The Constitution of the United States has been one of the most hotly debated topics in American history since its inception in 1787. Charles Beard attempted to characterize the delegates of the Constitutional Convention as money grubbing landowners who intended nothing more than the protection of their most valuable asset, property. Other writers have argued the abstract and converse nature of the founding fathers political ideals, and thus have characterized the Constitutional convention as somewhat arbitrary. In his essay "A Reform Caucus in Action", however, John Roche argues a completely different perspective on the creation of the constitution, claiming the constitution to be a great compromise between states, and that the final result was not one of greed or arbitrary thought, but of specific compromise between the small and large states of the union. Roche begins by describing the Constitutional Convention as a democratic reform caucus. This plainly means that the founding fathers specifically intended to create a document that would preserve the nation as a whole without sacrificing the democracy that the revolution of 1776 had created. Roche continues by elaborating on the extreme political constraints of the convention, noting that the legislation and tedium that surrounded forming the caucus was great and lengthy. Roche attempts to characterize the framers of the constitution as elitists, but in a markly different way from the way Charles Beard does so, claiming that though the authors of the Constitution did have many biases toward their respective states and ideologies, that they were more than willing to compromise their views for what they perceived to be the greater good. Roche comments that the political theory of the time was not so much a barrier between the founding fathers, but a uniting factor, dispelling the long perceived notion that there were strict states rights advocates and strict nationalist advocates. Finally, Roche confronts the influence of the Federalist on common interpretations of the Constitution, and argues that though the Federalist displays a remarkable amount of retrospective symmetry, it is not the only, nor the complete interpretation of the Constitution. The United States Constitution is the most basic of all constructs of American government, and in understanding its usefulness, one must as thoroughly as possible analyze the intentions of its creators.
In the following essay, which is adapted from The Supreme Court andthe Constitution (1912), Charles Beard presents evidence that the framers of theConstitution were less interested in furthering democratic principles than in protectingprivate property and the interests of the wealthy class. Since this work was written overeighty years ago, there are a few anachronisms you may want to keep in mind. First, whenBeard speaks of the "Confederacy," he is referring to the government thatexisted under the Articles of Confederation -- not to the Confederate states that secededfrom the Union during the Civil War. Also, it is important to remember that the Senate wasstill not elected by popular vote when Beard was writing -- although that was changed in1913 by the Seventeenth Amendment. Finally, when Beard speaks of "republican" or"democratic" tendencies, he is not referring to the Republican or Democraticparties, but is instead using the words in their more generic sense.
Finally, Roche confronts the common interpretation of the Federalist Papers as the great interpreter and explainer of the purpose of the Constitution. Throughout history, The Federalist has been used without hesitation in blatant examination of the United States Constitution. Roche concedes that the main components of the Federalist Papers, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, had a distinct talent for retrospective symmetry, and did accurately portray the events of the Constitutional Convention. However, Roche argues, that a strict interpretation of the Constitution in the context of the Federalist Papers would be unwise because the Federalist was undoubtedly, for lack of a better word, complete propaganda. It is impossible to deduce the motives of the Constitutional Convention from the Federalist Papers because they did not reflect the political ideals of the convention, but merely reflected the political ideals that the convention created. Roche comments that the Federalist was merely an improvisational piece of propaganda that detailed how the government was to work under the new Constitution rather than why the Constitution was created in the first place. This completely debunks the idea that The Federalist ideas were the driving force behind the Constitutional Convention, and rather portrays the document as a piece of reactionary literature, detailing the ideas that came from the convention, rather than the ideas that went into it. This supports Roches argument that the founding fathers did not have their own personal interests in mind when drafting the Constitution of the United States. Charles Beard relies heavily on the Federalist in his essays regarding the motivations of the framers. Had the document been strictly a reactionary piece of literature full of new ideas, it would not have accurately reflected the political climate before the ratification of the Constitution, and thus becomes useless in an argument regarding motivation.
But of course, the argument continues. Recent studies have sought to defend the economic interpretation of the Constitution, while modifying or expanding on certain aspects of the original Beard thesis. found that personal or constituent interests were statistically significant determinants of a delegate's vote at the convention, regardless of whether the issue was constitutional or a matter of financial interest.
