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Reviews and extracts of an Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard (First Published 1913)

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[Complete OCR'd text of "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution" (first published 1913) by Charles A. Beard (1874 - 1948)]

Buy "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution" by Charles A. Beard (1874 - 1948; first published 1913) from the The Free Press / Simon and Schuster Free Press (ISBN: 0-029-02480-3)

An alternative publisher: Buy "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard (1874 - 1948; first published 1913) from the the Crown Rights Book Company

Alternative internet download sources for "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution" by Charles Beard ("This electronic edition edited by Gary Edwards, Gilgandra, New South Wales, Australia , in the year 2001")


  • New Book out: "To Form A More Perfect Union - A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution" - Robert A. McGuire (2003) ISBN: 0195139704 : http://www.oup-usa.org/isbn/0195139704.html
    • "This is the first book to provide modern evidence that substantiates many of the overall conclusions found in Charles Beard's An Economic Interpretation while challenging and overturning other of Beard's specific findings. To Form a More Perfect Union presents an entirely new approach to the study of the shaping of the U.S. Constitution."


Blurred and badly framed images of the Columbia University main campus in Manhattan - 23rd May 2001


Extract from New York Times: 9/1/1948 : "Charles Beard Historian, Dies" - Page 32

"Called "Uncle Charley" by devotees, and termed a "Hosier historian who lives, looks, and talks like a Connecticut Yankee, and acts as if he came from Missouri," Mr. Beard was of the debunking school of history."


Some available or slightly relevant books and references from the 1986 edition and the Forrest McDonald 1986 introduction

  • Modern reprint: "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard, With a new Introduction by Forrest McDonald. The Free Press. 1986, ISBN 0-02-902480-3
    • Extract from the Introduction by Forrest McDonald: "It is difficult, in the present irreverent age, to understand the vehemence of the hostility with which An Economic Interpretation was greeted by many. Ex-president William Howard Taft, speaking at the Waldorf-Astoria before an audience of 1,100, which included governors, senators, and Supreme Court justices, lambasted "these God-forgetting Progressive days" for producing an associate professor at Columbia who dares to make a "muckraking investigation" that besmirched the cherished memory of the Founders. Former secretary of state Elihu Root expressed similar outrage. Future president Warren G. Harding, publisher of the Marion, Ohio, Star denounced Beard in a story whose headline read: SCAVENGERS, HYENA-LIKE, DESECRATE THE GRAVES OF THE DEAD PATRIOTS WE REVERE. The book, the story said, was filled with "filthy lies and rotten perversions"; it was "libelous, vicious, and damnable in its influence." A reviewer in The Nation called the book "a pioneer work" of "first-rate importance", but afterward the journal ran a scathing editorial denunciation of it. Nicholas Murrary Butler, president of Columbia, attacked the work of his faculty colleague for charging the Framers with writing the Constitution to satisfy their "economic appetites" - which Beard had not actually done - and suggested that Beard, in assigning unworthy motives to the Framers, revealed that he himself would have acted unworthily in similar circumstances. In Seattle, Washington, Beard's book was banned from the public schools and placed on "closed and restricted reserve" in the public library."

  • David Hume's "Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary"; vols 3 and 5 of David Hume: The Philosophical Works, Thomas Hill Green and Thomas Hodge Grose, eds. (4 vols. photocopy reprint of the 1882 London edition, 1964)

  • Douglas Adair, "That Politics May be Reduced to a Science: David Hume, James Madison, and the Tenth Federalist", in Huntington Library Quarterly, 20:343-360 (1957)

  • Forrest McDonald, We the People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution (Chicago, Ill., 1958), passim.

  • Forrest McDonald, E. Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790 (Boston, Mass., 1965; republished Indianapolis, Ind., 1979)


Rarely used word "Personalty" (and the rarer used definition of personality) - the private property/personal belongings of a person - the word is used in this context in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard (First Published 1913)

From the Oxford Dictionary

personalty: a. See quots. 1607, 1888. b. Personal goods, personal estate: see PERSONAL A. 6; also gen. personal belongings. c. = PERSONALITY 6c. rare.

a1481 LITTLETON Tenures §315 III. iv. (1516) Dvb, Pur ceo qe laccion est en le personalte & nemye en le realte. 1544 translation, Bycause that the accyon is in the parsonalte and nat in the realte. 1607 COWELL Interpr., Personalty (Personalitas), is an abstract of personall. The action is in the personalty,..that is to say, brought against the right person, or the person against whome in lawe it lieth. 1766 BLACKSTONE Comm. II. xxiv. 385 Our courts now regard a man's personalty in a light nearly, if not quite, equal to his realty: and have adopted a more enlarged and less technical mode of considering the one than the other. 1827 JARMAN J. J. Powell's Devises (ed. 3) II. 163 The intention to confine the word ‘estate’ to personalty was inferred by the subsequent specification. 1845 STEPHEN Comm. Laws Eng. (1874) I. 167 Things personal, (otherwise called personalty,) consist of goods, money, and all other moveables, and of such rights and profits as relate to moveables. 1865 Look Before You Leap I. 12 His gay jacket, his horses, and a few personalties. 1880 GLADSTONE Speech 15 Mar., You will find that the duties on personalties of half a million or one million are comparatively insignificant; and so it is in regard to rates. 1888 T. C. WILLIAMS in Law Quarterly Rev. IV. 405 Actions were said to be or to sound in the realty or in the personalty, according to the nature of the relief afforded therein. Next the terms, the realty, the personalty were applied to the things recoverable in real or personal actions respectively. Such things were then distinguished as real or personal things.

personality: Law. a. = PERSONALTY a. Obs. b. = PERSONALTY b; gen. personal belongings. rare.

1658 PHILLIPS, Personality, (a Law-Term) an abstract of personal, as the action is in the personalty [1661 BLOUNT personality; 1704 J. HARRIS Lex. Techn. I, Personality]; that is, brought against the right person. 1752 DODSON in Phil. Trans. XLVII. 334 The interest or dividends of many personalities in the stocks. 1858 HAWTHORNE Fr. and It. Note-Bks. II. 72 Michael Angelo's..old slippers, and whatever other of his closest personalities are to be shown.


Extracts refering to Charles Beard from "Historical Fallacies - Toward a Logic of Historical Thought" by David Hackett Fischer, Harper Torchbooks, 1970, ISBN: 0-6-131545-1


The "furtive fallacy" - Charles Beard and An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution : Pages 74 to 77 - "Historical Fallacies - Toward a Logic of Historical Thought" by David Hackett Fischer, Harper Torchbooks, 1970, ISBN: 0-6-131545-1

"The furtive fallacy is the erroneous idea that facts of special significance are dark and dirty things and that history itself is a story of causes mostly insidious and results mostly invidious. It begins with the premise that reality is a sordid, secret thing; and that history happens on the back stairs a little after midnight, or else in a smoke-filled form, or a perfumed boudoir, or an executive penthouse or somewhere in the inner sanctum of the Vatican, or the Kremlin, or the Reich Chancellery, or the Pentagon. It is something more, and something other than a conspiracy theory . . "

[TEXT DELETED]

"Historians in the Progressive era showed the same habit of thought. A socialist scholar, Algie Simons, led the pack in their reinterpretations of that sacred ark of republicanism, the United States Constitution (30. Algie M. Simons, Social Forces in American History New York, 1911). In rhetoric which "sweats with rural superstition," he informed his readers that "the organic law of this nation was formulated in secret session by a body called into existence through a conspiratory [sic] trick, and was forced upon a disfranchised people by means of dishonest apportionment in order that the interests of a small body of wealthy rulers might be served."

Close behing Simons was the mightiest muckraker of them all, Charles Beard, author of the most famous monograph in American History, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (New York, 1913), in which the furtive fallacy was deeply embedded. Beard claimed otherwise, and several times insisted that his thesis was misunderstood. But in fact it was misconceived. For Beard, as for Simons, the Constitution was "essentially an economic document," which was "written by a small and active group of men" who were "with a few exceptions, immediately, directly and personally interested in, and derived economic advantages from, the establishment of the new system."

Beard's book, for all the controversy which it caused, was a very moderate specimen of the furtive falacy. No imputations of paranoia can attach to this work. Nobody, not even his worst critics, wished to call a psychiatrist (though President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia may have wished to call the police). But his interpretative model, in the events which it made significant, was false and misleading."


The "fallacy of argument ad temperantiam" - Charles Beard and An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution : Pages 296 to 297 - "Historical Fallacies - Toward a Logic of Historical Thought" by David Hackett Fischer, Harper Torchbooks, 1970, ISBN: 0-6-131545-1

"The fallacy of argument ad temperantiam is an appeal to moderation, on the apparent assujmption that truth, in Burke's phrase is always a "sort of middle." In academic scholarship it commonly occurs in two forms. The first is stylistic; the second, substantive."

[TEXT DELETED]

"Historians write dull books not because they are dull fellows, but because they have formed the stupid habit of confusing dullness with detachment. A clear example of an excess of stylistic moderation is the good, grey, Cambridge HIstory of British Foreign Policy, or the Cambridge Modern History. An editor of these excruciating works, the English diplomatic historian A. W. Ward, is alleged to have revised one chapter on the ground that "It's a bit lively." (S.C. Roberts, Adventures with Authors (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 112-13, quoted in G.R. Elton, The Practise of History (New York, 1967), p. 108.)

An exceedingly lively American scholar, Charles A. Beard, may have operated upon the same assumption in his most important work, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution. Several scholars have pondered an odd fact about the work. Eric Goldman observes, For a man like Charles Beard, who could write with either a shillelagh or a stiletto, the Economic Interpretation was a triumph in dullness. Not a single departure from catalogue organization, not a single bright sentence, enlivened the book, which carefully described itself as an "arid survey." Max Lerner, who believes that the Economic Interpretation influenced his own thinking enormously, has described the volume's strategy of flatness. "Beard must have had a premonition of the desparate resistance he would run into," Lerner commented. " . . . It is almost as if the author had set out with a deliberate severity to strip the book of every adornment, on the theory that a plain woman would be less suspected of being a wanton than an attractive one." (Eric Goldman, Rendezvous with Destiny (New York, 1952), p. 153.)

