- Published: 08 January 2012
The topic mentioned at pages 237-238, ante: the motive of Dr. Beard in writing his 1913 book (title p. 235)--attacking, in effect, the motives and integrity of The Framers and therefore their handiwork, the Constitution--will be discussed briefly in the light mainly of the posthumous volume of essays about him by some of those who knew him intimately, including educators: Charles A. Beard--An Appraisal, edited by Howard K. Beale and published in 1954 by the University of Kentucky Press. (See also other pertinent writings, especially The Autobiography of James T. Shotwell; 1961, page 43, regarding the strongly Socialistic bias of Dr. Beard and his wife.)
Note first that the extent to which Dr. Beard was Socialistic in his thinking in the period of 1913 helps greatly to explain his hostility to the Constitution and its Framers. This is true because this basic law's limits on the Federal government's power--according to the controlling intent of those who framed and adopted the initial instrument and later each of its amendments, to the present time--were designed to bar from America (unless and until the people should change the Constitution by appropriate amendment) centralized control by government of the national economy, of the basic economic activities of the people of the nation. Such centralized control, also called Collectivism (synonymous with Socialism in its economic aspect especially), is of the essence of the philosophy of Socialism, underlying the philosophy of fully developed Socialism called Communism as advocated, for example, by Karl Marx and by Friedrich Engels, his benefactor, collaborator and co-author with Marx of The Communist Manifesto (1848). The Marx theory of Socialism-Communism, or Communist Socialism, (called Marxism) includes, as one of its main tenets, the idea of economic determinism. This means the economic factor, The Material, controls Man and his development, controls history and the development of social and political institutions. This spells, in effect, Materialism: the atheistic school of thought which denies Man's creation by God, denies the existence of God and puts Man on a par in this respect with things physical, like a clod of dirt.
This is the very antithesis of the basic tenets of the traditional American philosophy expressed in the Declaration of Independence--including the idea of God-given rights--which the Constitution sought to make effective and secure governmentally and was firmly believed in by the Signers of these two documents and their fellow Americans in general: ". . . all men are created . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . ." (un-alienable because God-given). So to believe is, of course, to reject the godless concept of Materialism; and, by the same token, to believe in the economic determinism of Marxist Socialism is to reject the American philosophy of Man's creation by God and endowment with God-given rights: Natural Rights.
The foregoing highlights the significance, in the 1913 Beard book, of his express espousal in effect of economic determinism (for example, p. 7): "The theory of economic determinism has not been tried out in American history, and until it is tried out, it cannot be found wanting." His repeated references to economic determinism made it evident that, in this book, he was in substance (though not with sufficient candidness, perhaps, to alert the general reader) advocating economic determinism, though perhaps not Marx's full thesis.
It is noteworthy that in his book (p. 6 fn) Beard also cited three books of "Socialist" writers "that deserve study . . ." (quoting his own words). As to another work, E.R.A. Seligman's The Economic Interpretation of History, Beard quotes (from page 3) at his own page 15n:
"The theory of the economic interpretation of history as stated by Professor Seligman seems as nearly axiomatic as any proposition in social science can be . . . [quoting Seligman, in part] . . . 'To economic causes, therefore, must be traced in the last instance those transformations in the structure of society which themselves condition the relations of social classes and the various manifestations of social life.'"
Beard approved; "axiomatic" means self-evident, as a truth.
Beard was introduced to The Communist Manifesto by one of his professors while he was a young student at Depauw University (per article in The American Political Science Review, Dec. 1949, p. 1166) and it is evident that he was greatly and favorably impressed by it, judged by later developments. Of special interest, in this connection, is the statement (Beale book, p. 236-7) by Dr. George S. Counts of Teachers College, Columbia University (retired in 1955)--a long-time associate and close friend of Dr. Beard--that while Beard was in England at the turn of the century he:
"probed deeply into the thought of international revolutionary Socialism and was profoundly influenced by it. Though never a Marxian, after re-reading Marx and Engels in the middle thirties in the German edition of their collected works, he remarked that their total achievement stands over all other comparable efforts in history as a 'mountain stands over the surrounding foothills.' "
Yet in July, 1948, just before his death, Beard told Counts "that he had been mistaken in his general interpretation of Marxist Socialism"--disillusioned by the developments in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: Soviet Russia. (Counts, in the Beale book, p. 237.)
