CHARLES AUSTIN BEARD (November 27, 1874 – September 1, 1948) was,
Frederick Jackson Turner , one of the most influential American
historians of the first half of the 20th century. For a while he was a
history professor at
An icon of the progressive school of historical interpretation, his reputation suffered during the Cold War era when the assumption of economic class conflict was dropped by most historians. Richard Hofstadter (a consensus historian) concluded in 1968: "Today Beard's reputation stands like an imposing ruin in the landscape of American historiography. What was once the grandest house in the province is now a ravaged survival".
Conversely, Denis W Brogan believed that Beard lost favour in the Cold War not because his views had been proven to be wrong, but because Americans were less willing to hear them. In 1965 he wrote; “The suggestion that the Constitution had been a successful attempt to restrain excessive democracy, that it had been a triumph for property (and) big business seemed blasphemy to many and an act of near treason in the dangerous crisis through which American political faith and practice were passing”.
Hofstadter, nevertheless praised Beard, saying he was "foremost among the American historians of his or any generation in the search for a usable past".
* 1 Biography
* 1.1 Youth * 1.2 Oxford * 1.3 Columbia * 1.4 Economic Interpretation * 1.5 Resigns in First World War * 1.6 Independent scholar * 1.7 Non-interventionism * 1.8 Personal life and death
* 2 Legacy
* 2.1 Progressive historiography * 2.2 Constitution * 2.3 Civil War and Reconstruction
* 3 Selected works by Charles A. (and Mary Ritter) Beard * 4 References * 5 Further reading * 6 External links
Charles Beard was born in the
Beard married his classmate Mary Ritter in 1900. As an historian, Mary Beard's research interests lay in feminism and the labor union movement (Woman as a Force in History, 1946). They collaborated on many textbooks.
Beard went to England in 1899 for graduate studies at Oxford University under Frederick York Powell . He collaborated with Walter Vrooman in founding Ruskin Hall , a school meant to be accessible to the working man. In exchange for reduced tuition, students worked in the school's various businesses. Beard taught for the first time at Ruskin Hall and he lectured to workers in industrial towns to promote Ruskin Hall and to encourage enrollment in correspondence courses.
The Beards returned to the United States in 1902, where Charles
pursued graduate work in history at
An extraordinarily active author of scholarly books, textbooks, and
articles for the political magazines, Beard's career flourished. Beard
moved from the history department to the department of public law and
then to a new chair in politics and government. He also regularly
taught a course in American history at
Main article: An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States
Among many works he published during these years at Columbia, the most controversial was An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913), an interpretation of how the economic interests of the members of the Constitutional Convention affected their votes. He emphasized the polarity between agrarians and business interests. Academics and politicians denounced the book, but it was well respected by scholars until challenged and discredited in the 1950s.
RESIGNS IN FIRST WORLD WAR
Though he completely supported American participation in the First
World War , he resigned from
Beard never sought a permanent academic appointment. Living on
lucrative royalties from textbooks and other bestsellers, the couple
operated a dairy farm in rural
The Beards were active in helping to found the New School for Social Research (a.k.a. The New School) in Greenwich Village , New York City, where the faculty would control its own membership. Enlarging upon his interest in urban affairs, he toured Japan and produced a volume of recommendations for the reconstructing of Tokyo after the earthquake of 1923 . His financial independence was secured by The Rise of American Civilization (1927), and its two sequels, America in Midpassage (1939), and The American Spirit (1943), all written with his wife, Mary.
Beard had parallel careers as an historian and political scientist.
He was active in the
American Political Science Association
Beard also taught history at the Brookwood Labor College .
Though he had been a leading liberal supporter of the New Deal , Beard turned against Franklin Delano Roosevelt 's foreign policy, consistent with his Quaker roots. He became one of the leading proponents of American non-interventionism seeking to avoid American involvement in Europe's wars. He promoted "American Continentalism" as an alternative, arguing that the United States had no vital interests at stake in Europe and that a foreign war could lead to domestic dictatorship. He continued to press this position after the war. Beard's last two books were American Foreign Policy in the Making: 1932–1940 (1946) and President Roosevelt and the Coming of War (1948). Beard blamed FDR for lying to the American people and tricking them into war, which some historians and political scientists have disputed.
Beard had been criticized as an isolationist because of his views,
though Beard in his writings referred to interventionists as
isolationist. The views he espoused in the final decade of his life
was disputed by many contemporary historians and political scientists.
However, some of the arguments in his President Roosevelt and the
Coming of the War influenced the "Wisconsin school" of
PERSONAL LIFE AND DEATH
By the 1950s Beard's economic interpretation of history had fallen out of favor; only a few prominent historians held to his view of class conflict as a primary driver in American history, among them Howard K. Beale and C. Vann Woodward . Still, as a leader of the "progressive historians ", or "progressive historiography ", Beard introduced themes of economic self-interest and economic conflict regarding the adoption of the Constitution and the transformations caused by the Civil War. Thus he emphasized the long-term conflict among industrialists in the Northeast, farmers in the Midwest, and planters in the South that he saw as the cause of the Civil War . His study of the financial interests of the drafters of the United States Constitution ( An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution ) seemed radical in 1913, since he proposed that the U.S. Constitution was a product of economically determinist, land-holding founding fathers. He saw ideology as a product of economic interests.
