sell it. The real issue was allowing slave states more power in electing presidents…without letting slaves vote.

  • IliadNetFear

    It's kinda ignorant to suggest Hamilton wouldn't have thought that firearms would evolve, being that while they were penning the Constitution, numerous firearms were available that sought to end the Musket/Pennsylvania Long Rifle's one shot fire mechanism.

    From the Puckle Gun to Congress's offer of the Belton Flintlock, there were many weapons in that time that tried to jumpstart rapid fire weapon evolution.

    Also, James Madison confirmed that Cannons were consititutionally protected under the 2nd Amendment. A cannon then is what a drone is now.

  • 짜장면 먹은 냥냥이

    Anyone else bothering to pause the intro to read the facts they give you during the intro? No… OK…

  • Tom McMorrow

    As someone who already finished college (and also never went to high school. Long story), I'm going to ignore the overwhelming theme of these comments and instead ask why does everyone hate on my state (NJ)? I mean I know why I do (*raises finance-major fist at taxes*), but I want to know why everyone else does.

  • Eric Stevens

    For those doubters of AoC (not that AOC) the Articles, though not ratified until 1781 (League of Friendship) had some positives.
    1. From a tactical standpoint it could be argued that Great Britain was combating 13 nation states and additional "territories", yes still a united rebellion but with strategic flexibility vested to local commanders despite no federal outline of military rank and hierarchy. Establishing imminent threat measures for states to have leeway on the emergency use of their local militias.
    2. Free states who captured fugitive slaves from other states were not lawfully forced return them to their former masters, although there were provisions for the extradition of criminals.
    3,. Authorized treaty powers to negotiate with Native American tribes.
    4. Establishing a Federal Court of Appeals (later Federal Court System)
    5. AoC was recognized as the governing framework when the British negotiated Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, otherwise they would left the issue untenable.

  • Bobby Bee

    Governments are ever grasping at more power and it seems we have allowed a bit too much, at least much more government than was ever intended.

  • Grant Fox

    Informative video, however you can clearly tell his bias. Plus when he implied that Alexander Hamilton had no idea about the evolution of future firearms, it's simply not true. It wasnt even until a few years later the puckle gun (fullyautomatic) was created. Plus many fathers wanted the amendment vague so that the rule of law would forever be in balance between government and people.. meaning they knew firearms would evolve, or as they referred it to as arms.

  • Crimson Wave

    Hey look. Another communist jew that made its way into the west just to nasally whine about it at 500 words a second. I guess that guy that wrote that book in the 20s with a name starting with H was right after all.

  • bassman j

    Clearly this guy is a bleeding heart liberal
    And it is so unfortunate because it is also. Learn that he lives history as do I
    And he loves to teach history. So therefore scores of thousands of people will check out his videos (wich are good) yet they will also be Influenced by his liberal slant
    And true history should be just the facts without the commentary
    The potential here is good the videos are good but the commentary is not
    True history is objective without the slant

  • Jason Huff

    Ask yourself, Why??
    WHY was slavery outlawed in the new states???
    Because some people thought slavery was bad??
    Or because they wanted to pander to a white working class base that wouldn’t have a place in a slave society???

    ( the same whites that wanted to move into the indian land….
    Turns out that paying people for labor is way more expensive than slavery!!!!!
    Who’d of thunk!?!??? )

  • Jenn West

    The founders were not trying to run a country they were trying to let the states run the country since the states were nations. The congress under the articles of confederation created a statute. The statute is called the constitution and is part of the articles.

  • Tesseract 14

    Personally I would have liked something closer to the articles of confederation, the states should have almost all of the power and the federal government should only have the power they had with the AOC, taxes are necessary but there should be a way to limit excessive taxes

  • John Joseph

    WTF you brushed over the 3/5ths compromises like it counted for voting the North didnt want the south to represent slaves when it came to state population and the south didnt want to be taxed on their slaves so the 3/5 compromise accounted for both the south would represent their slaves unwillingly on the basis they counted for 3/5 the American voter and the would be taxed just the same paying 3/5 the amount of taxes that would be charged 3/5 an Americans tax wages. You purposely made it sound more rascist and not to mention the original founding fathers thought they could abolish slavery until the cotton jig was industrialized making slave labor more effective at the time than played labor like the North

  • John Joseph

    Wow this isn't accurate at all you are lying to the American people and should be ashamed anyone taking this course get your money back

  • Sigma Geranimo

    Americans make their constitution like a religion. They treat their founding father like god like figure. 🤦🏻‍♂️🤦🏻‍♂️.

  • Kaleo Mariz

    Woooow! Look at what America has accomplished! It turned out to be the exception to the rule. Big countries, kingdoms and empires are not properly governed by democratic principles. (At least up until America broke this rule).

    Usually as a political entity grows and becomes bigger, too many interests contradict each other and normally only a strong autocratic government can instill order in it. Smaller political entities are easier for people to collaborate and work together for a common goal.

    It took a civil war and many more political polarizations afterwards, but America stands strong as a big empire governed by democratic principles.

  • Madison Hunsucker

    This guy is so easy to understand, keeps it interesting, makes you laugh while explaining the government, and it’s educational. Win win

  • Bart Tare

    "When rich people think something needs to be done, something usually is done." That's pretty much the story of the entire country's elite power structure.

  • Bart Tare

    "None of these dudes were not racist." I'm fine with that statement. But we can hardly argue that it has been much different in other country, city-state, tribal group organization at any time in history. And I'd argue that at least in some way the attitudes of the Founders were Enlightened in terms of race, and that even in their time-space limited Anglocentricism, it led to many of the rights we take for granted today.

  • Robert Gannon

    Since the 3/5ths comprise applies to “other people’” and not exclusively slaves, is the 3/5ths compromise still in effect today via undocumented immigrants?

  • Philip Worsher

    Btw, when the Constitution was made the founders knew of automatic weapons and weren't stupid enough to think that guns wouldn't get better. I am ashamed you don't know that, John.

  • La B

    Talk about being truncated 🤣… I LOVE JERSEY! Wait… 3/4 ths law… major omission ☹️… unless we are renaming… information I never used 🤣🤣🤣…

  • Aldion Sylkaj

    hmmm, you're telling me if i was in the US i can't buy an unmanned aerial drone to protect myself against government tyranny?

  • Jason Taylor

    On a platform this large and currently in the information era I would expect people to be more direct then this went referring to civil war, laws passed in a segment like this.

  • Leyla Dogan

    I’m living in the US for three years now and never understood US history. I’m so annoyed w my ignorance on history and before starting college I was like okay I’ll at least have some idea about US history this time and I opened up this video, still don’t have any idea what’s going on. It’s maybe because he is kinda speaking fast and I can’t catch up since I’m and ESL student idk. I just wanted to share.😔😅

    Note: I’ll come back to this video and see if I can understand this time. And report it to comments.

  • Nic Egan

    Ah the American Constitution, just like the Australian Constitution except worse.

    The Australian founders basically took the American constitution, threw out anything incompatible with the British Parliamentary system and replaced it with Westminster conventions.

    Thus we have a bicameral parliament with the House of Representatives giving seats to each state based on population and a Senate with equal members for each state but instead of a President, a Prime Minister who commands the confidence of the House is appointed.

  • af dadE

    Puckle Gun, Girandoni air rifle Canons. Muskets were not the only firearm available at the time John stop misinforming your viewers to push your anti 2A propaganda.

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