At the turn of the century, Beard spent several years in England--at first as a student and then as a militant worker for the Socialist-Labor movement. Meanwhile he helped to found Ruskin Hall at Oxford University as a "Labor" school, where he lectured for a time. In this period, Beard--always of a fiery disposition--was a crusader for Socialistic developments in England; as he was later in America, though often more subtly.
One further observation by Counts in his essay (Beale book, p. 250) is of special interest at this point: that Beard was asked in 1941 whether he was satisfied with his 1913 book (the one under consideration here) and he replied in the negative. Counts states (his own emphasis):
"When Beard was asked in 1941 whether he was satisfied with his Economic Interpretation . . . [meaning the 1913 book] . . . he replied at once in the negative. He said that it had been written without sufficient attention to historical perspective. Had he been rewriting it he probably would have emphasized not so much that the framers were not democrats as that they were republicans in a world where republicanism was forward-looking."
(Here "republicans" means advocates of a republic for America. Regarding the comment about "not democrats," note discussion at pages 159-160 of this study-guide.)
How tragic for America that Dr. Beard's recantation--regarding his 1913 book which defamed The Framers--came only after decades of the resulting damage, through teaching and writings, to the minds of American Youth, of educators, of the public and to the cause of Education as well as to sound, constitutional government (as intended by the Framers and Adopters in 1787-1788) which depends, in last analysis, upon public respect for it and indoctrinating the Young accordingly. Moreover, Dr. Beard went to his grave without publicly acknowledging his profound errors.
It is clearly indicative of Beard's motive, in writing his 1913 book, that in his teachings as a Professor at Columbia University in this period he was so militantly and controversially critical of, indeed hostile toward, the Constitution and governmental institutions in America that, according to Counts, Beard was grilled for an hour in 1916 by Columbia's President and a committee of trustees about his fostering disrespect among students toward American institutions; and he was, Counts states: "ordered to warn all other men in his department against teachings 'likely to inculcate disrespect for American institutions.' " (Beale book, p. 243.)
In concluding this brief comment--about Dr. Beard's motives in writing his 1913 book attacking The Framers and the Constitution--in relation to the text of this study-guide (pages 235-239), it merits mention that Dr. Beard's published writings in the period of the 1930's, especially during and after the "Great Depression" of 1929-1932, evidenced unmistakably his strong belief in centralized control by government of the national economy--an essential part of any well-developed system of Socialism--and his hostility to America's traditional system of individual, competitive, private enterprise. His writings in this period especially also evidenced his desire to see America develop governmentally into a Socialistic (Collectivistic) nation, in part through the influence of Socialistic teachings in the schools and colleges.
Yet he was always careful, and skillful enough with words, to cloak his real meaning in euphemisms--the subtly disguised terms designed to make his meaning clear to the knowledgeable but too obscure to the general reader to permit them to get the point; as illustrated by his calculated, consistent use of the term Collectivism instead of Socialism, though meaning in truth a Socialistic system, essentially. (See, for example, with regard to such use of terms by Beard, an article by Professor Franklin Bobbitt of the University of Chicago in "School and Society," August 18, 1934; also an article by the late, celebrated Socialist: Professor Harold J. Laski of the London School of Economics, in "The New Republic," July 29, 1936; and see article by Professor Harry D. Gideonse of the University of Chicago in "The Journal of Political Economy," December, 1935. The Laski article labels as a "blueprint for Socialism" the 1934 volume: recommendations for restructuring schools' curricula, written by Beard for the American Historical Association. The Beale book, of essays about Beard, throws further light on the above points: his Socialist bent.
In conclusion, it needs re-emphasizing that Beard and his 1913 book--his baseless, destructive defamation of The Framers and the Constitution--set a trend in educational and intellectual circles for decades with infinite and continuing harm to the minds of Youth and the people at large and to American governmental institutions--consequently to Posterity's just heritage. The great, harmful and continuing influence of Beard's book, in the educational world especially, is discussed by Professor Douglass Adair in a devastatingly critical article in William and Mary Quarterly (being its Managing Editor) in 1951, v. VIII, p. 48: "The Tenth Federalist Revisited;" in which he exposes Beard's flagrant violations of sound scholarship and historical truth with political motives in his book--indicating also Beard's Socialistic bent.