The United States Constitution has served the country well since its inception in 1787. It has been scrutinized, interpreted, reinterpreted, and analyzed since the very moment it was ratified in that hot summer in Philadelphia. Subject to much of the same scrutiny have been the purpose of the Constitution and the motivations of its authors. Charles Beard attempted to characterize the framers of the Constitution as men who were purely self interested, and thought only of amending the government of the United States to serve their own personal goals of wealth and land. John Roche argues a completely contrary perspective. He begins this argument by describing the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as a democratic reform caucus. This is important in understanding Roches argument as whole. He uses the key word of reform to illustrate that the founding fathers did not intend to alter the Constitution on a whim, but on a carefully thought out plan to make the government efficient, effective, and to preserve democracy. Roche argues that the political constraints of the time were not conducive to such a wild and selfish alteration of American government, and the steps that were necessary to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention were far too tedious and numerous to serve this purpose. Roche characterizes the framers of the constitution as undoubtedly biased, but points to their incredible desire to compromise as credence to the idea that they were not at the convention simply to obtain their own goals. The political theory of the time was also instrumental in dictating the actions of the founding fathers. Had their ideas been so different and divergent, many of the delegates could have easily left the convention to flounder. Roche claims that the presence of all the states at the convention proves that they had much more in common than they did to divide them, and that they had only the countrys fate in mind as they drafted the Constitution. Finally, Roche completely debunks Charles Beards argument for a selfish Constitution by attacking his main resource for information on the motivations of the framers. He claims that the Federalist, while possessing a knack for retrospective symmetry, was not a document that reflected the ideas that went into the Constitution, but the ideas that ultimately resulted from it. The United States Constitution will continue to be analyzed for flaws and motivations for as long as it remains the basic governing document of American Government. However, John Roche makes a strikingly supporting argument for the good and democratic intentions of the founding fathers. His interpretation of the Constitutional Convention will remain a staple in United States history for centuries to come.
Beard himself is quoted by Richard Hofstadter as saying in1934 that "[r]are indeed is the savant who does not appear to be at war with himself in his ownbreast" and in 1940 that "Olympian certitude has exploded"(, 285).
Essay by shibonx, High School, 12th grade, A+, November 2007 Reviews of: "Charles Beard - Framing the Constitution"."Scholars Debate Second Amendment to US Constitution."Framing a Research Question Essay Essay about Framing the Constitution not elaborated on in comparison.
Beard, Charles A. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. American Politics. Alan J. Cigler and Burdett A. Loomis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.
Charles Austin Beard wrote that Constitution was written to protect the economic interests.v On Charles Beards Constitution An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.
Marxist historians had mounted similar arguments before him, but Beard's status within the profession and his judicious tone brought credibility to his economic interpretation among mainstream scholars and created an uproar upon publication of the book. Over 11 million copies of the work were sold in various languages around the world.
Charles Beard wrote that the first object of government was to protect the mens right of property (Beard 11). These men did have higher economic and political status so they looked after their own interests, but they were also the ones who exerted a sort of power over the middle and lower class individuals who never would have gotten the opportunity to be on the committee. These men wanted the constitution to be ratified because it would directly benefit them and their wealth (some of these Framers were to be the men who filled the positions of the new government), but these motives were not as selfish as some would think. In Federalist No. 10, Madison states that controlling factions is necessary for the survival of the national government (Patterson A-18). By protecting property rights of themselves and the other citizens of the United States--a group with diverse economic status--the Framers were not just thinking of themselves. The control of factions was to benefit everyone.
The latter volume popularized a view of the Civil War as a "Second American Revolution," in which capitalists carried out against the property interests of slaveholding planters "the most stupendous act of sequestration in the history of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence." In addition, the Beards charged that the 14th Amendment was planned from the beginning to be a bulwark for the property rights of corporations.Ever a reformer and a longtime advocate of a planned democratic economy, Beard, in the manner of his teacher and colleague at Columbia, James Harvey Robinson, saw the writing of history as providing tools for progressive social change.
John Roche attempts to debunk Charles Beards historical idea that the founding fathers were only rich, white, influential, landowning men who intended to change the Constitution only to maintain the status quo and keep the rights to their lucrative property investments and their land. Roche instead characterizes the framers of the Constitution, not as scheming rich men, but as men genuinely dedicated to the creation of a functional democratic government. Roche acknowledges that the founding fathers may have had many motives that factored into their creation of a Constitution, but that though some of these motives may have been entirely impure, they did not dictate the atmosphere of the convention, nor did these impure motives drive the intentions of all of the founding fathers. Roche also claims that there are no immaculate conceptions in history, and that the founding fathers obviously had their own agenda when it came to the topic of national government, however, these agendas were not the impetus of the convention, and that the sole and pure intention of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was to create a functional democratic government. He characterizes the framers of the Constitution as men who were obviously bias toward their own personal needs, but entirely willing to compromise if it appeared to be for the greater good of the United States of America. He argues that the Constitution could never be created by purely selfish motives because it was much greater than the men who created it. There is no possible way for men with entirely divergent interests on the economy, global affairs, and domestic issues to have created a document that suited them and only them. Compromise was the only way to create a government that was support any of their interests, and thus their personal biases, while influential, were put aside in the hope that the Constitution they created would serve all the states as a whole, and govern the country in an effective and efficient way, the likes of which the world had never seen before. The framers of the Constitution were far too wise to conform to the strict Beard interpretation of their motives, and thus, nothing would have ever been accomplished.