In his piercing introduction to An Economic Interpretation the author wrote that “whoever leaves economic pressures out of history or out of discussion of public questions is in mortal peril of substituting mythology for reality.” It was Beard’s view that the founding fathers, especially Madison, Jay, and Hamilton, never made such a miscalculation. Indeed, these statesmen placed themselves among the great practitioners of all ages and gave instructions to succeeding generations in the art of government by their vigorous deployment of classical political economy.
In this new printing of a major classic in American historiography, Louis Filler provides a sense of the person behind the book, the background that enabled Beard to move well beyond the shibboleths of the second decade of the twentieth century. While the controversies over Beard’s book have quieted, the issues which it raised have hardly abated. Indeed, one can say that just about every major work in the politics and economics of the American nation must contend with Beard’s classic work. Beard’s work rests on an examination of primary documents: land and slave owners, geographic distribution of money, ownership of public securities, the specific condition of those who were disenfranchised as well as those who were in charge of the nascent American economy.
The great merit of Beard’s work is that despite its incendiary potential, he himself viewed An Economic Interpretation in coldly analytical terms, seeing such a position as giving comfort to neither revolutionaries nor reactionaries. Attacked by Marxists for being too mechanical, and by conservatives as being blind to the moral purposes of the framers of the constitution, the work continues to exercise a tremendous influence on all concerned. The fact that Beard wrote with a scalpel-like precision that gripped the attention of those in power no less than the common man is, it should be added, no small element in the enduring forces of this work.
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An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States is a 1913 book by American historian Charles A. Beard. It argues that the structure of the Constitution of the United States was motivated primarily by the personal financial interests of the Founding Fathers. More specifically, Beard contends that the Constitutional Convention was attended by, and the Constitution was therefore written by, a "cohesive" elite seeking to protect its personal property (especially bonds) and economic standing. Beard examined the occupations and property holdings of the members of the convention from tax and census records, contemporaneous news accounts, and biographical sources, demonstrating the degree to which each stood to benefit from various Constitutional provisions. Beard pointed out, for example, that George Washington was the wealthiest landowner in the country, and had provided significant funding towards the Revolution. Beard traces the Constitutional guarantee that the newly formed nation would pay its debts to the desire of Washington and similarly situated lenders to have their costs refunded.About the Author:
Louis Filler (1911-1998) was a Fulbright fellow at the University of Bristol and taught as a visiting professor in literature and history departments from the City University of New York to the University of California, San Francisco. His books include the classic Muckrakers, best-selling Crusade Against Slavery, Dictionary of American Social Reform, Unknown, Edwin Markham, Dictionary of American Conservatism, Vanguards and Followers, Distinguished Shades: Americans Whose Lives Live On,and Abolition and Social Justice in the Era of Reform, among many others, as well as biographies of Randolph Bourne and David Graham Phillips.
Charles A. Beard (1874-1948) is regarded as one of the most influential American historians in the first half of the twentieth century. He is famous for his evaluation of the founding fathers of the United States, who he believed were motivated by economics as opposed to philosophical principles. Some of his works include An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy, and The Administration and Politics of Tokyo.
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