How the American Experiment in Self Government Developed

There is a fine art to governing. As we will see in this class, there is a reason many of our institutions work – or do not work – today. Join Russ Gifford for this detailed, but lighter look at the people and personalities that decided how the American system of government came to be.

"We must hang together, or we will surely hang separately." – Ben Franklin

But in the time after the Revolution, another revered founding father would counter.

"Unions, like marriages sometimes fall short of happiness, "but this is owing to the parties themselves who rush into it without due consideration or fail… in their conduct towards each other afterward." – Samuel Adams

Few Americans know much about the original government that formed after the Revolution. That period between winning the war, and the coming of the Constitution is a blank spot to most Americans. We celebrate 1776 for the Declaration of Independence. And we might or might not remember it took seven long years of fighting before the British finally said, "Enough." With the coming of 1783 and the treaty that made peace possible, suddenly thirteen colonies that had decided to 'hang together' were more than happy to now go their separate ways. But they soon found they were forced to remain somewhat connected. Or were they? Some of the most ardent revolutionaries, like Sam Adams, were not sold on the idea.

"I confess, as I enter the Building I stumble at the Threshold. I meet with a National Government, instead of a Federal Union of Sovereign States." – Samuel Adams

But Patrick Henry made Adams look tame:

"My great objection to this Government is, that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights, or of waging war against tyrants. …The officers of Congress, may come upon you now, fortified with all the terrors of paramount federal authority." – Patrick Henry

What was the original Union – the Articles of Confederation? And how did the Constitution come to replace it?

Join Russ Gifford and explore the steps from the Revolution to the Articles of Confederation, and finally, the creation of the Constitution. The goal is to see how it all developed, and why.

Part 1: From the Revolution to a Functioning Government: 1783 to 1792
In the first class, we will take a quick look at the latter years of the Revolution and see how it was possible for the tiny American colonies to throw off the yoke of colonial rule. (Hint – thank the French.) Then we will see how the independent colonies structured their national government. (Hint – badly.)

In this period, we will view the major events of that time, and the different bodies of power in government - the names we know, and the ones we have forgotten. (Hint – you will recognize most of them – but not all.) We will also see WHY we don't know those others today. (Hint – winners write the histories.)

Part 2: The Big Picture – Representative Government
From the earliest moments on the shores of the new country, town meetings were part of self-determination. It was the ideal process of decision-making. Except, of course, it was difficult. While town hall meetings were good, it became apparent that Representative government was necessary. Representatives, chosen from the best of the community, were needed.

From the very beginning, Americans knew the House of Representatives would be the most important part of the American government that was yet to be developed. The House would be "the voice of the people."

But the states realized, "Wait – who looks after the state's rights to govern?" Thus, in the original compromise, the Senate – the voice of the states came into being. Why this compromise, and how each of these bodies evolved is part of the story of "representative government."

Part 3: The Executive and the Judiciary
But the key in the minds of the debates on the Constitution was, "How can we avoid the impossibility of any movement at all on bills between the various 'sovereign' states?"

In the last moments of the agreement, many parts came into being. We will see the original ideas on the Constitution, again, via quotes, and how the Courts were envisioned. Which may be a real surprise.

The Presidency – Is, what, exactly?

The Courts – but… wait a minute! Who said he could do that?

Join Russ Gifford, as he uses the writings, the papers, and the quotes of the people on the ground to see how this all developed. But – you may be surprised.