If liveliness is thought to be unbecoming in a monograph, enthusiasm appears to be unforgivable. One of Beard's most outspoken critics, Robert Brown, failed to bend before his colleagues' bias toward moderation and published several volumes in a spirit of furious revisionism which are sometimes condemned not for their substance but for their style. A conservative scholar has written, "What mars Professor Brown's important contributions to our understanding of the late colonial period is a certain belligerence toward fellow workings in this field." I hold no brief for Brown, who does indeed make himself more than a little disagreeable by a strident, self-righteous style. But that aspect of this work has nothing whatever to do with its interpretative merit."


The "fallacy of counterquestions" - Charles Beard and An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution vs Forrest McDonald's "We the People" : Pages 296 to 297 - "Historical Fallacies - Toward a Logic of Historical Thought" by David Hackett Fischer, Harper Torchbooks, 1970, ISBN: 0-6-131545-1

"The fallacy of counterquestions is an attempt at a revision which becomes merely a mindless inversion of an earlier interpretation and a reiteration of its fundamental assumptions. It has been said that there are two ways of manifesting an intellectual subservience to another mind: slavish imitation and obsessive refutation. Both of these forms of servility are regrettably common in historical scholarship. As revisionism grows more respectable, and even a prerequisite to a professional career, an increasing number of historians are delivered into the latter form of bondage."

[TEXT DELETED]

"A debate between two raving lunatics is unlikely to issue in a triumph of reason. An argument between two pathological liars is an improbably path to the truth. An exchange between two fools can scarcely be expected to end in a victory for wisdom. Adversary methods may, perhaps, be appropriate to a courtroom, where the object is the attainment of justice, but they are inappropriate to a seminar room, where the purpose is the refinement of truth. A fight between wild-eyed exponents of X and Y will help not all if Z was in fact the case, as it usually is. And between X and not-X the difference is merely a cipher, a nullity, a zero.

But there is something more specifically deficient about a counterquestion. If the original question, which is under attack, is mistaken, then its basic assumptions are probably faulty. But a counterquestion, in its reflexive inversion of the original, tends to repeat the original assumptions, faults and all, and thereby to perpetutate the error. Counter-revision is objectionable not because it is revisionist but because its revisionism is incomplete and superficial.

Consider for example, the case of Charles Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (New York, 1913), and his most determined critic, Forrest McDonald. McDonald has published two anti-Beardian books on the constitution: We the People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution and E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790 (Boston, 1965). The first colume is an elaborate refutation of Beard's interpretation; the second, a more positive statement of McDonald's views."

[TEXT DELETED]

That strategy was doubly dysfunctional to McDonald's unquiry. First, it diverted his attention from the critical problem of logical and epistemological and metaphysical devidiencies in the Beardian model. Second, when McDonald came to tell his own story of the Constitution the materials at hand were dictated by Beardian assumptions. The result, in E Pluribus Unum, was that McDonald, in the words of one reviewer, followed "a fairly Beardian line in interpreting the movement for the Constitution. Except for a few special twists of his own, the general outline follows the economic determinist pattern: failure of the impost ammedment of 1786, paper money, Rhode Island, Shay's Rebellion, conservative reaction, etc" (E. James Ferguson in The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser. 23 (1966): 149.)"

[TEXT DELETED]

"There is at least one important way in which McDonald departs from the Beardian model. He qualifies his account of the greed of the founding fathers by giving some attention to gluttony and lust. Beard delicately confined his investigation to pocketbooks; McDonald also inspected the stomachs, glands, and genitals of the Founding Fathers. But like Beard, McDonald tended to forget that men have minds and hearts, and feet to stand on and spines to stand straight. In this respect McDonald became more Beardian than Beard."


Life and some quotes of Charles A. Beard

  • "An economic interpretation of the constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard (published 1913)
    • Charles Austin Beard (1874-1948): http://www.netrax.net/~rarebook/s981120.htm

      Beard was born in Knightstown, Indiana. He studied at DePauw University, Oxford, and Columbia, where he taught from 1907; resigning in 1917 on an issue of academic freedom in wartime.
      After working for some years on European history, he turned his attention to America and produced this 'Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States'. It is his best known and most significant work. He argues here that personal and communal economic interests were the main engine for the framing of the U.S. Constitution. In subsequent years, his interpretation became axiomatic, but at the time, it was nothing short of revolutionary. It was the first salvo in demolishing a wall of patriotic historiography that held the Constitution to be the result of unselfish labor by giants of a 'Golden Age'.

      Charles Beard (who with his wife Mary wrote several large and important general histories) was asked by a publisher if he could write a book on the lessons of history. He said that he could do it in four sentences:


      1. Whom the Gods would destroy; they first make made with power.
      2. The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.
      3. The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.
      4. When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.


Another summary and effects of "An economic interpretation of the constitution"

  • "An economic interpretation of the constitution of the United States": http://www.liberty-tree.org/ltn/economic-constitution.html

    "First published in 1913, this iconoclastic masterpiece sparked a lively scholarly debate that has not yet fully subsided. Beard's then-radical thesis was that the business and property interests of the Founding Fathers---not notions of liberty and freedom---were the biggest factors in shaping the U.S. Constitution. For example, Beard concluded that speculation in depreciated certificates of Revolutionary War debt were an extremely dynamic element in bringing about the establishment of the Constitution. Such analysis was a dramatic break from the uncritical reverence previously given to the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, and sparked a revolution of its own in historical scholarship. While more recent research has undermined many of Beard's conclusions, this book remains as thought-provoking and intellectually challenging as when it was first published. Noted historian Forrest McDonald has contributed an introduction to this new edition that tells how Beard's work affected historians and summarizes later research that questions Beard's conclusions. No serious student of the U.S. Constitution can afford to be without this major work!"


Extract of a summary including a mention of Beard's book

  • "The Constitution For The United States Its Sources and Its Application": http://www.nidlink.com/~bobhard/consti15.html

  • "The Convention was singularly lacking in doctrinaires, in idealists. Jefferson, the great idealist and humanitarian of the epoch, was in France as the official representative of the government. It was also lacking in a spirit of inquiry. One would naturally think that a body of men engaged in a constructive work of such immense possibilities would summon before them, day after day, citizens of all degrees and from all sections, in an effort to find out what was wrong and what was required to set it right. But they did not do this; they never summoned anybody. To have done so might have revealed the purport of the Convention, and they could not risk that contingency. The Constitution was planned like a coup d'etat; and that was its effect, in truth."

An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States - By Charles A. Beard - Review by Serdar Goz

  • http://web.syr.edu/~ssgoz/review1.htm

  • "What comes to the minds of most people when they think of the constitutional convention is a gathering of scholarly gentlemen who sought to create a government that was for the people and by the people. In all facets of the documents this holds true. Nowhere in the Constitution are there rules that protect any one class in its rights or property over any other. The Constitution does not distinguish differences by descent, opinion, religion, or property. In these respects the founding fathers have much credit owed to them. In An Economic interpretation of the Constitution of the United States Charles Beard refutes this perception of the founding fathers. “The whole theory of the economic interpretation of history,” Beard states, “rests upon the concept that social progress in general is the result of contending interests in society…”(p.19). By researching the classes and social groups that existed at the time previous to the adoption of the Constitution those who would have most immediately gained and benefited by the overthrow of the old system and adoption of the new system would be made clear. Beard goes methodically through who was in the convention and the person’s financial standing, the states involved in the ratification and where her finances were found."

  • "Although personalty in the form of money in interest or investment capitol doesn’t come close to what it does today nonetheless it played a role in the politics at the convention. Money capitol was suffering in two ways under the Articles of Confederation. It was difficult to invest money because of the lack of protection for manufacturers, there was an absence of protection for investments in western lands and there existed discrimination against American shipping by foreign countries. Personalty in money was also in dire straights because of the makers of paper money. There were stay laws, pine barren acts, and other mechanisms to depreciate the value of money or to delay the collection of debts. Furthermore, each state had its own form of currency and coinage making it difficult to conduct business across borders. This situation greatly favored debtors, possibly driving creditors into class-consciousness and seeking a means to an end at the convention according to Beard.

    Those who were holders of personalty in public securities were greatly concerned with the establishment of a national government. Under the Articles of Confederation the government was not paying the interest on its debts and its paper money had depreciated to the point it was selling at one-sixth to one-twentieth its par value as Beard put forth. State money was also at a low price because of the reservations people had of the actions of state legislatures. The advantages of a strong national government that would be able to pay off its debts at face value, coin its own money and maintain its worth is obvious. "


An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States - By Charles A. Beard - An Article Review by Margaret Hancock Johnson

  • http://www.tamucc.edu/~whatley/PADM5302/theo38c.htm

  • "To understand the origins of the writing of the United States Constitution an examination of the men, their place in society, their wealth and political power should be examined. Also, it would be most beneficial to examine rest of society who had no say in its formulation and those who opposed its proposed legislation. It is important to assume, according to Beard, that there were a certain number of men who were in favor of the creation of the Constitution and a certain number of men were against its creation. Beard attempts to search for and or explain the economic biographies of the men who wrote and implemented this document and show that they had the power to choose legislation which would benefit their economic class.

