Birth of the US Constitution | US History | Khan Academy

Birth of the US Constitution | US History | Khan Academy

January 6, 2020 36 By Kody Olson


Male 1: The whole period
of the American Revolution and the establishment of the
country, of the government, can get very muddled in people’s minds. What I was hoping we
could cover in this video is unmuddle that, separate out the events and see how they all fit together. Male 2: Let’s start in 1775 because that’s when the rebellion really
begins. That’s when you have the Battles of
Lexington and Concord and Paul Revere riding
to say that the British are coming. They started to rebel against the taxes that Parliament
has but on us. They’re not quite clear what the
rebellion is all about, especially those people
who aren’t up there in Massachusetts where the
rebels are happening. By 1776, that’s when they
write the Declaration that says here’s what we’re doing. We’re fighting a war of independence and “let facts be submitted
to a candid world,” here’s why we’re doing it. Then you get, you’re fighting
the war, it’s really not until 1781 that we win the
war. Around that period, between 1776 and 1781,
they’ve drafted this thing called the Articles of
Confederation. It’s sort of rules by which the States
are going to get together and govern themselves. But
it doesn’t really create a new nation. It’s
really just a federation of the separate states. Male 1: This is really around this idea the Declaration of
Independence is really, look, we’re already essentially
at war. This is why. This is articulating why we’re at war, what we actually believe in,
but that didn’t establish a government, it didn’t
actually talk about what kind of government it would be, how it would govern
itself, so the Articles were really this first
attempt at saying, well, assuming that we’re able to win this war of independence, how do we set up? Male 2: Right. What they were during this war of independence
were 13 separate states. They didn’t really think
of themselves as one new nation. Some people did. Ben Franklin and others thought we
should really be a union of one nation, but when
they get together to do the Articles of
Confederation, really starting right after the Declaration
is signed in 1776, they finish writing it
in 1777, they write a pretty uninspiring document that just says we’re from a whole lot of separate states and we’re going to get
together a bit and be a union of theses States, but
we’re not going to give ourselves many powers as one government. Male 1: Yeah, we have
it right here. Actually, I’d never seen it before
this conversation. I’ve obviously read about it when I was in history class, but “To
all to whom these presents “shall come, we the
undersigned Delegates of the “States affix to our names send greeting.” Male 2: Oh, I mean it’s like something written by a bad template. Male 1: To whom it may concern! (laughs) Male 2: It’s not an inspiring document and it gives no power
to a central government. As you say, it’s the
Delegates of the States. They “affix our names”
to this and it’s the Articles of Confederation
and Perpetual Union between these States.
One of the main things they fail to do is give
the central government any taxation power. So really
it’s up to the States to tax, and then this
Congress that’s meeting, based on the Articles
of Confederation, tries to beg each one of the
States, hey, requisition us a little bit of
money so we can continue our business. Male 1: The Federal,
the central government, does not directly, there’s
no Federal income tax, or not any tax of any
kind, not even any kind of tax. The States can tax
in whatever way they see fit and then they
have to give something. Male 2: What’s kind of
amusing is we win the Revolution in the Battle of
Yorktown. That’s in 1781. A messenger comes riding
into New York where this Congress has been
meeting, it sort of floats from city to city, and
gives them all the details and they don’t even
have enough money to pay the messenger. They have to reach in their pockets to do it. So you
have this sort of poorly written document called the
Articles of Confederation, that seems to make a
confederation of States, meaning we’re going to
gather together but we’re going to have our own
separate powers and doesn’t given any taxation
powers. You have a kind of messy governance structure. Male 1: It’s obviously
not a perfect analogy, but if we take analogy
to present-day, it’s kind of what’s happening
in Europe where there’s these separate nations,
separate States, that are trying to form some
type of union, not clear who has what power. The
Central European Union is not directly taxing. Male 2: Precisely. That’s
a very good analogy to what was happening
because they weren’t quite clear whether they had a
central currency or not back then. They weren’t
quite sure what are the powers of each of the
States versus the central government, and that’s
been something throughout history. Even starting
with the Greek city-states where you can have confederations and it’s unclear how much power
you’re going to put in the central government versus how much power you’re going to leave at the States. Male 1: Considering that this is not the governing document for us now, something must have broken to want to replace it. Male 2: Well, yes. By
the time you’re getting into 1786, it is totally clear that this document isn’t working. You have all sorts of disputes. Like
Maryland and Virginia are having this horrible
dispute over navigation and border rights. They
call an Annapolis Convention to try to fix that up and they try to get the States to come.
Only five of them come. You have something up
in Massachusetts called Shays’ Rebellion where there was this rebellion of the poor farmers
in western Massachusetts under a former Revolutionary War officer named Daniel Shays. It’s
sort of unclear what … Male 1: His name was Shays? Male 2: Yeah. S-H-A-Y-S. Male 1: So it’s Shays,
the apostrophe’s after … Male: The apostrophe’s
after, yeah. Daniel Shays was his name. He leads
a rebellion and there’s no central government to
send a force to stop them. Washington’s army has been disbanded. So the poor people of
Massachusetts have to try to raise a militia to try
