Charles A. Beard
Charles Austin Beard (November 27, 1874 – September 1, 1948) was, with Frederick Jackson Turner, one of the most influential American historians of the first half of the 20th century. For a while he was a history professor at Columbia University but his influence came from hundreds of monographs, textbooks and interpretive studies in both history and political science. His works included a radical re-evaluation of the founding fathers of the United States, who he believed were motivated more by economics than by philosophical principles. Beard's most influential book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913), has been the subject of great controversy ever since its publication. While frequently criticized for its methodology and conclusions, it was responsible for a wide-ranging reinterpretation of American history of the founding era. He was also the co-author with his wife Mary Beard of The Rise of American Civilization (1927), which had a major influence on American historians.
Charles A. Beard
Beard in 1917, from the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress
Charles Austin Beard
November 27, 1874
Knightstown, Indiana, U.S.
|Died||September 1, 1948 (aged 73)|
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
|Alma mater||DePauw University (B.A., History, 1898)|
Columbia University (Ph.D., 1904)
|Occupation||Historian, co-founder of The New School|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Ritter Beard|
An icon of the progressive school of historical interpretation, his reputation suffered during the Cold War era when the assumption of economic class conflict was dropped by most historians. The consensus historian Richard Hofstadter concluded in 1968: "Today Beard's reputation stands like an imposing ruin in the landscape of American historiography. What was once the grandest house in the province is now a ravaged survival".
Conversely, Sir Denis W. Brogan believed that Beard lost favour in the Cold War not because his views had been proven to be wrong, but because Americans were less willing to hear them. In 1965 he wrote; "The suggestion that the Constitution had been a successful attempt to restrain excessive democracy, that it had been a triumph for property (and) big business seemed blasphemy to many and an act of near treason in the dangerous crisis through which American political faith and practice were passing".
Hofstadter nevertheless praised Beard, saying he was "foremost among the American historians of his or any generation in the search for a usable past".
Charles Beard was born in the Indiana Corn Belt in 1874. His father was a farmer, contractor, part-time banker and real-estate speculator. In his youth Charles worked on the family farm and attended a local Quaker school, Spiceland Academy. He was expelled from the school for unclear reasons, but graduated from the public Knightstown High School in 1891. For the next few years the brothers managed a local newspaper. Their editorial position, like their father's, was conservative. They supported the Republican Party and favored prohibition, a cause for which Charles lectured in later years. Beard attended DePauw University, a nearby Methodist college, graduating in 1898. He edited the college newspaper and was active in debate.
Beard married his classmate Mary Ritter in 1900. As an historian, Mary Beard's research interests lay in feminism and the labor union movement (Woman as a Force in History, 1946). They collaborated on many textbooks.
Beard went to England in 1899 for graduate studies at Oxford University under Frederick York Powell. He collaborated with Walter Vrooman in founding Ruskin Hall, a school meant to be accessible to the working man. In exchange for reduced tuition, students worked in the school's various businesses. Beard taught for the first time at Ruskin Hall and he lectured to workers in industrial towns to promote Ruskin Hall and to encourage enrollment in correspondence courses.
The Beards returned to the United States in 1902, where Charles pursued graduate work in history at Columbia University. He received his doctorate in 1904 and immediately joined the faculty as a lecturer. In order to provide his students with reading materials that were hard to acquire, he compiled a large collection of essays and excerpts in a single volume: An Introduction to the English Historians (1906). That sort of compendium, so commonplace in later decades, was an innovation at the time.
An extraordinarily active author of scholarly books, textbooks, and articles for the political magazines, Beard saw his career flourish. Beard moved from the history department to the department of public law and then to a new chair in politics and government. He also regularly taught a course in American history at Barnard College. In addition to teaching, he coached the debate team and wrote about public affairs, especially municipal reform.
Among many works he published during these years at Columbia, the most controversial was An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913), an interpretation of how the economic interests of the members of the Constitutional Convention affected their votes. He emphasized the polarity between agrarians and business interests. Academics and politicians denounced the book, but it was well respected by scholars until challenged and discredited in the 1950s.
Resigns in First World WarEdit
Though he completely supported American participation in the First World War, he resigned from Columbia University on October 8, 1917, charging that "the University is really under the control of a small and active group of trustees who have no standing in the world of education, who are reactionary and visionless in politics, narrow and medieval in religion. I am convinced that while I remain in the pay of the Trustees of Columbia University I cannot do effectively my part in sustaining public opinion in support of the just war on the German Empire." Following a series of faculty departures from Columbia in disputes about academic freedom, his friend James Harvey Robinson also resigned from Columbia in May 1919 to become one of the founders of the New School for Social Research and serve as its first director.
