america's constitution

America's Written Constitution

Published: 6/20/2016



The course in some ways revolves around the written Constitution, but it will, in the course of the semester, go beneath, beyond and behind the words of the Constitution, while never losing sight, we hope, with the words themselves. It's a course designed for a wide range of students.

At one end I hope even experts in constitutional law might learn something new in this course.  At the other end however, this is a course for a broad range of citizens, for non-experts, for students in high school taking AP History, or AP Government and wanting to get a deeper understanding of the American constitution and the legal system surrounding the American Constitution. It's a course for anyone who wants to understand the constitution better.

This course will work its way through the written Constitution, in textual order. Starting at Article I, the legislature, Article II, the Executive, Article III, the Judiciary, Article IV is about federalism, about States and their relationship to each other and to the central government. Articles V, VI, VII are about the supremacy of the Constitution. How it can be amended. Why and how it's the supreme law. How it got enacted in the first place, ordained and established. 

The course will then focus on and examine the Admendments, again working its way through in textual order. Starting at the Bill of Rights, we’ll then continue by confronting the Amendments after the Civil War, the Reconstruction amendments. The 13th Amendment that ends slavery, A 14th Amendment that promises, that guarantees equal citizenship to all born in America, as equal citizens black and white, male and female, Jew and gentile.

We then encounter Amendments from the 20th century, from the Progressive Era and Income Tax Amendment, the Sixteenth Amendment, and seventeenth Amendment about the direct election of Senators. We'll talk about how women got the vote and the nineteenth Amendment, the Suffrage Amendment. We'll work our way through to more modern Amendments. From there, we’ll continue to the second half of the 20th century, from the 1960s, which restrict poll taxes and, give 18-year-olds the vote. 

By the end of the course you will have a new found appreciation for the impact this document had not only on our democratic republic, but on all future democracies around the world.

Course Takeaways

  • Ability to read and interpret the text of the U.S.
  • Constitution for yourself
  • Learn the main themes of the American Constitution—popular sovereignty, separation of powers, federalism, and rights
  • See how one sentence (the Preamble) changed the world
  • Learn the powers wielded by the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches. How they came to be and how they have changed over time
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Available on Coursera

6 weeks (20 hours)
French, Portuguese (European), Russian, English, Spanish
Coursera Certificate

Meet the Instructors

faculty profile image Akhil Reed Amar is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, where he teaches constitutional law at both Yale College and Yale Law School. His work has won awards from both the American Bar Association and the Federalist Society. Full biography