to stop Shays’ Rebellion, but they can’t get the
Federal government to step in. It was just one
of many, many symptoms that we were all disintegrating
and falling apart. There was no rule of law that governed all the colonies, and now all the States. What happens is people
like Hamilton, Madison, others get together
and say, you know what? Congress is meeting, I
think they were meeting in New York by then.
We ought to go back to Philadelphia where this all began in 1776 with the Declaration of
Independence and we should have a Constitutional
Convention. We should write a whole new constitution
to govern centrally this new nation. Most of
the States agreed to come. Some of them worried
about the fact that we were writing a whole new
constitution, so they did not give their delegates
authority to get rid of the Articles of
Confederation. So when they began in that very hot summer of 1787, it was kind of unclear whether they were going to be able to
write a new constitution or just try to amend the old
Articles of Confederation. Male 1: This makes it
clear that even after Shays’ Rebellion, even after these border disputes between Maryland
and Virginia, it still wasn’t a done deal. A
lot of States still liked their autonomy, liked their independence. So even going into this,
it wasn’t like everyone was unanimously saying
hey, we need to give the federal government more power. Male 2: And by the way,
what does that sound like? It sounds like the debates
we’re having today. Male 1: Exactly! (chuckles) Male 2: We still, as a
nation, have always had these debates of how much
power should be given to the central government,
how much power should retain with the States, whether it’s on healthcare or our laws or our taxation. It’s a useful tension to have. Male 1: Absolutely. Then they are able to come up with a solution. Male 2: It’s a very
difficult problem of the big States wanting
there to be proportional representation in a
new Congress, the small States wanting equal votes per State. You finally have Ben
Franklin again, once again being the person who
works out the compromise to have both a House and
a Senate, equal votes per State in the Senate, proportional representation in the House. They finally come together and they
all agree to line up and sign this new
Constitution that will give taxation authority to
the Federal government, or to Congress, a new
Congress, a Federal taxation authority and, by the
way, that has a Preamble that’s a whole lot more inspiring than that Articles of Confederatin
thing-y that said, “To all to whom these
presents shall come.” Male 1: (laughing)To whom it may concern! Male 2: Let’s look at the
Preamble to the constitution. Male 1: “We the people
of the United States.” That’s as opposed to “To
whom it may concern.” Male 2: Just look at
those first three words. I mean those first three words are totally an inspiring thing. It’s
never been done before, which is “We the people”
are getting to create this Constitution. It’s not
the States getting together to do it. It’s not the
king devolving authority. It’s not a Parliament doing it. It’s “We the people”
gathered together here. We are the ones that are going to ordain, a nice religious word
down there, “ordain.” “Do ordain and establish.”
It’s almost like we have the power. It’s
not coming from the divine right of kings
or God, we the people get to ordain and establish
this constitution. Male 1: We’ve made previous videos about the Declaration of Independence. The Articles of Confederation in no way share any of the spirit or the poetry of the Declaration, while this Preamble does. It seems almost a continuation of it. Male 2: Yeah, let’s
read it. “We the people “of the United States,
in order to form a more “perfect union.” That’s
a very transcendent phrase, but it also means, hey, the Articles of Confederation,
we weren’t really unified. We have to
create a united States. We have to create a union. Male 1: And the “more perfect,” is that a direct reference to the
Articles that that was a less perfect, or is this something else? Male 2: It’s not a very
good piece of grammar. As you know, things are
either perfect or they’re not. The notion of creating
a more perfect union, yes, they are making
a nod to the fact that we have been confederated under the Articles of Confederation, but now we have to create a more perfect union. We have to really hold together. Then they decide what’s the purpose of this Constitution? First
of all, establish justice. That means there’ll be
one common set of laws. Ensure domestic tranquility.
This is Shay’s Rebellion. It’s still going on when
they start writing this Preamble. Domestic tranquility means that the federal, the central
government, has a right to raise an army and that
in the end, the police and defense powers don’t
reside with just the individual States.
There’s going to be a more perfect union that helps
ensure domestic tranquility and provide for the common
defense. What you’ve had is the Continental
Army under Washington has been disbanded.
There’s no way to raise taxes for a central army. Now we’re saying that the union of States,
the United States, the federal government,
they’re going to raise the money and provide
for the common defense. There’s another phrase,
“promote the general welfare.” When people argue about Contitutionalism and what gives the Federal government the right to do things,
one of those phrases is every now and then we have to use the “general welfare” phrase
and say whether it’s healthcare or anything
else, maybe there are things the central
government does that promote the “general welfare.” Then we get to the inspiring lines, the poetry as opposed to “To all whom these presents shall come.” That’s “secure the blessings of liberty to “ourselves and our posterity, we do ordain “and establish this Constitution of the “United States of America.” We’ve been calling ourselves that ever since the Declaration of Independence,
but now it’s in all caps and it’s
signifying we’re one nation, not just 13 different States. Male 1: Previously I think
the “U” wasn’t capitalized. Man 2: Yeah, in some of
the earlier documents it wasn’t and we
certainly were not united. It’s only under this Constitution
do we become, really, the United States of America.