According to the progressive historian Charles Beard, Constitution was nothing else but an economic document written by a particular class for their economic interests. His strong believe originated from the time period he lived in. And as a progressive historian Beard wanted to curve the axes of capitalism.
Progressive movement tried to rationalize and create better society through Government’s action which didn”t interfere with the daily problems of average people. That lead to the conclusion that capitalism is flawed.This whole concept had a strong influence on Beard’s view and opinion of constitution. He talks about economic ideas and focuses on economic interests and states that constitution is a creation of particular classes to protect their interest.
What he misses is that Constitution is not a protection but a compromise of many competing interests. And not only economic but political, sectional and philosophical. Document One gives us a chart of fears people had when deciding about a government. After the revolution, citizens of the United States had 2 general ideas of what kind of government they should have.
One opinion was that there should be no strong central government and people would have all the power. And so called Antifederalists had this fear that once there will be a strong central government it would take away people’s freedom, rights and it would be the similar situation as it was before the revolution. On the other hand there were Federalists who were afraid of weak central government. After a Shaye’s rebellion federalists opposed to the fact that people should have all the power.
So this fear of people, fear of weak central government had it’s justification for creation of the central government.And as James Madison said, ” If all people would be angels there would be no need in government. ” But people aren”t angels so they do need government. Because of this conflict, constitution presents a compromise of Central Government with limited rights such as taxation, foreign policy, including war affairs.
And as stated in Document Four, Federalists were more of a Realists, who understood the whole problem that can later appear if the diversity and conflict of interests would remain in the United States. Sectional interests or as we can call it Regional conflicts also were resolved by constitution.Each of 50 states had it’s own way of living, it’s bill of right, it’s legislature and it’s interests. And so we have this fear of other states which didn”t care about each other.
Other states didn”t care that South states couldn”t survive without slaves and so they could vote by majority for abandoning slavery. Another fear is a fear of big states by small ones. Again, small state had a different interests then big state did but because of the number of delegates big states had, interests of big states were more protected.Probably that was one of the reasons Rhode island never attended the constitutional convention and Documents 2 and 7 proves it’s absence.
Rhode Island as a smallest state didn”t have any land claims in west so it didn”t care much about the land distribution in Ohio valley as well as a debt relief programs because there not much fighting in Rhode Island. So of course the fact of being a smallest state had it’s affect on abandoning convention. Philosophical conflicts-Antimonarchy or fear of strong executive and fear of common people having the power.All these already proves Beard wrong because we have not only economical interests in the constitution but others as well.
Economic conflicts were presents as well. In Document number Five, Beard gives us an opinion of the federalist on what is that basis of all government and this document written by James Madison states that ” The chief business of government . consists in the control and adjustment of conflicting economic interests. ” And one of such economic conflicts will be a property distribution.
Beard stated that faction divided society in 2 economic classes. People with property and people without. And that’s where he is wrong again because there were other classes of people like federalists, and antifederalists, people who supported slavery and people who didn”t. First goal of constitution is to protect property of the people.
As Hamilton has it in Federalists Papers and in Constitution. But Beard refers to Federalists papers as to a propaganda, designed to help a constitution to be passed on convention.Beard looks at Federal Papers because in his mind the dominant economic groups always used government to advance their interest. And they did it by limiting a popular will.
And one of such ways was property qualification that was created to filter the voters. ( I personally think that that it was an idea taken from Republican’s civic virtues where only people with independent property could vote so the election won”t be biased by the landowners). Document number Three Beard says that this property qualification left the majority of people out of voting.Beard states that those four groups, manufacturers, traders, creditors and holders of security bonds were the only one who passed the qualification and were the only people who voted for constitution and by this protecting their economical interests.
And that’s where Beard is very much mistaken. First of all the qualification to vote wasn”t in constitution because it didn”t get enough votes meaning that those ” four particular economic groups” weren”t afraid of having other people from other groups take a vote and may be even against their interests.Beard’s second mistake is election of constitution. According to his theory of having four evil groups of people who wants to gain some money and establish aristocracy, all of the delegates on the convention should”ve voted 100% for constitution but that was not what happened.
Beard said that the Goal of money class was to prevent government to produce laws that would affect property interests and that’s why constitution has “check and balances” and all these branch systems. So to pass a law it would take a long time while it goes through all the institutions.Beard believed that money class wanted a system that moves slowly and have a lot of stop points and that would help to protect property interests. But again there are real life facts that contradict that idea.
Constitution stated that all the western land claims made by many states, should be dropped and land distribution would be controlled by Federal Government. This doesn”t seem very pleasant for the states that had those claims and yet many agricultural states who had the most interest in the Western land still voted for Constitution, abandoning their own economical interest.Document number 9 shows us another fact that contradicts the Beard’s thesis is G. Mason a delegate from Virginia had the most slaves out of all the delegates on convention.
More then 300 slaves. That’s a big property, based on Beard’s thinking he must be interested in protecting this property and constitution with it’s stop points and very slow political motion seems as a perfect way to do so. But he votes against constitution which again contradicts Beard’s theory.Forrest McDonald in the Document number 6 states that ” fully forth of the delegates in the convention voted in their state legislature for paper-money and debtor relief laws.
These were kind of laws which according to Beard’s thesis the delegates had convened to prevent. ” And yet they still voted for this cheap money and debt laws which would imply taxation. Interesting thing is that McDonald states that the most common and important property holdings of the delegates were not those asserted by Beard, mercantile, manufacturing, and public security investment but agricultural property.And to support this statement, Document number 8 gives us a chart with things delegate did for living.
And it comes out that 47% or 26 people dealt with farming. After a careful reviewing all the documents and considering the Beard’s theory we can say that constitution wasn”t just an economic document that protected economic interest of a particular groups. All the delegates who were present on convention, knew what they were doing because according to document number 11 and 12, delegates were present at the time of revolution and they knew what kind of government they didn”t want.Also the fact that Benjamin Franklin, the oldest delegate and Jonathon Dayton the youngest delegate, both voted for constitution means that both new and old generation saw it’s interest in the constitution and it was a real compromise for everybody.
And of course delegate’s educational background which has a distribution of 31 College graduates and 24 not, supports the previous statement of a constitution being a real compromise for all kind of people from different groups with different interests.