30 September 2016

The Constitution as an Economic Document

An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States by Charles A. Beard, 1913, Edited Excerpts

The primary objective of government is making rules which determine the property relations of members of society. The law is concerned with the property relations of men and the processes by which the ownership of property passes from one person to another. Different degrees and kinds of property inevitably exist in modern society; class and group divisions based on property lie at the basis of modern government; and politics and constitutional law is inevitably a reflex of these contending interests.

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. Nationalism was created by a wielding of economic interests that cut through state boundaries. The southern planter was as much concerned in maintaining order against slave revolts as the creditor in putting down desperate debtors.

The Constitution is essentially an economic document based upon the concept that the fundamental rights of property are anterior to government and morally beyond the reach of popular majorities. The Constitution was the work of a consolidated group whose interests knew no state boundaries and were truly national in their scope. The members of the Philadelphia Convention which drafted the Constitution were immediately, directly, and personally interested in, and derived economic advantages from, the establishment of the new system.

The opposition to the Constitution almost uniformly came from non-slaveholding farmers and from debtors.  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 prevailing suffrage qualifications, excluded at the outset from participation in the work of framing the Constitution. It is pretty conclusive that the Constitution was not the product of “we the people,” but of a group of economic interests which expected beneficial results from its adoption.

 Bush's State of the Union Address January 2008

The strength -- the secret of our strength, the miracle of America, is that our greatness lies not in our government, but in the spirit and determination of our people. (Applause.) When the Federal Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, our nation was bound by the Articles of Confederation, which began with the words, "We the undersigned delegates." When Gouverneur Morris was asked to draft a preamble to our new Constitution, he offered an important revision and opened with words that changed the course of our nation and the history of the world: "We the people."

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