Charles Beard, Economic Interpretation, and History

BookCoverImageIt’s been a century since Charles Beard published An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. That book has a central role in more or less every overview of the historiography of the constitution and the founding. Just what that role is, though, is still open to debate. That Pauline Maier’s Ratification (2010) has no listing for Charles Beard in the index might have been taken as a sign that scholars no longer have to deal directly with his towering legacy. But that Seth Cotlar called her out on it in a recent William & Mary Quarterly forum, and took her to task for the “absence of any direct engagement” with Beardian, “conflict-oriented” interpretations of the period, reminds us just the opposite. As Saul Cornell put it, in light of powerful and varied strands of contemporary neo-Beardian scholarship, from Robert McGuire to Woody Holton and Terry Bouton, “one wonders if we have fully laid the ghost of Charles Beard to rest.” Well, if you have to wonder… Continue reading

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