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An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States Paperback – May 20, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this 1913 volume, Beard, the founder of the New School for Social Research, contends that the Founding Fathers included a clear strategy for Colonial economics in the writing of the Constitution. A staple for history and economics collections. (Classic Returns, LJ 11/1/98)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

"Here again is the original constitutional skeptic to remind Americans that our republic's authors had not only intellects but interests. Charles Beard set out to jolt his contemporaries out of their pious admiration of the constitution's framers. His economic interpretation remains a lively, surprisingly humorous and sharp-witted analysis of the nation's beginnings. Reading it today, the book aims a keen and pointed thrust at the originalism of our own age." (Professor Eric Rauchway, University of California Davis Department of History)

"One hundred years after it first appeared, Charles Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution still commands our attention as a classic of historical scholarship -- not because every view Beard put forward has stood the test of time but because the questions he raised about the intersections of economic and political power are just as relevant today as when he wrote." (Professor Eric Foner, Columbia University Department of History)

"This is the book that started us all on the journey to understanding the complex motives and conflicting interests that shaped our constitution. 100 years after its publication, it still has the power to excite and exasperate, to stir fierce debate and to inspire new interpretations." (Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History, Emerita, Baruch College & The Graduate Center, CUNY) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (May 20, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 048643365X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486433653
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Earl Dennis on February 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
Jumping to the end of Charles Beard's book, his conclusions state the following:

i) The US constitution was enacted to protect the interests of: a) the moneyed classes (the rich), b) the bond and stock holding classes (the rich speculators), c) the manufacturing interests (rich capitalists), and trade and shipping interests (the rich capitalist speculators).

ii) The constitution was the result of an elite group of men representing the aforementioned interests.

iii) The constitutional convention held in Philadelphia was organized undemocratically by the aforementioned elite group of men to secure the aforementioned interests.

iv) Those not holding the aforementioned interests (the poor) were excluded from participation in the constitutional process.

v) Those participating in the Philadelphia convention personally benefited from the outcome of that convention (the constitution).

vi) The US constitution is a document protecting private property rights over that of a democratic people and/or its government.

vii) These assertions are on record as evidenced by the property and monetary interests of those who proposed and passed the US constitution.

viii) In the ratification of the US constitution, 3/4 of the qualified voters were excluded by some means or another, aiding the 1/4 who benefited from the passage of the constitution.

ix) The ratification of the US constitution was further narrowed down to where only 1/6 of the qualified voters participated in its passing.

x) Therefore, the majority of qualified voters did not participate in the ratification of the US constitution.
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Format: Paperback
Beard's origional thesis form 1913 remains that the forming of the United States Constitution was an effort by the economic well-to-do of the newly formed American social class to establish a government that would protect their interests and raise the value of the government's obligations in their possessions. Beard's goal is simply to re-establish the idea of the aforementioned economic interests as the primary, not secondary cause of the U. S. Constitution. Through a topical analysis of interests, that seem contrary to the work of his historical mentors, Beard weaves his interpretation of the economic history. Throughout his book Beard consistantly refers to his work as fragmentary, but it appears extensively researched through primary documents such as the Federalist Papers, early Treasury Department records, and Madison's convension notes. Beard does an excellent job in presenting all necessary facts for the reader to follow his argument. Little, if any information is left to the supposition of the reader. Whereas the work can be dry at times, it does provide scholars with alternative, not necessarily new, interpretations of early American historical events.
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Format: Paperback
This book was first issued in 1913 during the Progressive Party era. Theodore Roosevelt questioned the power of the judiciary to declare laws unconstitutional and suggested the people should have the right to recall that decision (`Introduction to the 1935 Edition'). [Abraham Lincoln had similar concerns.] James Madison wrote Federalist Number 10 to speak on how politics are based on economic interests. In the late 19th century historian talked about "state's rights" or "a strong central government". Charles A. Beard investigated the original sources and found the discussions over economic interests. His book was praised by Progressives and condemned by conservative Republicans. Beard just gathered the facts in an impartial manner. This is not a biased outlook (p.xlvx). The idea of economics affecting politics is in Aristotle's writings and the Federalist paper No. 10. You can decide for yourself what part economics plays in "protective tariffs, foreign trade, transportation, industry, commerce, labor, agriculture, and the nature of the Constitution itself" (p.xlix)! [Your local newspaper may report on zoning changes but not who benefits from them.] Ignoring economic issues in history leads to confusion (p.lii).

Law is primarily concerned with the ownership of property and the way it is passed from one person to another. Different kinds of property creates different classes with different views (Chapter I). Investigating the economic interests of the supporters and opponents of the Federal Constitution will test Beard's theory (p.17). Chapter II lists the difficulties in learning about the state and continental public securities and their owners, and other facts. Merchants and manufacturers wanted a protective tariff.
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When I was in college, Beard's classic "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution" was on the required reading list for a bachelor's degree in political science. It is still a classic work, but some of its arguments have been disputed by later prominent historians. Beard looked at everything through the lens of economics. When this work was published, it was a new way of looking at American history, and somewhat debunked the idea that the Founding Fathers were altruistic in their work on the Constitution. Regardless of whether you accept Beard's view, or that of later historians, this book provides a way of looking at the Founding that will forever influence you.
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