    Beard states that if all the merchants, lenders, security holders, manufacturers, shippers, capitalists, financiers and their professional associates were on one side in support of the Constitution and substantially all or the major proportion of the opposition came from the non-slave holding farmers and debtors would it be not conclusive that our fundamental law was not a product of an abstraction known as the whole people. His point is that the Constitution may not have been written from a standpoint which would promote the general welfare of the entire people of the country, but would first promote the economic advantages for the people in power. "

  • "Beard examines the Americans who had no say in the Constitution. The amount of citizens who could not vote or participate in its formation is immense. These people were women, slaves, indented servants, the mass of men who could not qualify for voting under the property tests imposed by state constitutions and laws. The working class had almost no say in the adoption of the Constitution and the leaders did not appear to show interest in sharing that power. Hamilton, in a report concerning manufactures, writes that introducing machinery will provide employment to people who are otherwise idle, he said women and children in Europe are four-sevenths of this workforce. He continues to say that this income is to accrue principally to the fathers of families and remarks that the Ahusband himself experiences a new source of profit and support from the increased industry of his wife and daughters, invited and stimulated by the demands of the neighboring manufactories. This statement gives a true sense of the patriarchal power and attitude of the time. "

Charles Beard and Mary Ritter Beard

  • Charles Beard: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAbeardC.htm

  • "A Quaker, Beard was involved in the campaign to keep the United States out of the First World War. In 1917 he resigned from Columbia University in protest against the Espionage Act. "

  • "Beard was never able to secure an academic appointment again and was forced to live off his writings and a diary farm he owned in Connecticut. Working with his wife, Mary Ritter Beard, he wrote a two volume history of the United States, The Rise of American Civilization (1927). This was followed by America in Midpassage (1939) and The American Spirit (1942). The couple also collaborated on A Basic History of the United States (1944)"

  • "Although a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, he was very critical of his foreign policy. This was reflected in his books, American Foreign Policy in the Making: 1932-1940 (1946) and President Roosevelt and the Coming of War (1948). Charles Beard died in New Haven, Connecticut, on 1st September, 1948"

  • Mary Ritter Beard: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAWritter.htm

  • "Mary and Charles Beard were proponents of what became known as the New History. They challenged the primacy of military and political explanations of the past by examining economic and social factors in more detail. In Beard's books she demonstrated the central role that women had played in history. This was reflected in her book On Understanding Women (1931) and America Through Women's Eyes (1933), a collection of accounts by women who had played an integral part in the development of America's history.

    In On Understanding Women she highlighted a problem that faced feminist historians. "Women have been engaged in a continuous contest to defend their arts and crafts, to win the right to use their minds and to train them, to obtain openings for their talents and to earn a livelihood, to break through legal restraints on their unfolding powers. In their quest for rights women have naturally placed emphasis on their wrongs, rather than their achievements and possessions, and have retold history as a story of their long Martyrdom. Feminists have been prone to prize and assume the traditions of those with whom they had waged such a long, and in places bitter conflict. In doing so, they have participated in a distortion of history and a disturbance of the balanced conceptual thought which gives harmony and power to life."


An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States - By Charles A. Beard - People's Awareness Coalition

  • http://www.pacinlaw.org/inside/interpretation.htm

    "This classic suggests that the U.S. Constitution was written by the country's monied classes and largely serves their interests. It remains an important work not merely for its historical data but because it raises the question of whether representatives need to reflect the class backgrounds of their constituents to represent their interests.

    Beard is the first to compare the economic backgrounds of elites with their mass counterparts. He argues that the framers of the Constitution were exclusively "merchants, money managers, security holders, manufacturers, shippers, capitalists, financiers, and their professional associates." Not represented were the small farming classes and the population of debtors.

    Furthermore, Beard claims that the framers of the Constitution were conscious of their economic self-interests; the Federalists presented an economic interpretation of politics to defend their work. Their main concerns, according to Beard, were to provide a strong central government and banking system and to protect the propertied classes from tyranny by the majority, by which they meant the poor taking from the rich"

  • "In reading the pages of this remarkable work as a study in political economy, it is important to bear in mind that the system, which the authors are describing, consisted of two fundamental parts-one positive, the other negative:

    I. A government endowed with certain positive powers, but so constructed as to break the force of majority rule and prevent invasions of the property rights of minorities.

    II. Restrictions on the state legislatures which had been so vigorous in their attacks on capital."

  • "Conclusions

    At the close of this long and arid survey-partaking of the nature of catalogue-it seems worth while to bring together the important conclusions for political science which the data presented appear to warrant.

    The movement for the Constitution of the United States was originated and carried through principally by four groups of personalty interests which had been adversely affected under the Articles of Confederation: money, public securities, manufactures, and trade and shipping.

    The first firm steps toward the formation of the Constitution were taken by a small and active group of men immediately interested through their personal possessions in the outcome of their labors.

    No popular vote was taken directly or indirectly on the proposition to call the Convention which drafted the Constitution.

    A large property-less mass was, under the prevailing suffrage qualifications, excluded at the outset from participation (through representatives) in the work of framing the Constitution.

    The members of the Philadelphia Convention which drafted the Constitution were, with a few exceptions, immediately, directly, and personally interested in, and derived economic advantages from, the establishment of the new system.

    The Constitution was essentially an economic document based upon the concept that the fundamental private rights of property are anterior to government and morally beyond the reach of popular majorities.

    The major portion of the members of the Convention are on record as recognizing the claim of property to a special and defensive position in the Constitution.

    In the ratification of the Constitution, about three-fourths of the adult males failed to vote on the question, having abstained from the elections at which delegates to the state conventions were chosen, either on account of their indifference or their disfranchisement by property qualifications.

    The Constitution was ratified by a vote of probably not more than one-sixth of the adult males.

    It is questionable whether a majority of the voters participating in the elections for the state conventions in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, and South Carolina, actually approved the ratification of the Constitution.

    The leaders who supported the Constitution in the ratifying convention represented the same economic groups as the members of the Philadelphia Convention; and in a large number of instances they were also directly and personally interested in the outcome of their efforts.

    In the ratification, it became manifest that the line of cleavage for and against the Constitution was between substantial personalty interests on the one hand and the small farming and debtor interests on the other.

    The Constitution was not created by "the whole people" as the jurists have said; neither was it created by "the states" as Southern nullifiers long contended; but it was the work of a consolidated group whose interests knew no state boundaries and were truly national in their scope. [emphasis added]"


Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)

  • In the 1935 introduction to "An economic interpretation of the constitution of the United States", Charles Beard makes the following comment:

    "Few took the position occupied by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who once remarked to me that he had not got exicted about the book, like some of his colleagues, but had supposed that it was intended to throw light on the nature of the Constitution, and, in his opinion, did so in fact."


  • Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) by Judge Mark P. Painter : http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/B/oliver/oliverxx.htm

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was born in Boston on March 8, 1841. He would live until two days short of his 94th birthday. His father, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., was a physician, a professor of medicine at Harvard, and an author of novels, verse, and humorous essays. Thus, Holmes grew up in a literary, and prosperous, family.
    Holmes attended private schools in Boston and then, like his father, Harvard. Young Holmes was not overly impressed with the Harvard of that time, finding the curriculum stultifying (Henry Adams later remarked that "Harvard taught little, and that little ill."). He exercised his literary talents as editor of the Harvard Magazine, and in numerous essays. His graduation was even in some doubt, as he had been publicly admonished by the faculty for "disrespect" towards a professor. Holmes evidently took this as an affront and left to train for the Civil War. His unit was not immediately sent to the front, and Holmes was persuaded to return and receive his degree.
    After graduating from Harvard, Holmes began his Civil War service. He was wounded in battle three times and also suffered numerous illnesses. Though he was later to glorify wartime service, he declined to renew his term of service when it expired. Holmes apparently, and justifiably, felt that he had done more than his duty, and had survived one battle too many to continue tempting fate.
  • Holmes's most famous work, The Common Law, published in 1881 grew out of a series of twelve lectures he was invited to deliver, which required that he explain the fundamentals of American law. Holmes questioned the historical underpinnings of much of Anglo-American jurisprudence. The work contains Holmes's most famous quote, "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience." Holmes had come to believe that even outdated and seemingly illogical legal doctrines survived because they found new utility. Old legal forms were adapted to new societal conditions.
  • Holmes's legal philosophy evolved over the sixty-odd years he wrote on the law. At first, he attempted a rational, systematic, or "scientific" conceptualization. But over time, he came to realize that the law was more of a compendium of decisions reflecting individual judges' resolutions of actual cases. Thus, the growth of the law was by experience molded to actual controversies in the society of the day.
  • Widely considered a "liberal" because he believed in free speech and the right of labor to organize, Holmes was very conservative in his response to injury cases. He was a champion of "judicial restraint"-deferring to the judgment of the legislature in most matters of policy.
    Holmes is considered one of the giants of American law. Not just because he wrote so well, but also because he wrote so much, and for so long. A lawyer seeking a quote from Holmes is never left wanting. Even the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington, D.C. bears his writing, "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."


Review of Economic Interpretation of the Constitution

  • http://www.pacinlaw.org/inside/interpretation.htm

  • Major Themes

    This classic suggests that the U.S. Constitution was written by the country's monied classes and largely serves their interests. It remains an important work not merely for its historical data but because it raises the question of whether representatives need to reflect the class backgrounds of their constituents to represent their interests.

    Beard is the first to compare the economic backgrounds of elites with their mass counterparts. He argues that the framers of the Constitution were exclusively "merchants, money managers, security holders, manufacturers, shippers, capitalists, financiers, and their professional associates." Not represented were the small farming classes and the population of debtors.

    Furthermore, Beard claims that the framers of the Constitution were conscious of their economic self-interests; the Federalists presented an economic interpretation of politics to defend their work. Their main concerns, according to Beard, were to provide a strong central government and banking system and to protect the propertied classes from tyranny by the majority, by which they meant the poor taking from the rich.

