Charles Beard

Charles Beard’s book, An Economic Interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, was published in 1913 and soon became one of the most controversial literary works of its time. Beard’s main thesis in this book is essentially that the Founding Fathers chose the specific format of the Constitution of the United States to protect their personal financial interests. Beard then goes on to argue that the Constitution was written by an “elite” attempting to safeguard their own assets and financial status. Beard was expanding on Carl L. Becker’s thesis of class conflict. In the eyes of Beard, the Constitution was created by the Founding Fathers as a “counter revolution” that ran against the wishes of farmers and laborers.

Beard’s theory and his publication of this book were so controversial because it seemed to demean the Constitution and everything it stood for, which angered politicians and most of the legal community, at least those who didn’t ignore it completely. However, many historians and history professors seemed to recognize it and accept it. Many people were angered by Beard’s theory because, since it disparaged the Constitution and Founding Fathers, it seemed to put down almost everything our country stands for. Taking a sacred piece of history that started our nation and trampling on it by saying that it was nothing more than rich men trying to save their bank accounts and put down the common man is bound to upset more than just a few people.

One of Beard’s main critics of the 20th century is a man named Forrest McDonald. McDonald uses his study of the voting habits and financial and economic concerns of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to prove that their motives were not financial-based. He asserts that the majority of the delegates who had public securities were Antifederalists. He concludes his study by saying, “Anyone wishing to rewrite the history of those proceedings largely or exclusively in terms of the economic interests represented there would find the facts to be insurmountable obstacles”. What McDonald means by this is that Beard, who was attempting to “rewrite the history” of the proceedings of the
Constitutional Convention, was doing so without any actual evidence and therefore had an empty argument.

I believe that Beard’s thesis, although an interesting notion, was not necessarily a valid argument and did nothing except anger most people in the political community. Even though many people in the late 20th century accepted his thesis, I disagree with it. My reasoning for this is that, although the Founding Fathers were economically prosperous, I believe that their status made them the only ones that could be able to write the Constitution and who were in a position to make the most crucial moves in establishing the United States. I do not believe that the Founding Fathers created the Constitution simply protect their financial status, I believe their status was the reason they could write the Constitution.

What do you think?

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