Following his departure from Columbia, Beard never again sought a permanent academic appointment. Living on lucrative royalties from textbooks and other bestsellers, the couple operated a dairy farm in rural Connecticut that attracted many academic visitors.
The Beards were active in helping to found the New School for Social Research (a.k.a. The New School) in Greenwich Village, New York City, where the faculty would control its own membership. Enlarging upon his interest in urban affairs, he toured Japan and produced a volume of recommendations for the reconstructing of Tokyo after the earthquake of 1923. His financial independence was secured by The Rise of American Civilization (1927), and its two sequels, America in Midpassage (1939), and The American Spirit (1943), all written with his wife, Mary.
Beard had parallel careers as an historian and political scientist. He was active in the American Political Science Association and was elected its President in 1926. He was also a member of the American Historical Association and served as its president in 1933. In political science he was best known for his textbooks, his studies of the Constitution, and for his creation of bureaus of municipal research and his studies of public administration in cities.
Though he had been a leading liberal supporter of the New Deal, Beard turned against Franklin Delano Roosevelt's foreign policy, consistent with his Quaker roots. He became one of the leading proponents of American non-interventionism seeking to avoid American involvement in Europe's wars. He promoted "American Continentalism" as an alternative, arguing that the United States had no vital interests at stake in Europe and that a foreign war could lead to domestic dictatorship. He continued to press this position after the war. Beard's last two books were American Foreign Policy in the Making: 1932–1940 (1946) and President Roosevelt and the Coming of War (1948). Beard blamed FDR for lying to the American people and tricking them into war, which some historians and political scientists have disputed.
Beard had been criticized as an isolationist because of his views, though Beard in his writings referred to interventionists as isolationist. The views he espoused in the final decade of his life was disputed by many contemporary historians and political scientists. However, some of the arguments in his President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War influenced "Wisconsin school" and New Left historians in the 1960s, among them William Appleman Williams, Gabriel Kolko, and James Weinstein. On the right, Beard's foreign policy views have become popular with "paleoconservatives" like Pat Buchanan. Certain elements of his views, especially his advocacy of a non-interventionist foreign policy, have enjoyed a minor comeback among a few scholars of liberty since 2001. For example, Andrew Bacevich, a diplomatic historian at Boston University, has cited Beardian skepticism towards armed overseas intervention as a starting point for a critique of post–Cold War American foreign policy in his American Empire (2004).
Personal life and deathEdit
By the 1950s, Beard's economic interpretation of history had fallen out of favor; only a few prominent historians held to his view of class conflict as a primary driver in American history, among them Howard K. Beale and C. Vann Woodward. Still, as a leader of the "progressive historians", or "progressive historiography", Beard introduced themes of economic self-interest and economic conflict regarding the adoption of the Constitution and the transformations caused by the Civil War. Thus he emphasized the long-term conflict among industrialists in the Northeast, farmers in the Midwest, and planters in the South that he saw as the cause of the Civil War. His study of the financial interests of the drafters of the United States Constitution (An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution) seemed radical in 1913, since he proposed that the U.S. Constitution was a product of economically determinist, land-holding founding fathers. He saw ideology as a product of economic interests.
Historian Carl Becker in History of Political Parties in the Province of New York, 1760–1776 (1909) formulated the Progressive interpretation of the American Revolution. He said there were two revolutions: one against Britain to obtain home rule, and the other to determine who should rule at home. Beard expanded upon Becker's thesis, in terms of class conflict, in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913) and An Economic Interpretation of Jeffersonian Democracy (1915). To Beard, the Constitution was a counter-revolution, set up by rich bondholders ("personalty" since bonds were "personal property"), in opposition to the farmers and planters ("realty" since land was "real property"). Beard argued the Constitution was designed to reverse the radical democratic tendencies unleashed by the Revolution among the common people, especially farmers and debtors. In 1800, said Beard, the farmers and debtors, led by plantation slave owners, overthrew the capitalists and established Jeffersonian democracy. Other historians supported the class-conflict interpretation, noting the states confiscated great semi-feudal landholdings of loyalists and gave them out in small parcels to ordinary farmers. Conservatives, such as William Howard Taft, were shocked at the Progressive interpretation because it seemed to belittle the Constitution. Many scholars, however, eventually adopted Beard's thesis and by 1950 it had become the standard interpretation of the era.
