History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2005: Q.6 (2)

History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2005: Q.6 (2)

Q.6 (2) Do you agree with Beard’s view of the constitution of the USA being an Economic Document?


‘An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States’ is a 1913 book by American historian Charles A. Beard in which he considered the USA’s Constitution as an Economic Document. He gave the following arguements:

(1) The structure of the Constitution of the United States was motivated primarily by the personal financial interests of the Founding Fathers.

(2) The Constitution was an economic document because it made fundamental rights to property more important than government.

(3) The Constitutional Convention was attended by, and the Constitution was therefore written by, a “cohesive” elite seeking to protect its personal property (especially bonds) and economic standing.

(4) The occupations and property holdings of the members of the convention can be known from the tax and census records, contemporaneous news accounts, and biographical sources, which demonstrates the degree to which each stood to benefit from various Constitutional provisions.
For example, George Washington was the wealthiest landowner in the country, and had provided significant funding towards the Revolution. The Constitutional guarantee that the newly formed nation would pay its debts to the desire of Washington and similarly situated lenders to have their costs refunded.

(5) People that opposed the constitution were either patriots unwilling to change what they had fought for or people that had not learned the facts of economics(for example, the uneducated and poor class did not attend the convention and did not understand what the Constitution was all about so therefore, they opposed it).

(6) The Constitution was a counter-revolution, set up by rich bond holders (bonds were “personal property”), in opposition to the farmers and planters (land was “real property”).
The Constitution was designed to reverse the radical democratic tendencies unleashed by the Revolution among the common people, especially farmers and debtors (people who owed money to the rich).

Criticism of Beard’s view

(1) Beginning about 1950 revisionist historians argued that the Beard’s interpretation was factually incorrect. Forrest McDonald argued that Beard had misinterpreted the economic interests involved in writing the Constitution. Instead of two interests, landed and mercantile, which conflicted, McDonald asserted that there were dozens of identifiable interests that were involved in the bargaining during the Constitution making.

(2) Economic clauses in the Contitution were justified due to the following reasons:

(a) The Continental Congress’ lack of taxation and borrowing powers nearly lost the Revolutionary War, so the writers of the Constitution immediately established Congress’ powers to do both.
(b) Large portions of the Constitution were designed to create the basis for a sound economy which was necessary to make a strong country. It created the basis for a true unification of the states into a nation.
(b) The Founders clearly recognized both the potential economic benefits and costs of government actions, and sought to design a document that would enhance those benefits and reduce those costs.

(3) The Constitution had many important non-economic clauses like bill of rights (though it also had some economic clause for ex: right to property).

(4) The Constitution did not add property qualifications for voting (though states established those).

(5) There was no property requirement to hold office (though many states required it).

These facts show that the Constitution was not just only economic document.

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