Charles A. Beard
Lifetime: 1874 - 1948 Passed: ≈ 74 years ago
Charles Austin Beard (November 27, 1874 – September 1, 1948) was an American historian who wrote primarily during the first half of the 20th century. A history professor at Columbia University, Beard's influence is primarily due to his publications in the fields of history and political science. His works included a radical re-evaluation of the Founding Fathers of the United States, whom he believed to be more motivated by economics than by philosophical principles. Beard's most influential book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913), has been the subject of great controversy ever since its publication. While it has been frequently criticized for its methodology and conclusions, it was responsible for a wide-ranging reinterpretation of American history of the founding era. He was also the co-author with his wife, Mary Beard, of The Rise of American Civilization (1927), which had a major influence on American historians.
An icon of the progressive school of historical interpretation, his reputation suffered during the Cold War when the assumption of economic class conflict was dropped by most historians. The consensus historian Richard Hofstadter concluded in 1968, "Today Beard's reputation stands like an imposing ruin in the landscape of American historiography. What was once the grandest house in the province is now a ravaged survival." Hofstadter nevertheless praised Beard by saying he was "foremost among the American historians of his or any generation in the search for a usable past."
Conversely, Sir Denis Brogan believed that Beard lost favor in the Cold War not because his views had been proven to be wrong but because Americans were less willing to hear them. In 1965, Brogan wrote, "The suggestion that the Constitution had been a successful attempt to restrain excessive democracy, that it had been a triumph for property (and) big business seemed blasphemy to many and an act of near treason in the dangerous crisis through which American political faith and practice were passing."
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