Beginning about 1950, however, historians started to argue that the progressive interpretation was factually incorrect because it was not true that the voters were polarized along two economic lines. These historians were led by Charles A. Barker, Philip Crowl, Richard P. McCormick, William Pool, Robert Thomas, John Munroe, Robert E. Brown and B. Kathryn Brown, and above all Forrest McDonald.
Forrest McDonald in We The People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution (1958) argued that Charles Beard had misinterpreted the economic interests involved in writing the Constitution. Instead of two interests, landed and mercantile, which conflicted, McDonald identified some three dozen identifiable economic interests operating at cross-purposes that forced the delegates to bargain.
Evaluating the historiographical debate, Peter Novick concluded: By the early 1960s it was generally accepted within the historical profession that ... Beard's Progressive version of the ... framing of the Constitution had been decisively refuted. American historians came to see ... the framers of the Constitution, rather than having self-interested motives, were led by concern for political unity, national economic development, and diplomatic security. Ellen Nore, Beard's biographer, concludes his interpretation of the Constitution collapsed due to more recent and sophisticated analysis.
In a strong sense, this view simply involved a reaffirmation of the position Beard had always criticized by saying that parties were prone to switch rhetorical ideals when interest dictated.
Beard's economic determinism was largely replaced by the intellectual history approach, which stressed the power of ideas, especially republicanism, in stimulating the Revolution. However, the legacy of examining the economic interests of American historical actors can still be found in the 21st century. Recently, in To Form a More Perfect Union: A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution (2003), Robert A. McGuire, relying on a sophisticated statistical analysis, argues that Beard's basic thesis regarding the impact of economic interests in the making of the Constitution is not off the mark.
Civil War and ReconstructionEdit
Beard's interpretation of the Civil War was highly influential among historians and the general public from its publication in 1927 until well into the civil rights era of the late 1950s. The Beards downplayed slavery, abolitionism, and issues of morality. They ignored constitutional issues of states rights and even ignored American nationalism as the force that finally led to victory in the war. Indeed, the ferocious combat itself was passed over as merely an ephemeral event. Charles Ramsdell says the Beards emphasized that the Civil War was caused by economic issues, and was not basically about the right or wrong of slavery. Thomas J. Pressly says that the Beards fought against the prevailing nationalist interpretation that depicted, "a conflict between rival section-nations rooted in social, economic, cultural, and ideological differences." Pressly said the Beards instead portrayed a, "struggle between two economic economies having its origins in divergent material interests." Much more important was the calculus of class conflict. The Beards announced that the Civil War was really a "social cataclysm in which the capitalists, laborers, and farmers of the North and West drove from power in the national government the planting aristocracy of the South". They argued that the events were a second American Revolution.
The Beards were especially interested in the postwar era, as the industrialists of the Northeast and the farmers of the West cashed in on their great victory over the southern aristocracy. Hofstadter paraphrases the Beards as arguing that in victory:
the Northern capitalists were able to impose their economic program, quickly passing a series of measures on tariffs, banking, homesteads, and immigration that guaranteed the success of their plans for economic development. Solicitude for the Freedman had little to do with northern policies. The Fourteenth Amendment, which gave the Negro his citizenship, Beard found significant primarily as a result of a conspiracy of a few legislative draftsman friendly to corporations to use the supposed elevation of the blacks as a cover for a fundamental law giving strong protection to business corporations against regulation by state government.
Dealing with the Reconstruction era and the Gilded Age, disciples of Beard such as Howard Beale and C. Vann Woodward focused on greed and economic causation and emphasized the centrality of corruption. They argued that the rhetoric of equal rights was a smokescreen hiding their true motivation, which was promoting the interests of industrialists in the Northeast. The basic flaw was the assumption that there was a unified business policy. Beard's economic approach was rejected after the 1950s as conservative scholars doing research on specific subgroups discovered deep flaws in Beard's assumption that business men were united on policy. In fact businessmen were widely divergent on monetary or tariff policy. While Pennsylvania businessmen wanted high tariffs, those in other states did not; the railroads were hurt by the tariffs on steel, which they purchased in large quantity.