Beginning about 1950, however, historians started to argue that the progressive interpretation was factually incorrect because it was not true that the voters were polarized along two economic lines. These historians were led by Charles A. Barker, Philip Crowl, Richard P. McCormick , William Pool, Robert Thomas, John Munroe, Robert E. Brown and B. Kathryn Brown, and above all Forrest McDonald .
Forrest McDonald in We The People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution (1958) argued that Charles Beard had misinterpreted the economic interests involved in writing the Constitution. Instead of two interests, landed and mercantile, which conflicted, McDonald identified some three dozen identifiable economic interests operating at cross-purposes that forced the delegates to bargain.
Evaluating the historiographical debate, Peter Novick concluded: By the early 1960s it was generally accepted within the historical profession that...Beard's Progressive version of the...framing of the Constitution had been decisively refuted. American historians came to see ....the framers of the Constitution, rather than having self-interested motives, were led by concern for political unity, national economic development, and diplomatic security. Ellen Nore, Beard's biographer, concludes his interpretation of the Constitution collapsed due to more recent and sophisticated analysis.
It should be noted that, in a strong sense, this view simply involved a reaffirmation of the position Beard had always criticized by saying that parties were prone to switch rhetorical ideals when interest dictated.
Beard's economic determinism was largely replaced by the intellectual history approach, which stressed the power of ideas, especially republicanism , in stimulating the Revolution. However, the legacy of examining the economic interests of American historical actors can still be found in the 21st century. Recently, in To Form a More Perfect Union: A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution (2003), Robert A. McGuire, relying on a sophisticated statistical analysis, argues that Beard's basic thesis regarding the impact of economic interests in the making of the Constitution is not off the mark.
CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION
Beard's interpretation of the Civil War was highly influential among historians and the general public from its publication in 1927 until well into the civil rights era of the late 1950s. The Beards downplayed slavery, abolitionism, and issues of morality. They ignored constitutional issues of states rights and even ignored American nationalism as the force that finally led to victory in the war. Indeed, the ferocious combat itself was passed over as merely an ephemeral event. Much more important was the calculus of class conflict. The Beards announced that the Civil War was really a "social cataclysm in which the capitalists, laborers, and farmers of the North and West drove from power in the national government the planting aristocracy of the South".
The Beards were especially interested in the postwar era, as the industrialists of the Northeast and the farmers of the West cashed in on their great victory over the southern aristocracy. Hofstadter paraphrases the Beards as arguing that in victory:
the Northern capitalists were able to impose their economic program, quickly passing a series of measures on tariffs, banking, homesteads, and immigration that guaranteed the success of their plans for economic development. Solicitude for the Freedman had little to do with northern policies. The Fourteenth Amendment, which gave the Negro his citizenship, Beard found significant primarily as a result of a conspiracy of a few legislative draftsman friendly to corporations to use the supposed elevation of the blacks as a cover for a fundamental law giving strong protection to business corporations against regulation by state government.
Dealing with the Reconstruction era and the Gilded Age , disciples of Beard such as Howard Beale and C. Vann Woodward focused on greed and economic causation and emphasized the centrality of corruption. They argued that the rhetoric of equal rights was a smokescreen hiding their true motivation, which was promoting the interests of industrialists in the Northeast. The basic flaw was the assumption that there was a unified business policy. Scholars in the 1950s and 1960s argued that businessmen were widely divergent on monetary or tariff policy. While Pennsylvania businessmen wanted high tariffs, those in other states did not; the railroads were hurt by the tariffs on steel, which they purchased in large quantity. Beard's economic approach lost influence in the history profession after 1950 as conservative scholars suggested serious flaws in Beard's research, and attention turned away from economic causation.
SELECTED WORKS BY CHARLES A. (AND MARY RITTER) BEARD
* Works by
Charles A. Beard
* Biography portal
* ^ Michael Kraus & Davis D. Joyce (1985). The Writing of American
History (Revised ed.). University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 252–265.
* ^ Alan Gibson (2006). Interpreting the Founding: Guide to the
Enduring Debates over the Origins and Foundations of the American
Republic. University Press of Kansas. pp. 7–12.
* ^ Alan Gibson (2004). "What Ever Happened to the Economic
Interpretation: Beard\'s Thesis and the Legacy of Empirical Analysis,
Paper presented at the annual meeting of The Midwest Political Science
Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois, April 15, 2004".
* ^ Ellen Nore, Charles A. Beard: An Intellectual Biography (1983).
* ^ Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians (1968), 344
* ^ Brogan, D. W. (1965). "The Quarrel over Charles Austin Beard
and the American Constitution".
The Economic History Review . New
Series. 18 (1): 199–223. doi :10.2307/2591882 .
* ^ Kraus and Joyce, Writing of American History, p265.
* ^ Mary Beard, The Making of
Charles A. Beard
* Barrow, Clyde W., More Than a Historian: The Political and
Economic Thought of
Charles A. Beard
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