S4 E2: “The Excess of Democracy”

January 22, 2020

In the summer of 1787, fifty-five men got together in Philadelphia to write a new Constitution for the United States, replacing the new nation’s original blueprint, the Articles of Confederation. But why, exactly? What problems were the framers trying to solve? Was the Constitution designed to advance democracy, or to rein it in?

By producer/host John Biewen with series collaborator Chenjerai Kumanyika. Interviews with Woody Holton, Dan Bullen, and Price Thomas. The series editor is Loretta Williams.

Music by Algiers, John Erik Kaada, Eric Neveux, and Lucas Biewen. Music consulting and production help from Joe Augustine of Narrative Music. 

Download a transcript of the episode.

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10 comments on “S4 E2: “The Excess of Democracy”

  1. August Burns Jan 24, 2020

    The power of the minority and the overreach of the Senate is sadly on display this week in the impeachment trial of DJT and may be the end of the great experiment.

  2. It’s the American sickness-worshiping the rich or at least not criticizing them. If you do, you’re obviously a communist. Because what rich people ever hurt, abused, misused or killed the poor, right? Yes, I’m being bitterly sarcastic.

  3. David Machemer Jan 31, 2020

    The manifest shame and systemic injustice of our federal government in recent years is actually nothing new. The shocking spectacle we view today with loathing actually IS the real America, MINUS the hypocrisy.

    • Hubert Leigh Smith Mar 7, 2020

      You seem interested in foreign residence. Where?

  4. Hubert Leigh Smith Mar 7, 2020

    The two gentlemen presented a great deal of interesting and worthwhile information. I am grateful for it. At one juncture, however, Mr. Kumanyika remarked about slavery, “There was this genocide….” This rhetorical glibness was not questioned by Mr. Biewen. Do young black men and women listen to your show? Do they consider Mr. Kumanyika authoritative? If so, perhaps he can be more careful in future. “…the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group.” (Dictionary definition)

    • Louis C. Love, Jr. Apr 2, 2020

      Hyperbole is quite acceptable to get a point across. Mr. Kumanyika is quite authoritative and his use of “genocide” referring to slavery does not diminish his accurate description of this systemic human atrocity.

    • I believe, taken from the context of the series, I believe Mr. Kumanyika was referring to the attempted genocide of Native Americans.
      I hope young Black Americans do admire and follow him.

    • Jim Hennigan Sep 17, 2020

      While I do believe in context the reference was to the genocide of indigenous people, the term absolutely does apply to American slavery if we use the definitions set forth in the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

      What’s more, W. E. B. du Bois and Paul Robeson and others submitted the first genocide charges to the United Nations under the convention in 1951 based on lynchings. in a petition entitled We Charge Genocide; The Crime of Government against the Negro People. The U.S. did not ratify the convention until 1987, as southern senators blocked ratification because they wanted to protect racist policies and traditions.

      It was no accident that American racism was tied to genocide and it is because of the convention being so forceful in framing Jim Crow and lynchings as genocidal – and with race being too entrenched and also too humiliating for America to tolerate – that the Eisenhower Administration coupled such claims with the idea that anti-racism is anti-Americanism and even pro-communist.

      So, yes, American slavery was genocidal – and America does engage in genocide today with indigenous people, Latin American migrants, and still with Black people – and that is not a glib observation. Were it a glib observation, the U.S. would not have seen fit to ratify the Convention on Genocide with an exception that precludes punishment for the crime of genocide.

  5. seth ludman Apr 10, 2020

    Hi John,

    I’m loving this series. I do have a little tiny nit to pick though about something you said. At 28:10 you say that “These governments were more accountable to the people than any in the world at the time.” Since you have already made the point that the indigenous occupants of the Americas had many governments which were significantly more democratic than the Europeans’ I think you’d agree that the States’ governments were more democratic than other white European states but probably less than many indigenous governments that were existing all around the world. Perhaps in the moment, you forgot about them.

    With love,


  6. Lucas Jul 27, 2020

    Why don’t you included a show notes section in these podcasts – that will allow a listener to find additional reading- it 2020 we shouldn’t have to read through transcripts just to find references.