Charles A. Beard

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Charles Austin Beard (November 27, 1874 - September 1, 1948) was an influential historian of the United States. He was a graduate of DePauw College in Indiana and of Columbia University. He is most noted for his economic interpretations of events which have become known as the Beardian School of Progressive historiography. He was married to Mary Ritter Beard.


Youth and Education

Teaching Career

Career after Columbia


Isolationist Foreign Policy

Beard initially support Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. But when Roosevelt began arguing for a more forceful stand against foreign aggression, Beard started to denounce the President. He advanced an idea called "American Continentalism"

  • There was no vital U.S. interest in Europe
  • U.S. involvement in foreign war would risk the suspension of liberties at home leading to a dictatorship.

Beard favored isolationism.

In his last book, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War (1948), Beard claimed that Roosevelt lied to the American people about his foreign policy ultimately forcing them into war. Internationalists denounced Beard and he was done.

Not until the 1990s did Beard's views about American isolationism again have political favor, this time from conservative politicians such as Pat Buchanan.

Political Scientist

For his work on the Constitution and for his work on the municipal rebuilding of Tokyo, Beard was elected president of the American Political Science Association.


Progressive Historiography

Beard was part of the "progressive historians" along with Carl Becker, James Harvey Robinson, Vernon L. Parrington, and Frederick Jackson Turner.

Beard's interpretative stance was that economic "forces" collide with each other producing conflict and change. Beard explained that these clashes of economic forces produced some of the most dramatic episodes in U.S. history: the writing of the Constitution and the American Civil War.

In An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913), he proposed that the U.S. Constitution was less a matter of political values of the Founding Fathers and more a product of their economic interests. That is, he saw political ideology as a minor byproduct of economic interests. Beard's interpretation held sway for 40 years until Robert Brown (1954) revealed its contradictions and Forrest McDonald (1958) showed that Beard had misinterpreted the economic interests involved in writing the Constitution. Instead of two interests, landed and mercantile, which conflicted, McDonald identified over thirty interests that forced the delegates to bargain.

Beard with his wife Mary Beard, wrote a best-selling history, The Rise of American Civilization (1927). They composed also two sequels: America in Midpassage (1939) and The American Spirit (1943).

Beard's most influential book was the wide-ranging and bestselling , written with Mary Beard.

Beard was elected president of the American Historical Association in 1933.

Dealing with Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, disciples of Beard such as Howard K. Beale, a Beardian disciple, used Beardian analysis in his study of the Gilded Age.

C. Vann Woodward, another Beardian disciple focused on the Reconstruction period.

Their approaches were later found to be flawed.(Hofstadter 1979)

Following World War Two, Beard's approach to history lost favor among historians. Historians, led by Richard Hofstadter began downplaying the conflict of forces and began emphasis a consensus of shared values.

Beard resigned his professorship at Columbia University when the United States entered World War One. Following this protest he helped found the New School for Social Research.

During 1923, he advised the Japanese government in the reconstruction of Tokyo following the earthquake. The Administration and Politics of Tokyo (1923).

Beard's economic forces-in-conflict approach was taken up by Wisconsin graduates who formed the New Left historians: William Appleman Williams, Gabriel Kolko, and James Weinstein.