    Key Points

    All the features of the Constitution can be traced back to the economic interests of those who wrote it. Checks and balances were to make the government difficult to take control of, so that small farmers and debtors could not use the government easily for their own advantage. The bicameral legislature, although partly a compromise between large and small states, also was intended to make it difficult for a single interest to galvanize the legislative branch.

    Opposition to the Constitution came almost exclusively from the small farmer classes.

    The Constitution was never truly or legally adopted. No popular vote was taken on the proposition to call the convention that drafted the Constitution.

    Complicated government benefits powerful special interests. The latter can afford lobbyists and lawyers to manipulate the legislative machinery. The large mass without property is politically powerless.

    The Constitution is not a compromise between states. It is the work of a "consolidated group whose interests knew no state boundaries and were truly national in their scope."


Review of Economic Interpretation of the Constitution

  • http://www.tamucc.edu/~whatley/PADM5302/theo38c.htm

  • Beard states that if all the merchants, lenders, security holders, manufacturers, shippers, capitalists, financiers and their professional associates were on one side in support of the Constitution and substantially all or the major proportion of the opposition came from the non-slave holding farmers and debtors would it be not conclusive that our fundamental law was not a product of an abstraction known as the whole people. His point is that the Constitution may not have been written from a standpoint which would promote the general welfare of the entire people of the country, but would first promote the economic advantages for the people in power.

  • Beard examines the Americans who had no say in the Constitution. The amount of citizens who could not vote or participate in its formation is immense. These people were women, slaves, indented servants, the mass of men who could not qualify for voting under the property tests imposed by state constitutions and laws. The working class had almost no say in the adoption of the Constitution and the leaders did not appear to show interest in sharing that power. Hamilton, in a report concerning manufactures, writes that introducing machinery will provide employment to people who are otherwise idle, he said women and children in Europe are four-sevenths of this workforce. He continues to say that this income is to accrue principally to the fathers of families and remarks that the Ahusband himself experiences a new source of profit and support from the increased industry of his wife and daughters, invited and stimulated by the demands of the neighboring manufactories. This statement gives a true sense of the patriarchal power and attitude of the time.


An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States - Charles Beard - 1913

  • http://www.vindicatingthefounders.com/library/index.asp?document=71

  • [The principle of majority rule was not recognized in the founding. - TGW]

    We forget that when our government was established the principle of majority rule was nowhere to recognized - that until well along in the nineteenth century the majority of our forefathers did not even have the right to vote. . . . . Then a great popular movement swept over the country, and in the political upheaval which followed, the masses secured the right of suffrage.

    [From Charles A. Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913); reprint, New York: Free Press, 1941), 324.]

  • Vindicating the Founders : http://www.vindicatingthefounders.com/

  • Vindicating the Founders is a defense of the Founders' views and actions on slavery, women's rights, property rights, voting rights, and other controversial issues.

    The main purpose of this site is to make available to the public an extensive collection of original historical documents on the themes of this book. These documents provide evidence from original sources in support of the book's arguments.

    Most of the historical documents are quite short. Some are appropriate for in-class teacher handouts. All can be read quickly by students.

  • The New Freedom: A Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People - Woodrow Wilson - 1912 : http://www.vindicatingthefounders.com/library/index.asp?document=48

  • We used to think in the old-fashioned days when life was very simple that all that government had to do was to put on a policeman’s uniform, and say, "Now don’t anybody hurt anybody else." We used to say that the ideal of government was for every man to be left alone and not interfered with, except when he interfered with somebody else; and that the best government was the government that did as little governing as possible. That was the idea that obtained in Jefferson’s time. But we are coming now to realize that life is so complicated that we are not dealing with the old conditions, and that the law has to step in and create new conditions under which we may live, the conditions which will make it tolerable for us to live.

    Let me illustrate what I mean: It used to be true in our cities that every family occupied a separate house of its own, that every family had its own little premises, that every family was separated in its life from every other family. That is no longer the case in our great cities. Families live in tenements, they live in flats, they live on floors; they are piled layer upon layer in the great tenement houses of our crowded districts, and not only are they piled layer upon layer, but they are associated room by room, so that there is in every room, sometimes, in our congested districts, a separate family. In some foreign countries they have made much more progress than we in handling these things. In the city of Glasgow, for example (Glasgow is one of the model cities of the world), they have made up their minds that the entries and the hallways of great tenements are public streets. Therefore, the policeman goes up the stairway, and patrols the corridors; the lighting department of the city sees to it that the halls are abundantly lighted. The city does not deceive itself into supposing that great building is a unit from which the police are to keep out and the civic authority to be excluded, but it says: "These are public highways, and light is needed in them, and control by the authority of the city."

    I liken that to our great modern industrial enterprises. A corporation is very like a large tenement house; it isn’t the premises of a single commercial family; it is just as much a public affair as a tenement house is a network of public highways….

  • I believe, for one, that you cannot tear up ancient rootages and safely plant the tree of liberty in soil which is not native to it. I believe that the ancient traditions of a people are its ballast; you cannot make a tabula rasa upon which to write a political program. You cannot take a new sheet of paper and determine what your life shall be to-morrow. You must knit the new into the old. You cannot put a new patch on an old garment without ruining it; it must be not a patch, but something woven into the old fabric, of practically the same pattern, of the same texture and intention. If I did not believe that to be progressive was to preserve the essentials of our institutions, I for one could not be a progressive.

  • Now, it came to me, as this interesting man talked, that the Constitution of the United States had been made under the dominion of the Newtonian Theory. You have only to read the papers of The Federalist to see that fact written on every page. They speak of the "checks and balances" of the Constitution, and use to express their idea the simile of the organization of the universe, and particularly of the solar system,—how by the attraction of gravitation the various parts are held in their orbits; and then they proceeded to represent Congress, the Judiciary, and the President as a sort of imitation of the solar system.

    They were only following the English Whigs, who gave Great Britain its modern constitution. Not that those Englishmen analyzed the matter, or had any theory about it; Englishmen care little for theories. It was a Frenchman, Montesquieu, who pointed out to them how faithfully they had copied Newton’s description of the mechanism of the heavens.

    The makers of our Federal Constitution read Montesquieu with true scientific enthusiasm. They were scientists in their way,—the best way of their age,—those fathers of the nation. Jefferson wrote of "the laws of Nature,"—and then by way of afterthought,—"and of Nature’s God." And they constructed a government as they would have constructed an orrery,—to display the laws of nature. Politics in their thought was a variety of mechanics. The Constitution was founded on the law of gravitation. The government was to exist and move by virtue of the efficacy of "checks and balances."

    The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick co-operation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. Government is not a body of blind forces; it is a body of men, with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in our modern day, of specialization, with a common task and purpose. Their co-operation is indispensable, their warfare fatal. There can be no successful government without the intimate, instinctive co-ordination of the organs of life and action. This is not theory, but fact, and displays its force as fact, whatever theories may be thrown across its track. Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop.

    All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when "development," "evolution," is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.

    Some citizens of this country have never got beyond the Declaration of Independence, signed in Philadelphia, July 4th, 1776. Their bosoms swell against George III, but they have no consciousness of the war for freedom that is going on to-day.

    The Declaration of Independence did not mention the questions of our day. It is of no consequence to us unless we can translate its general terms into examples of the present day and substitute them in some vital way for the examples it itself gives, so concrete, so intimately involved in the circumstancs of the day in which it was conceived and written. It is an eminently practical document, meant for the use of practical men; not a thesis for philosophers, but a whip for tyrants; not a theory of government, but a program of action. Unless we can translate it into the questions of our own day, we are not worthy of it, we are not the sons of the sires who acted in response to its challenge.

    What form does the contest between tyranny and freedom take to-day? What is the special form of tyranny we now fight? How does it endanger the rights of the people, and what do we mean to do in order to make our contest against it effectual? What are to be the items of our new declaration of independence?

    By tyranny, as we now fight it, we mean control of the law, of legislation and adjudication, by organizations which do not represent the people, by means which are private and selfish. We mean, specifically, the conduct of our affairs and the shaping of our legislation in the interest of special bodies of capital and those who organize their use. We mean the alliance, for this purpose, of political machines with selfish business. We mean the exploitation of the people by legal and political means. We have seen many of our governments under these influences cease to be representative governments, cease to be governments representative of the people, and become governments representative of special interests, controlled by machines, which in their turn are not controlled by the people.

    Sometimes, when I think of the growth of our economic system, it seems to me as if, leaving our law just about where it was before any of the modern inventions or developments took place, we had simply at haphazard extended the family residence, added an office here and a workroom there, and a new set of sleeping rooms there, built up higher on our foundations, and put out little lean-tos on the side, until we have a structure that has no character whatever. Now, the problem is to continue to live in the house and yet change it.

  • Well, we have started now at all events. The procession is under way. The stand-patter doesn’t know there is a procession. He is asleep in the back part of his house. He doesn’t know that the road is resounding with the tramp of men going to the front. And when he wakes up, the country will be empty. He will be deserted, and he will wonder what has happened. Nothing has happened. The world has been going on. The world has a habit of going on. The world has a habit of leaving those behind who won’t go with it. The world has always neglected stand-patters. And, therefore, the stand-patter does not excite my indignation; he excites my sympathy. He is going to be so lonely before it is all over. And we are good fellows, we are good company; why doesn’t he come along? We are not going to do him any harm. We are going to show him a good time. We are going to climb the slow road until it reaches some upland where the air is fresher, where the whole talk of mere politicians is stilled, where men can look in each other’s faces and see that there is nothing to conceal, that all they have to talk about they are willing to talk about in the open and talk about with each other; and whence, looking back over the road, we shall see at last that we have fulfilled our promise to mankind. We had said to all the world, "America was created to break every kind of monopoly, and to set men free, upon a footing of equality, upon a footing of opportunity, to match their brains and their energies." and now we have proved that we meant it.

  • Message to the Congress on the State of the Union - Franklin D. Roosevelt - January 11, 1944 : http://www.vindicatingthefounders.com/library/index.asp?document=87

  • All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

    America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

    One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis—recently emphasized the grave dangers of "rightist reaction" in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called "normalcy" of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

    I ask the Congress to explore the means for implementing this economic bill of rights—for it is definitely the responsibility of the Congress so to do. Many of these problems are already before committees of the Congress in the form of proposed legislation. I shall from time to time communicate with the Congress with respect to these and further proposals. In the event that no adequate program of progress is evolved, I am certain that the Nation will be conscious of the fact.

    Our fighting men abroad—and their families at home—expect such a program and have the right to insist upon it. It is to their demands that this Government should pay heed rather than to the whining demands of selfish pressure groups who seek to feather their nests while young Americans are dying…

    Each and every one of us has a solemn obligation under God to serve this Nation in its most critical hour—to keep this Nation great—to make this Nation greater in a better world.


To Form A More Perfect Union - A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution - ROBERT A. MCGUIRE

  • http://www.oup-usa.org/isbn/0195139704.html

  • Many important questions regarding the creation and adoption of the United States Constitution remain unresolved. Did slaveholdings or financial holdings significantly influence our Founding Fathers' stance on particular clauses or rules contained in the Constitution? Was there a division of support for the Constitution related to religious beliefs or ethnicity? Were founders from less commercial areas more likely to oppose the Constitution? To Form a More Perfect Union successfully answers these questions and offers an economic explanation for the behavior of our Founding Fathers during the nation's constitutional founding.

    In 1913, American historian Charles A. Beard controversially argued in his book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States that the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution were less interested in furthering democratic principles than in advancing specific economic and financial interests. Beard's thesis eventually emerged as the standard historical interpretation and remained so until the 1950s. Since then, many constitutional and historical scholars have questioned an economic interpretation of the Constitution as being too narrow or too calculating, believing the great principles and political philosophies that motivated the Founding Fathers to be worthier subjects of study.

    In this meticulously researched reexamination of the drafting and ratification of our nation's Constitution, Robert McGuire argues that Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, George Mason and the other Founding Fathers did act as much for economic motives as for abstract ideals. To Form a More Perfect Union offers compelling evidence showing that the economic, financial, and other interests of the founders can account for the specific design and adoption of our Constitution. This is the first book to provide modern evidence that substantiates many of the overall conclusions found in Charles Beard's An Economic Interpretation while challenging and overturning other of Beard's specific findings. To Form a More Perfect Union presents an entirely new approach to the study of the shaping of the U.S. Constitution. Through the application of economic thinking and rigorous statistical techniques, as well as the processing of vast amounts of data on the economic interests and personal characteristics of the Founding Fathers, McGuire convincingly demonstrates that an economic interpretation of the Constitution is valid. Radically challenging the prevailing views of most historians, political scientists, and legal scholars, To Form a More Perfect Union provides a wealth of new findings about the Founding Fathers' constitutional choices and sheds new light on the motivations behind the design and adoption of the United States Constitution.


Introduction to the 1935 Edition

Introduction to the 1935 Edition: Page: v to xvii

From "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard (First Published 1913), 1935 reprint edition with new introduction, (1939) MacMillan Company, New York.

(Modern reprint: "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard, With a new Introduction by Forrest McDonald. The Free Press. 1986, ISBN 0-02-902480-3)

"This volume was first issued in 1913 during the tumult of discussion that accompanied the advent of the Progressive party, the split in Republican ranks, and the conflict over the popular election of United States Senators, workmen's compensation, and other social legislation. At that time Theodore Roosevelt had raised fundamental questions under the head of "the New Nationalism" and proposed to make the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies created by railways, the consolidation of industries, the closure of free land on the frontier, and the new position of labor in American economy. In the course of developing his conceptions, Mr Roosevelt drew into consideration the place of the judiciary in the American system. While expressing high regard for that branch of government, he proposed to place limitations on its authority. He contended that "by abuse of the power to declare laws unconstitutional the courts have become a law-making instead of law-enforcing agency." As a check upon judicial proclivities, he proposed a scheme for "the recall of judicial decitions." This project he justified by the assertion that "when a court decides a constitutional question, when it decides what the people as a whole can or cannot do, the people should have the right to recall that decision when they think it is wrong." Owing to such declarations, and to the counter-declarations,k the "climate of opinion" was profoundly disturbed when An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution originally appeared.

Yet in no sense was the volume a work of the occassion, written with reference to immediate controversies. Doubtless I was, in common with all other students, influenced more or less by "the spirit of the times," but I had in mind no thought of forwarding the interests of the Progressive party or of its conservative critics and opponents. I had taken up the study of the Constitution many years before the publication of my work, while a profound calm rested on the sea of constitutional opinion. In that study I had occasion to read voluminous writings by the Fathers, and I was struck by the emphasis which so many of them placed upon economic interests as forces in politics and in the formulation of laws and constitutions. In particular I was impressed by the philosophy of politics set forth by James Madison in Number X of the Federalist (below, page 14), which seemed to furnish a clue to practical operations connected with the formation of the Constitution - operations in which Madison himself took a leading part.

Madison's view of the Constitution seemed in flat contradiction to most of the theorizing about the Constitution to which I had been accustomed in colleges, universities, and legal circles. It is true, older historians, such as Hildreth, had pointed out that there had been a sharp struggle over the formation and adoption of the Constitution, and that in the struggle an alignment of economic interests had taken place. It is true that Chief Justice Marshall, in his life of George Washington, had sketched the economic conflict out of which the Constitution sprang. But during the closing years of the nineteenth century this realistic view of the Constitution had been largely submerged in abstract discussions of states' rights and national sovereignty and in formal, logical, and discriminative analyses of judicial opinions. It was admitted, of course, that there had been a bitter conflict over the formation and adoption of the Constitution; but the struggle was usually explained, if explained at all, by reference to the fact that some men cherished states' rights and other favored a strong central government. At the time I began my inquiries the generally prevailing view was that expressed recently by Professor Theodore Clarke Smith: "Former historians had described the struggle over the formation and adoption of the document as a contest between sections ending in a victory of straight-thinking national-minded men over narrower and more local opponents." How some men got to be "national-minded" and "straight-thinking," and others became narrow and local in their ideas did not disturb the thought of scholars who presided over historical writing at the turn of the nineteenth century. Nor were those scholars at much pains to explain whether the term "section," which they freely used, meant a segment of physical geography or a set of social and economic arrangements within a geographical area, conditioned by physical circumstances.

One thing, however, my masters taught me, and that was to go behind the pages of history written by my contemporaries and read "the sources." In applying this method, I read the letters, papers and documents pertaining to the Constitution written by the men who took part in framing and adopting it. And to my surprise I found that many Fathers of the Republic regarded the conflicts of economic interests, which had a certain geographical or sectional distribution. This discovery, coming at a time when such conceptions of history were neglected by writers on history, gave me "the shock of my life." And since this aspect of the Constitution had been so long disregarded, I sought to redress the balance by emphasis, "naturally" perhaps. At all events I called my volume "an economic interpretation of the Constitution." I did not call it "the" economic interpretation, or "the only" interpretation possible to thought. Nor did I pretend that it was "the history" of the formation and adoption of the Constitution. The reader was warned in advance of the theory and the emphasis. No attempt was made to take him off his guard by some plausible formula of completeness and comprehensiveness. I simply sought to bring back into the mental picture of the Constitution those realistic features of economic conflict, stress, and strain, which my masters had, for some reason, left out of it, or thrust far into the background as incidental rather than fundamental.

When my book appeared, it was roundly condemned by conservative Republicans, including ex-President Taft, and praised, with about the same amount of discrimination, by Progressives and others on the left wing. Perhaps no other book on the Constitution has been more severely criticized, and so little read. Perhaps no other book on the subject has been used to justify opinions and projects so utterly beyond its necessary implications. It was employed by a socialist writer to support a plea for an entirely new constitution and by a conservative judge of the United States Supreme Court to justify an attack on a new piece of "social legislation." Some members of the New York Bar Association became so alarmed by the book that they formed a committee and summoned me to appear before it; and, when I declined on the ground that I was not engaged in legal politics or political politics, they treated my reply as a kind of contempt of court. Few took the position occupied by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who once remarked to me that he had not got exicted about the book, like some of his colleagues, but had supposed that it was intended to throw light on the nature of the Constitution, and, in his opinion, did so in fact. Among my historical colleagues the reception accorded the volume varied. Professor William A. Dunning wrote me that he regarded it as "the pure mild of the word," although it would "make the heathen rage." Professor Albert Bushnell Hart declared that it was little short of indecent. Others sought to classify it by calling it "Marxian." Even as late as the year 1934, Professor Theodore Clarke Smith, in an address before the American Historical Association, expressed this view of the volume, in making it illustrative of the type of historical writing, which is "doctrinaire" and "excludes anything like impartiality." He said: "This is the view that American history, like all history, can and must be explained in economic terms . . . This idea has its origin, of course, in the Marxian theories."(1) Having made this assertion, Professor Smith turned his scholarly battery upon An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution

Now as a matter of fact there is no reason why an economic interpretatoin of the Constitution should be more partisan than any other interpretation. It may be employed, to be sure, to condemn one interest in the conflict or another interest, but no such use of it is imposed upon an author by the nature of the interpretation. indeed an economic analysis may be coldly neutral, and in the pages of this volume no words of condemnation are pronounced upon the men enlisted upon either side of the great controversy which accompanied the formation and adoption of the Constitution. Are the security holders who sought to collect principal and interest through the formation of a stronger government to be treated as guilty of impropriety or priased? That is a question to which the following inquiry is not addressed. an answer to that question belongs to moralists and phiolosophers, not to students of history as such. If partiality is taken in the customary and accepted sense, it means "leaning to one party or another". Impartiality means the opposite. then this volume is, strictly speaking, impartial. It supports the conclusion that in the main the men who favoured the Constitution were affiliated with certain types of property and economic interest, and that the men who opposed it were affiliated with other types. It does not say that the former were "straight-thinking" and that the latter were "narrow." It applies no moralistic epithets to either party.

On the other hand Professor Smith's statment about the conflict over the Constitution is his interpretation of the nature of things, in that it makes the conflict over the Constitution purely psychological in character, unless some economic content is to be given to the term "section." In any event it assumes that straight-thinking and national-mindedness are entities, particularities, or forces, apparently independent of all earthly considerations coming under the head of "economic." It does not say how these entities, particularities, or forces got into American heads. It does not show whether they were imported into the colonies from Europe or sprang up after the colinial epoch closed. It arbitrarily excludes the possibilities that their existence may have been conditioned if not determined by economic interests and activities. It is firm in its exclusion of other interpretations and conceptions. Whoever does not believe that the struggle over the Constitution was a simple contest between the straight-thinking men and narrower and local men of the respective sections is to be cast into the outer darkness as "Marxian" or lacking in "impartiality." Is that not a doctrinaire position?

Not only is Professor Smith's position exclusive. It is highly partial. The men who favored the Constitution were "straight-thinking" men. Those who opposed it were "narrower" men. These words certainly may be taken to mean that advocates of the Constitution were wiser men, men of ahigher type of mind, then the "narrower" men who opposed it. In a strict sense, of course, straight-thinking may be interpreted as thinking logically. In that case no praise or partiality is necessarily involved. A trained burglar who applies his science to cracking a safe may be more locial than an impulsive night watchman who sacrifices his life in the performance of duty. But in common academic acceptance a logical man is supposed to be superior to the intuitional and emotional man.

Nor is there exactness in such an antithesis as "straight-thinking" and narrowness. Narrowness does not, of necessity, mean lack of straight-thinking. Straight-thinking may be done in a narrow field of thought as well as in a large domain. But there is a true opposition in national-mindedness and local-mindedness, and the student of economic history merely inquires whether the antithesis does not correspond in the main to an economic antogonism. He may accept Professor Smith's psychological antithesis and go beyond it to inquire into origins. But in so doing he need not ascribe any superior quality of intellect to the one party or the other. To ascribe qualities of mind - high or low - to either party is partiality, dogmatic and doctrinaire partiality. It arbitrarily introduces virtues of intellectual superiority and inferiority into an examination of matters of fact.

In the minds of some, the term "Marxian," imported into the discussion by Professor Smith, means an epithet and in the minds of others, praise. With neither of these views have I the least concern. For myself I can say that I have never believed that "all history" can or must be "explained" in economic terms, or any other terms. He who really "explains" history must have the attributes ascribed by the theologians to God. It can be "explained," no doubt, to the satisfaction of certain mentalities at certain times, but such explanations are not universally accepted and approved. I confess to have hoped in my youth to find "the cause of things," but I never thought that I had found them. Yet it has seemed to me, and does now, that in the great transformations in society, such as was brought about by the formation and adoption of the Constitution, economic "forces" are primordial or fundamental, and come nearer "explaining" events than any other "forces." Where the configurations and pressures of economic interests are brought into an immediate relation to the event or series of events under consideration, an economic interpretation is effected. Yet, as I said in 1913, on pate 18, "It may be that some larger world process is working through each series of historical events; but ultimate causes lie beyond our horizon." If anywhere I have said or written that "all history" can be "explained" in economic terms, I was then suffering from an aberration of the mind.

Nor can I accept as a historical fact Professor Smith's assertion that the economic interpretation of history or my volume on the Constitution had its origin in "Marxian theories." As I point out in Chapter I of my Economic Basis of Politics, the germinal idea of class and group conflicts in history appeared in the writings of Aristotle, long before the Christian era, and was known to great writers on politics during the middle ages and modern times. It was expounded by James Madison, in Number X of the Federalist, written in defense of the Constitution of the United States, long before Karl Marx was born. Marx seized upon the idea, applied it with rigor, and based predictions upon it, but he did not originate it. Fathers of the American Constitution were well aware of the idea, operated on the hypothesis that it had at least a considerable validity, and expressed it in numerous writings. Whether conflicting economic interests bulk large in contemporary debates over protective tariffs, foreign trade, transportation, industry, commerce, labor, agriculture, and the nature of the Constitution itself, each of our contemporaries may decide on the basis of his experience and knowledge.

Yet at the time this volume was written, I was, in common with all students who professed even a modest competence in modern history, conversant with the theories and writings of Marx. Having read extensively among the writings of the Fathers of the Constitution of the United States and studied Aristotle, Machiavelli, Locke, and other political philosophers, I became all hte more interested in Marx when I discovered in his works the ideas which had been cogently expressed by outstanding thinkers and statesmen in the preceding centuries. That interest was deepened when I learned from an inquiry into his student life that he himself had been aquainted with the works of Aristotle, Montesquieu, and other writers of the positive bent before be began to work out his own historical hypothesis. By those who use his name to rally political parties or to frighten Daughters of the American Revolution, students of history concerned with the origins of theories need not be disturbed.

For the reason that this volume was not written for any particular political occasion but designed to illuminate all occasions in which discussion of the Constitution appears, I venture to re-issue it in its original form. It does not "explain plain" the Constitution. It does not exclude other explanations deemed more satisfactory to the explainers. Whatever its short-comings, the volume does, however, present soem indubitable facts pertaining to that great document which will be useful to students of the Constitution and to practitioners engaged in interpreting it. The Constitution was of human origin, immediately at least, and it is now discussed and applied to human beings who find themselves engaged in certain callings, occupations, professions, and interests.

The text of this edition remained unchanged, although I should make minor modifications here and there, were I writing it anew. Two facts, however, unknown to me in 1913, should be added to the record as it stands. Both were called to my attention by Professor James O. Wettereau, who has made important contributions to the history of the period. On page 93, I state than Benjamin Franklin "does not appear to have held any public paper." Evidence to the contrary is now available. in February, 1788, Franklin wrote concerning the public indebtedness: "Such Certificates are low in Value at present, but we hope and believe they will mend, when our new Constitution of Government is established. I lent the old Congress £3000 hard money in Value, and took Certificates promising interest at 6 per cent, but I have received no Interest for several years, and if I were not to sell the principal, I could not get more than 3s 4d for the Pound which is but a sixth part."(2) This adds Franklin to the list on page 150.

The second fact pertains to the formulation of Hamilton's funding system, based on the authority of the Constitution. It was long believed that this system was largely, if not entirely, the child of Hamilton's brain. But two letters found by Professor Wettereau among the Oliver Wolcott Papers in the Connecticut Historical Society indicate an opposite view. Hamilton's First Report on the Public Credit was laid before the House of Representatives on January 9, 1790. in November of the preceding year, William Bingham, "Philadelphia merchant, capitalist, and banker," wrote a long letter to Hamilton, in which he recommended "virtually all of the essential measures subsequently proposed by the Secretary of thte Treasury." During the same mont of 1789, Stephen Higginson, "mariner, merchant and broker," of Boston, also wrote a letter to Hamilton advocating measures similar to those laid before Congress by the Secretary of the Treasury, and warning him against the perils of the opposition certain to be raised. Bingham, who was actively engaged in speculating in public securities, asked Hamilton to inform him "how far any of my Sentiments coincide with yours." Whether Hamilton replied is unknown at present, but Thomas Willing, Bingham's father-in-law (below, page 108) claimed to have seen Hamilton's "whole price" suggested for funding. These new historical discoveries by Professor Wettereau throw light on the spirit of Hamilton's fiinancial system and his connection with the mercantile and banking interests.(3)

To these notes of confirmation a memorandum of correction should be added. Page 29 may be taken to imply that the "landed aristocracy" of New York was solidly opposed to the Constitution, leaving no room for exceptions. Seldom, if ever, is there total class-solidarity in historial conflicts, and Doctor Thomas C. Cochran is entirely right in objecting to the implied generalization.(4) He properly calls attention to the fact that "while the 'Manor Lords' feared land taxes they also held public securities to an extent which made many of them favourable to the establishment made many of them favourable to the establishment of adequate [federal] revenue. Thus while the strength of the Anti-Federalists rested on the landed classes, the most powerful of these landlords were often found in the opposition ranks." Hence, although his interpretation is economic, it corrects a generalization too sweeping in character, and should be properly noted.

Two other caveats should be entered. It has been lightly assumed by superficial critics, if not readers of the volume, that I have "accused the members of the Convention of working merely for their own pockets." The falsity of this charge can be seen by reference to page 73 of the original text still standing. There I say clearly: "The only point considered here is: Did they [the members] represent distinct groups whose economic interests they understood and felt in concrete, definite form through their own personal experience with indentical properly rights, or were they working merely under the guidance of abstract principles of political science?"

It has also been lightly assumed that this volume pretends to show that the form of government established and powers conferred were "determined" in every detail by the conflict of economic interests. Such pretension was never in my mind; nor do I think that it is explicit or implicit in the pages which follow. I have never been able to discover all-pervading determinism in history. In that field of study In find, what Machiavelli found, virtu, fortuna, and necessita, although boundaries between them cannot be sharply delimited. There is determinism, necessity, in the world of political affairs; and it bears a relation to economic interests; otherwise Congress might vote $25,000 a year in present values to every family in the United States, and the Soviet Government might make every Russian rich; but this is not saying that every event, every institution, every personal decision is "determined" by discoverable "causes."

Nevertheless, whoever leaves economic pressures out of history or out of the discussion of public questions is in mortal peril of substituting mythology for reality and confusing issues instead of clarifying them. It was largely by recognizing the power of economic interests in the field of politics and making skillful use of them that the Fathers of the American Constitution places themselves among the great practising statesment of all ages and gave instructions to succeeding generations in the art of government. By the assiduous study of their works and by displaying their courage and their insight into the economic interests underlying all constitutional formalities, men and women of our generation may guarantee the perpetuity of government under law, as distinguished from the arbitrament of force. It is for us, recipients of their heritage, to inquire constantly and persistently, when theories of national power or states' rights are propounded: "What interests are behind them and to whose advantage will changes or hte maintenance of old forms accrue?" By refusing to do this we become victims of history - clay in the hands of its makers."

CHARLES A. BEARD

New Milford, August, 1935.


(1) American Historical Review, April, 1935, p. 447.

(2) A. H. Smyth, Writings of Franklin, Vol. IX, p. 635

(3) "Letters from Two Business Men to Alexander Hamilton," by James O. Wettereau, Journal of Economic and Business History, Vol. III, August 1931, pp. 667 ff.

(4) New York in the Confederation, p. 17.


Macaulay and other popular historians taking accepted maxims for granted

From the chapter on Historical Interpretation: Page: 4, Footnote 1.

From "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard (First Published 1913), 1935 reprint edition with new introduction, (1939) MacMillan Company, New York.

"(1) What Morely has said of Macaulay is true of many eminent American historical writers: "A popular author must, in a thoroughgoing way, take the accepted maxims for granted. He must suppress any whimsical fancy for applying the Socratic elenchus; or any other engine of criticism, scepticism, or verification to those sentiments or current precepts or moral which may in truth be very equivolcal and may be much neglected in practice, but which the public opinion of his time requires to be treated in theory and in literature as if they had been cherished and help sempor ubique, et ab omnibus." Miscellanies Vol. I, p. 272."


Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2001 13:41:01 +0100
To: Lachlan Cranswick [lachlan@ldeo.columbia.edu]
Subject: Re: Charles A. Beard and quote on Macaulay


Yo,
   easier translation than usual!! The answer is..

"...as if they had been 
cherished and help... sempor ubique, et ab omnibus."

must be double typo for

"...as if they had been 
cherished and hel(d)... semp(e)r ubique, et ab omnibus."

meaning... 

"as if they had been cherished and held... always everywhere, and by
everyone."


Chapter 2: A Survey of Economic Interests in 1787

The "chaos" in the US of 1783 to 1787 may have been a creation of historians' fancies: pages 47 to 48

From "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard (First Published 1913), 1935 reprint edition with new introduction, (1939) MacMillan Company, New York.

"It is worthy of remark, however that the gloomy view of economic conditions persistently propagated by the advocates of a new national system was not entertained by all writers of eminence and authority. One of the members of the Convention, Franklin, early in 1787, before the calling of that assembly, declared that the country was, on the whole, so prosperous that there was every reason for profound thanksgiving. He mentioned, it is true, that there were some who complained of hard times, slack trade, and scarcity of money, but he was quick to add that there never was an age nor a country in which there were not some people so circumstanced as to find it hard to make a living and that "it is always in the power of a small number to make a great clamour." But taking the several classes in the community as a whole, prosperity, contended Franklin, was widespread and obvious. Never was the farmer paid better prices for his products, "as the published prices current abundantly testify. The lands he possesses are continually rising in value." In no part of Europe are the laboring poor so well paid, fed, or clothed. The fishing trade, he thinks, is in a rather bad way, and mercantile branches are overcrowded; but he is not distressed by the extensive importation of English goods, because this is nothing new, and America has prospered in spite of it.

It may very well be that Franklin's view of the general social conditions just previous to the formation of the Constitution is essentially correct and that the defects in the Articles of Confederation were not the serious menace to the social fabric which the loud complaints of advocates of change implied. It may be that "the critical period" was not such a critical period after all; but a phantom of the imagination produced by some undoubted evils which could have been remedied without a political revolution. It does not seem to have occurred to those historians, who have repeated without examination Fiske's picturesque phrase that it is a serious matter to indict a whole system, an entire epoch, and a whole people. It does not appear that any one has really inquired just what precise facts must be established to prove that "the bonds of the social order were dissolving." Certainly, the inflamed declarations of the Shaysites are not to be taken as representing accurately the state of the people, and just as certainly the alarmist letters and pamphlets of interested persons on the other side are not to be accepted without discount. When it is remembered that most of our history has been written by Federalists, it will become apparent that great care should be taken in accepting, without reserve, the gloomy pictures of the social conditions prevailing under the Articles of Confederation. In fact, a very learned, though controversial, historian, Henry B. Dawson, in an article published more than forty years ago makes out quite a plausible case (documented by minute research) for the statement that the "chaos" of which historians are wont to speak when dealing with the history of the years 1783-87, was a creation of their fancies. (Ref y)

However this may be, and whether or not Franklin's view is correct, it cannot be denied that the interests seeking protection were extensive and diversified. This is conclusively shown by the petitions addressed to public bodies, by the number of influential men which connected with the movement, and by the rapidity with which the new government under the Constitution responded to their demands."


(Ref y) The Historical Magazine (1871), Vol. IX, Second Series, pp. 157 ff.


Footnote on the benefits of having more rather than less fragmented factions or interests competing against each other to divide and diminish "popular distempers"

From the chapter on The Constitution as an Economic Document: Page: 158, Footnote 1.

From "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard (First Published 1913), 1935 reprint edition with new introduction, (1939) MacMillan Company, New York.

"(1) This view was set forth by [James] Madison in a letter to [Thomas] Jefferson in 1788. "Whereever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents. This is a truth of great importance, but not yet sufficiently attended to, and is probably more strongly impressed upon my mind by facts, and reflections suggested to them, than on yours which has contemplated abuses of power issuing from a very different quarter. Wherever there is an interest and power to do wrong, wrong will generally be done, and not less readily by a powerful and interested party than by a powerful and interested prince." Documentary History of the Constitution, Vol. V, p. 88."


Chapter 6: The Constitution as an Economic Document

The Philosophy Behind the US Constitution: pages 152 to 164

From "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard (First Published 1913), 1935 reprint edition with new introduction, (1939) MacMillan Company, New York.

(Modern reprint: "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" by Charles A. Beard, With a new Introduction by Forrest McDonald. The Free Press. 1986, ISBN 0-02-902480-3)

"It is difficult for the superficial student of the Constitution, who has read only the commentaries of the legists, to conceive of that instrument as an economic document. It places no property qualifications on voters or officers; it gives no outward recognition of any economic groups in society; it mentions no special privileges to be conferred upon any class. It betrays no feeling, such as vibrates through the French constitution of 1791; its language is cold, formal, and severe.

The true inwardness of the Constitution is not revealed by an examination of its provisions as simple propositions of law; but by a long and careful study of the voluminous correspondence of the period,' contemporary newspapers and pamphlets, the records of the debates in the Convention at Philadelphia and in the several state conventions, and particularly, The Federalist, which was widely circulated during the struggle over ratification. The correspondence shows the exact character of the evils which the Constitution was intended to remedy; the records of the proceedings in the Philadelphia Convention reveal the successive steps in the building of the framework of the government under the pressure of economic interests; the pamphlets and newspapers disclose the ideas of the contestants over the ratification; and The Federalist presents the political science of the new system as conceived by three of the profoundest thinkers of the period, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.

Doubtless, the most illuminating of these sources on the economic character of the Constitution are the records of the debates in the Convention, which have come down to us in fragmentary form; and a thorough treatment of material forces reflected in the several clauses of the instrument of government created by the grave assembly at Philadelphia would require a rewriting of the history of the proceedings in the light of the great interests represented there. But an entire volume would scarcely suffice to present the results of such a survey, and an undertaking of this character is accordingly impossible here.

The Federalist, on the other hand, presents in a relatively brief and systematic form an economic interpretation of the Constitution by the men best fitted, through an intimate knowledge of the ideals of the framers, to expound the political science of the new government. This wonderful piece of argumentation by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay is in fact the finest study in the economic interpretation of politics which exists in any language; and whoever would understand the Constitution as an economic document need hardly go beyond it. It is true that the tone of the writers is somewhat modified on account of the fact that they are appealing to the voters to ratify the Constitution, but at the same time they are, by the force of circumstances, compelled to convince large economic groups that safety and strength lie in the adoption of the new system.

Indeed, every fundamental appeal in it is to some material and substantial interest. Sometimes it is to the people at large in the name of protection against invading armies and European coalitions. Sometimes it is to the commercial classes whose business is represented as prostrate before the follies of the Confederation. Now it is to creditors seeking relief against paper money and the assaults of the agrarians in general; now it is to the holders of federal securities which are depreciating toward the vanishing point. But above all, it is to the owners of personalty anxious to find a foil against the attacks of levelling democracy, that the authors of The Federalist address their most cogent arguments in favor of ratification. It is true there is much discussion of the details of the new frame-work of government, to which even some friends of reform took exceptions; but Madison and Hamilton both knew that these were incidental matters when compared with the sound basis upon which the superstructure rested.

In reading the pages of this remarkable work as a study in political economy, it is important to bear in mind that the system, which the authors are describing, consisted of two fundamental parts - one positive, the other negative:

I. A government endowed with certain positive powers, but so constructed as to break the force of majority rule and prevent invasions of the property rights of minorities.

II. Restrictions on the state legislatures which had been so vigorous in their attacks on capital.

Under some circumstances, action is the immediate interest of the dominant party; and whenever it desires to make economic gain through governmental functioning, it must have, of course, a system endowed with the requisite powers.

Examples of this are to be found in protective tariffs, in ship subsidies, in railway land grants, in river and harbor improvements, and so on through the catalogue of so-called "tipaternalistic" legislation. Of course it may be shown that the "general good" is the ostensible object of any particular act; but the general good is a passive force, and unless we know who are the several individuals that benefit in its name, it has no meaning. When it is so analyzed, immediate and remote beneficiaries are discovered; and the former are usually found to have been the dynamic element in securing the legislation. Take for example, the economic interests of the advocates who appear in tariff hearings at Washington.