Selected works by Charles A. (and Mary Ritter) BeardEdit
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:|
Charles A. Beard
- Works by Charles A. Beard at Project Gutenberg
- Beard, Charles A. "Some Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy," American Historical Review (1914) 19#2 pp 282–298. in JSTOR
- Beard, Charles, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913) online edition
- Beard, Charles, Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy, (1915) online edition
- Beard, Charles A. and Beard, Mary Ritter. History of the United States (2 vols.) (1921) vol 1. online ed. June 13, 2007
- Beard, Charles, The Administration and Politics of Tokyo, (1923) online edition
- Beard, Charles A. and Beard, Mary Ritter, The Rise of American Civilization (1927) online edition
- Beard, Charles, A Century of Progress (1932) excerpts re Government and Law and The Idea of Progress online edition
- Beard, Charles, The Myth of Rugged American Individualism, John Day (1932)
- Beard, Charles, APSA Presidential Address online
- Beard, Charles A. "Written history as an act of faith." American Historical Review (1934) 39#2 pp 219–231.AHA Presidential Address online
- Beard, Charles A. "That noble dream," American Historical Review (1935) 41#1 pp 74–87. in JSTOR
- Beard, Charles A. President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War 1941 (Transaction Publishers, 1948).
- AHA Bibliography of the writings of Charles Beard
- Michael Kraus & Davis D. Joyce (1985). The Writing of American History (Revised ed.). University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 252–265.
- Alan Gibson (2006). Interpreting the Founding: Guide to the Enduring Debates over the Origins and Foundations of the American Republic. University Press of Kansas. pp. 7–12.
- Alan Gibson (2004). "What Ever Happened to the Economic Interpretation: Beard's Thesis and the Legacy of Empirical Analysis, Paper presented at the annual meeting of The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois, April 15, 2004".
- Ellen Nore, Charles A. Beard: An Intellectual Biography (1983).
- Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians (1968), 344
- Brogan, D. W. (1965). "The Quarrel over Charles Austin Beard and the American Constitution". The Economic History Review. New Series. 18 (1): 199–223. doi:10.2307/2591882.
- Kraus and Joyce, Writing of American History, p265.
- Mary Beard, The Making of Charles A. Beard (1955), 10–11
- Thomas Bender. "Beard, Charles Austin" in American National Biography Online (2000)
- Braeman, John (1982). "Charles A. Beard: The Formative Years in Indiana". Indiana Magazine of History. 78 (2): 93–127.
- Phillips, Clifton J. (1959). "The Indiana Education of Charles A. Beard". Indiana Magazine of History: 1–15.
- Nancy F. Cott. "Beard, Mary Ritter"; American National Biography Online (2000)
- Wilkins, Burleigh Taylor (1956). "Charles A. Beard on the Founding of Ruskin Hall". Indiana Magazine of History. 52 (3): 277–284.
- See online October 1906 edition
- Bender, 2000
- See 1921 edition
- Coleman, Peter J. (1960). "Beard, McDonald, and Economic Determinism in American Historiography". Business History Review. 34 (1): 113–121. JSTOR 3111785.
- Michael, Rosenthal, Nicholas Miraculous: The Amazing Career of the Redoubtable Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler (2006), 236ff.
- New York Times: "Quits Columbia; Assails Trustees" October 9, 1917. A sarcastic editorial in the New York Times hailed his resignation, saying the university would be better off without the services of those "teachers of false doctrines sheltering themselves behind the shibboleth of academic freedom". New York Times: "Columbia's Deliverance" Oct. 10, 1917
- The Administration and Politics of Tokyo, 1923
- Past Presidents List, APSA website.
- Past Presidents List, AHA website.
- Nash, Al (1981). Ruskin College: A Challenge to Adult and Labor Education. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 71. ISBN 0-87546-084-4.
- Stourzh, Gerald (1957). "Charles A. Beard's Interpretations of American Foreign Policy". World Affairs Quarterly. 28 (2): 111–148.
- Where They're Buried
- Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians ch 6
- Clyde W. Barrow, More Than a Historian: The Political and Economic Thought of Charles A. Beard (2000) Page 5 online
- Schuyler, Robert Livingston (1961). "Forrest McDonald's Critique of the Beard Thesis". Journal of Southern History. 27 (1): 73–80.
- Coleman, Peter J. (1960). "Beard, McDonald, and Economic Determinism in American Historiography". Business History Review. 34 (1): 113–121.
- Peter Novick, That Noble Dream (1988) p 336.
- Ellen Nore, "Charles A. Beard's Economic Interpretation of the Origins of the Constitution," This Constitution: a Bicentennial Chronicle 1987 (17): 39–44
- Beard, Charles (1922). The Economic Basis of Politics. pp. 158–9.
- See McDonald, Forrest (1997). "Colliding with the Past". Reviews in American History. 25 (1): 13–18.
- Sobel, Russell S. (2004). "Review: To Form a More Perfect Union: A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution by Robert A. McGuire". The Independent Review.
- Ramsdell, Charles W. (1937). "The Changing Interpretation of the Civil War". Journal of Southern History. 3 (1): 16–18. JSTOR 2192113.
