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  • Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course U.S. History,

  • and today were going to talk about the United States Constitution.

  • And, in doing so, were going to explore

  • how the American style of government became the envy of the entire world,

  • so much so that everyone else copied us. [hey oh]

  • What’s that, Stan?

  • Were not gonna talk about other countries stealing our form of government?

  • Because no other countries stole our form of government?

  • That doesn’t seem possible, Stan. ['MURICA!]

  • [Libertage]

  • No, Stan, not the Libertage.

  • Cue the intro!

  • [BEST]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [EVAR]

  • So,

  • today were going to learn why the green areas of not-America didn’t copy us.

  • [nonMurica]

  • Alright, so as Americans may dimly remember from history classes,

  • the constitutional system weve 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.

  • [Care Bear Stair tax?]

  • The Articles set up a “governmentthat 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, supermajorities: Always so efficient. [SARCASM]

  • 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 states,

  • so if you needed money to, say, go to war with Britain,

  • [you know, regular tuesday stuff]

  • 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 Americansfear 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.

  • [For reals]

  • Which was called the northwest, presumably because it is

  • north and west of...Virginia. [zing]

  • 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,

  • [just a thought]

  • 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’s 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.” [don't tread on that old chestnut]

  • Which is all fine and good, I mean, unless youre the bleeding patriots or tyrants.

  • But to most elites, ShaysRebellion 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,

  • [mitt robotney]

  • 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 torevisethe Articles of Confederation.

  • The delegates who met in Philly the next year had a funny definition ofrevision,”

  • 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 thingsthe 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, okay. All that too.

  • I get it, okay?

  • 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 is both proportional

  • to a state’s population.

  • And smaller states, fearing that the big boys would dominate,

  • rallied behind the New Jersey plan. 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. [oh oh oh, he's on fire...]

  • 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.

  • [mission accomplished]

  • 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.

  • [#ForefatherProblems]

  • 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 ofother persons

  • the wordslavewas never used

  • would be the basis for the calculation.

  • Soyeah. That’s still in the constitution. [word "awkward doesn't even come close]

  • 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 of the others.

  • 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.

  • [press pause. we'll wait.]

  • 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 theFederalist Papers.”

  • Taken together, theyre 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.