We the People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution

ISBN: 1560005742
ISBN 13: 9781560005742
By: Forrest McDonald Russell Kirk

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About this book

Charles A. Bear's An Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution was a work of such powerful persuasiveness as to alter the course of American historiography. No historian who followed in studying the making of the Constitution was entirely free from Beard's radical interpretation of the document as serving the economic interests of the Framers as members of the propertied class. Forrest McDonald's We the People was the first major challenge to Beard's thesis. This superbly researched and documented volume restored the Constitution as the work of principled and prudential men. It did much to invalidate the crude economic determinism that had become endemic in the writing of American history.We the People fills in the details that Beard had overlooked in his fragmentary book. MacDonald's work is based on an exhaustive comparative examination of the economic biographies of the 55 members of the Constitutional Convention and the 1,750 members of the state ratifying conventions. His conclusion is that on the basis of evidence, Beard's economic interpretation does not hold. McDonald demonstrates conclusively that the interplay of conditioning or determining factors at work in the making of the Constitution was extremely complex and cannot be rendered intelligible in terms of any single system of interpretation.McDonald's classic work, while never denying economic motivation as a factor, also demonstrates how the rich cultural and political mosaic of the colonies was an independent and dominant factor in the decision making that led to the first new nation. In its pluralistic approach to economic factors and analytic richness, We the People is both a major work of American history and a significant document in the history of ideas. It continues to be an essential volume for historians, political scientists, economists, and American studies specialists.

Reader's Thoughts

Erik Graff

I read the University of Chicago edition of McDonald, not this one, but cannot find the cover of the former on the Web and, so, went with this edition produced by a right-wing publishing house.At the time I resolved to study the economic factor in the formulation of the Constitution, Beard was clearly the place to start. The choice of McDonald as the counterpoint to Beard's thesis was fortuitous. I don't recall anyone recommending him, just finding his book at the Maine South H.S. library as the one which seemed most intent on critiquing An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. At the time I had no idea that McDonald was identified as a right-wing idealogue. That, too, was fortunate as I was prejudiced. As it happened, I read McDonald carefully and objectively.I wonder now where that old term paper went to. Is it in some box down in the basement? