20 June 2016

Constitution Series

This series draws primarily from two primary sources: An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States by Charles Beard, 1913, and The Anti-Federalists by Jackson Main, 1961.

Charles Austin Beard [1874-1948] is widely regarded as one of the most influential American historians of the early 20th century. He is most widely known for his radical re-evaluation of the Founding Fathers of the United States, whom he believed were more motivated by economics than by philosophical principles.

It is difficult to conceive of the Constitution as an economic document. It places no property qualifications on voters or offices; it gives no outward recognition of any economic groups in society; it mentions no special privileges to be conferred upon any class. The concept of the Constitution as a piece of abstract legislation reflecting no group interests and recognizing no economic antagonisms is entirely false. It was an economic document drawn with superb skill by men whose property interests were immediately at stake.

Jackson Main [1917-2003, Academic and Historian]:
I had chosen to tackle Beard’s Economic Interpretation with the notion that Beard erred, but discovered that the secondary literature supported him, at least in general if not in detail.

The Power of the Purse by E. James Ferguson, 1961, Excerpt
Beard’s major thesis that the Constitution was the handiwork of the classes of American society possessing status and property cannot be ascribed to him alone. What shocked Beard’s contemporaries and still provokes the most criticism was his purported demonstration that many of the founding fathers held securities and stood to profit from their work. Although his declared object was merely to identify the founders as members of an economic class, the implication was that they had a profit motive.

Howard Zinn:
When economic interest is seen behind the political clauses of the Constitution, then the document becomes not simply the work of wise men trying to establish a decent and orderly society, but the work of certain groups trying to maintain their privileges, while giving just enough rights and liberties to enough of the people to ensure popular support. The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history.

Cornell Chronicle: Scholars explore Constitution's history in May 26 panel
21 Jun 2016
Klarman, Professor at Harvard Law School, in his forthcoming book, “The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution,” explains how and why the constitution that was ratified differs from what was expected. It gave the federal government almost unlimited taxing power and military power, along with the power to regulate commerce. The goal of the framers was to ensure that the federal government never fell under the sway of populist demands for debt relief laws.


1776: Declaration of Independence
1777: Continental Congress drafts Articles of Confederation
1781: Americans defeat British at Battle of Yorktown
1783: Treaty of Paris signed
1786 to 1787: Shays' Rebellion
1787 May: First meeting of Philadelphia Convention
1787 Sep: Proposed Constitution signed, ratification called.
1787 Oct: First Federalist Paper appears:
1789 Mar: First United States Congress is seated.
1789 Apr: George Washington is inaugurated as the first President of the United States.
1791 to 1794: The Whiskey Rebellion

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