- Thomas J. Pressly, Americans Interpret Their Civil War (1954) pp. 238–49, quote on p. 243.
- Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard, The Rise of American Civilization (1927), 2:54
- Lynd, Staughton (1965). "Rethinking Slavery and Reconstruction". Journal of Negro History. 50 (3): 198–209. doi:10.2307/2716012.
- Hofstadter, Richard (2012) . Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington. Knopf Doubleday. p. 303.
- Pressly, Thomas J. (1961). "Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction". Civil War History. 7 (1): 91–92. doi:10.1353/cwh.1961.0063.
- Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians pp 344–46.
- Gallaway, B. P. (1965). "Economic Determinism in Reconstruction Historiography". Southwestern Social Science Quarterly. 46 (3): 244–254. JSTOR 42880283.
- Barrow, Clyde W., More Than a Historian: The Political and Economic Thought of Charles A. Beard (2000)
- Blaser, Kent. "The rise of American civilization and the contemporary crisis in American historiography." History Teacher (1992) 26#1 pp 71–90. in JSTOR
- Borning, Bernard C. "The Political Philosophy of Young Charles A. Beard," American Political Science Review (1949) 43#6 pp 1165–1178. in JSTOR
- Borning, Bernard C., The Political and Social Thought of Charles A. Beard (University of Washington Press, 1962) online edition
- Braeman, John. "Charles A. Beard: The Formative Years in Indiana." Indiana Magazine of History 55#1 (1982): 93–127. online
- Braeman, John. "Charles A. Beard: The English Experience." Journal of American Studies 15#2 (1981): 165–189.
- Brown, David S., Beyond the Frontier: Midwestern Historians in the American Century (2009)
- Brown, Robert Eldon, Charles Beard and the Constitution: A critical analysis of "An economic interpretation of the Constitution" (1954)
- Coleman, Peter J. "Beard, McDonald, and Economic Determinism in American Historiography," Business History Review (1960) 34#1 pp. 113–121 in JSTOR
- Cott, Nancy F., A Woman Making History: Mary Ritter Beard through Her Letters (1991)
- Cott, Nancy F. "Beard, Mary Ritter" American National Biography Online (2000).
- Craig, Campbell. "The not-so-strange career of Charles Beard." Diplomatic History 25#2 (2001): 251–274.
- Dennis, L. George S. Counts and Charles A. Beard: Collaborators for Change. (SUNY Series in the Philosophy of Education). (State Univ of New York Press, 1990)
- Drake, Richard. Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian of American Imperialism. (Cornell University Press, 2018)
- Egnal, Marc, "The Beards Were Right: Parties in the North, 1840–1860," Civil War History, Vol. 47, 2001
- Hofstadter, Richard. "Beard and the Constitution: The History of an Idea," American Quarterly (1950) 2#3 pp 195–213. in JSTOR
- Hofstadter, Richard. The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington (1968), pp 167–346. Detailed analysis of Beard's historiography.
- Kennedy, Thomas C., Charles A. Beard and American Foreign Policy (1975) online edition
- Lann, Ann J. Mary Ritter Beard: A Sourcebook (1977)
- McDonald, Forrest, We The People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution (1958)
- Nore, Ellen, Charles A. Beard: An Intellectual Biography (1983). online edition
- Phillips, Clifton J. "The Indiana Education of Charles A. Beard," Indiana Magazine of History (1959) 55#1 pp 1–15. online
- Phillips, Clifton J., ed. "Charles A. Beard's Recollections of Henry County, Indiana." Indiana Magazine of History 55#1 (1959): 17–23. online
- Radosh, Ronald, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism (1978)
- Strout, Cushing. The Pragmatic Revolt in American History: Carl Becker and Charles Beard (1958) online edition
- Williams, William Appleman. "A Note on Charles Austin Beard's Search for a General Theory of Causation," American Historical Review (1956) 62#1 pp 59–80. in JSTOR
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Charles A. Beard|
- Works by Charles A. Beard at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Charles A. Beard at Internet Archive
- Works by Charles A. Beard at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Recent empirical research on Beard's thesis and economic factors behind the American Constitution from EH.NET's Encyclopedia.
- Class and Pluralism in America: The Constitution Reconsidered
- Article by Nancy Cott from The Reader's Companion to American History (registration required)
- Charles A. Beard, The Online Books Page, University of Pennsylvania
- Gibson, Alan: What Ever Happened to the Economic Interpretation: Beard's Thesis and the Legacy of Empirical Analysis, Paper presented at the annual meeting of The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois, Apr 15, 2004.
- Charles A. Beard at Find a Grave