On the obverse side, dominant interests quite as often benefit from the prevention of governmental action as from positive assistance. They are able to take care of themselves if let alone within the circle of protection created by the law. Indeed, most owners of property have as much to fear from. positive governmental action as from their inability to secure advantageous legislation. Particularly is this true where the field of private property is already extended to cover practically every form of tangible and intangible wealth. This was clearly set forth by Hamilton: "It may perhaps be said that the power of preventing bad laws includes that of preventing good ones . . . . But this objection will have little weight with those who can properly estimate the mischiefs of that inconstancy and mutability in the laws which form the greatest blemish in the character and genius of our governments. They will consider every institution calculated to restrain the excess of law-making, and to keep things in the same state in which they happen to be at any given period, as more likely to do good than harm . . . . The injury which may possibly be done by defeating a few good laws will be amply compensated by the advantage of preventing a number of bad ones."(1)

THE UNDERLYING POLITICAL SCIENCE OF THE CONSTITUTION (2)

Before taking up the economic implications of the structure of the federal government, it is important to ascertain what, in the opinion of The Federalist, is the basis of all government. The most philosophical examination of the foundations of political science is made by Madison in the tenth number. Here he lays down, in no uncertain language, the principle that the first and elemental concern of every government is economic.

1. "The first object of government," he declares, is the protection of "the diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate." The chief business of government, from which, perforce, its essential nature must be derived, consists in the control and adjustment of conflicting economic interests. After enumerating the various forms of propertied interests which spring up inevitably in modern society, he adds: "The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modem legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the ordinary operations of the government." (3)

2. What are the chief causes of these conflicting political forces with which the government must concern itself? Madison answers. Of course fanciful and frivolous distinctions have sometimes been the cause of violent conflicts; "but the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes actuated by different sentiments and views."

3. The theories of government which men entertain are emotional reactions to their property interests. "From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of society into different interests and parties." Legislatures reflect these interests. "What," he asks, "are the different classes of legislators but advocates and parties to the causes which they determine." There is no help for it. "The causes of faction cannot be removed," and "we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control."

4. Unequal distribution of property is inevitable, and from it contending factions will rise in the state. The government will reflect them, for they will have their separate principles and "sentiments"; but the supreme danger will arise from the fusion of certain interests into an overbearing majority, which Madison, in another place, prophesied would be the landless proletariat,' - an overbearing majority which will make its "rights" paramount, and sacrifice the "rights" of the minority. "To secure the public pood " he declares "and private rights against the danger of such a faction and at the same time preserve the spirit and the form of popular government is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed."

5. How is this to be done? Since the contending classes cannot be eliminated and their interests are bound to be reflected in politics, the only way out lies in making it difficult for enough contending interests to fuse into a majority, and in balancing one over against another. The machinery for doing this is created by the new Constitution and by the Union. (a) Public views are to be refined and enlarged "by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens." (b) The very size of the Union will enable the inclusion of more interests so that the danger of an overbearing majority is not so great. "The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party. . . . Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their strength and to act in unison with each other."

Q. E. D., "in the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government." (1) [see above footnote in preceding table]


I. THE STRUCTURE OF GOVERNMENT OR THE BALANCE OF POWERS

The fundamental theory of political economy thus stated by Madison was the basis of the original American conception of the balance of powers which is formulated at length in four numbers of The Federalist and consists of the following elements:

1. No mere parchment separation of departments of government will be effective. "The legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity, and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex. The founders of our republic . . . seem never for a moment to have turned their eyes from the danger to liberty from the overgrown and all-grasping prerogative of an hereditary magistrate, supported and fortified by an hereditary branch of the legislative authority. They seem never to have recollected the danger from legislative usurpations, which, by assembling all power in the same hands, must lead to the same tyranny as is threatened by executive usurpations."

2. Some sure mode of checking usurpations in the government must be provided, other than frequent appeals to the people. "There appear to be insuperable objections against the proposed recurrence to the people as a provision in -all cases for keeping the several departments of power within their constitutional limits." In a contest between the legislature and the other branches of the government, the former would doubtless be victorious on account of the ability of the legislators to plead their cause with the people.

3. What then can be de ended upon to keep the government n close rein? "The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. . . . It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure." There are two ways of obviating this danger: one is by establishing a monarch independent of popular will, and the other is by reflecting these contending interests (so far as their representatives may be enfranchised) in the very structure of the government itself so that a majority cannot dominate the minority - which minority is of course composed of those who possess property that may be attacked. "Society itself will be broken into so' many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority."

4. The structure of the government as devised at Philadelphia reflects these several interests and makes improbable any danger to the minority from the majority. "The House of Representatives being to be elected immediately by the people, the Senate by the State legislatures, the President by electors chosen for that purpose by the people, there would be little probability of a common interest to cement these different branches in a predilection for any particular class of electors."

5. All of these diverse interests appear in the amending process but they are further reinforced against majorities. An amendment must receive a two-thirds vote in each of the two houses so constituted and the approval of three-fourths of the states.

6. The economic corollary of this system is as follows: Property interests may, through their superior weight in power and intelligence, secure advantageous legislation whenever necessary, and they may at the same time obtain immunity from control by parliamentary majorities.

If we examine carefully the delicate instrument by which the framers sought to check certain kinds of positive action that might be advocated to the detriment of established and acquired rights, we cannot help marvelling at their skill. Their leading idea was to break up the attacking forces at the starting point: the source of political authority for the several branches of the government. This disintegration of positive action at the source was further facilitated by the differentiation in the terms given to the respective departments of the government. And the crowning counterweight to "an interested and over-bearing majority," as Madison phrased it, was secured in the peculiar position assigned to the judiciary, and the use of the sanctity and mystery of the law as a foil to democratic attacks.

It will be seen on examination that no two of the leading branches of the government are derived from the same source. The House of Representatives springs from the mass of the people whom the states may see fit to enfranchise. The Senate is elected by the legislatures of the states, which were, in 1787, almost uniformly based on property qualifications, sometimes with a differentiation between the sources of the upper and lower houses. The President is to be chosen by electors selected as the legislatures of the states may determine - at all events by an authority one degree removed from the voters at large. The judiciary is to be chosen by the President and the Senate, both removed from direct popular control and hold~ing for longer terms than the House.

A sharp differentiation is made in the terms of the several authorities, so that a complete renewal of the government at one stroke is impossible. The House of Representatives is chosen for two years; the Senators for six, but not at one election, for one-third go out every two years. The President is chosen for four years. The judges of the Supreme Court hold for life. Thus "popular distempers," as eighteenth century publicists called them, are not only restrained from working their havoc through direct elections, but they are further checked by the requirement that they must last six years in order to make their effects felt in the political department of the government, providing they can break through the barriers imposed by the indirect election of the Senate and the President. Finally, there is the check of judicial control that can be overcome only through the manipulation of the appointing power which requires time, or through the operation of a cumbersome amending system.

The keystone of the whole structure is, in fact, the system provided for judicial control - the most unique contribution to the science of government which has been made by American political genius. It is claimed by some recent writers that it was not the intention of the framers of the Constitution to confer upon the Supreme Court the power of passing upon the constitutionality of statutes enacted by Congress; but in view of the evidence on the other side, it is incumbent upon those who make this assertion to bring forward positive evidence to the effect that judicial control was not a part of the Philadelphia programme(Ref x). Certainly, the authors of The Federalist entertained no doubts on the point, and they conceived it to be such an excellent principle that they were careful to explain it to the electors to whom they addressed their arguments.

After elaborating fully the principle of judicial control over legislation under the Constitution, Hamilton enumerates the advantages to be derived from it. Speaking on the point of tenure during good behavior, he says: "In a monarchy it is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the prince; in a republic it is no less an excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body. . . . If, then, the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited Constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration will afford a strong argument for the permanent tenure of judicial offices, since nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty. . . . But it is not with a view to infractions of the Constitution only that the independence of the judges may be an essential safeguard against the effects of occasional ill humors in the society. These sometimes extend no farther than to the injury of private rights of particular classes of citizens, by unjust and partial laws. Here also the firmness of the judicial magistracy is of vast importance in mitigating the severity and confining the operation of such laws. It not only serves to moderate the immediate mischiefs of those which may have been passed, but it operates as a check upon the legislative body in passing them; who, perceiving that obstacles to the success of iniquitous intention are to be expected


(Ref x) Beard, The Supreme Court and the Constitution. See also the criticisms of this work by Professor W.F. Dodd, in the American Historical Review for January, 1913.

from the scruples of the courts, are in a manner compelled, by the very motives of injustice they meditate, to qualify their attempts. This is a circumstance calculated to have more influence upon the character of our governments than but few may be aware of."

Nevertheless, it may be asked why, if the protection of property rights lay at the basis of the new system, there is in the Constitution no provision for property qualifications for voters or for elected officials and representatives. This is, indeed , peculiar when it is recalled that the constitutional history of England is in a large part a record of conflict over the weight in the government to be enjoyed by definite economic groups, and over the removal of the property qualifications early imposed on members of the House of Commons and on the voters at large. But the explanation of the absence of property qualifications from the Constitution is not difficult."

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[Galbraith: The Great Crash: 1929] | [Galbraith: Culture of Contentment] | [Galbraith: Money]
[Popper: Open Society and its Enemies vol 1] | [Popper: Open Society and its Enemies vol 2]
[Maggee: on the Philosphy of Karl Popper] | [Popper: Poverty of Historicism]
["Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal]
[Complete OCR'd text of "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution" (first published 1913) by Charles A. Beard (1874 - 1948)]

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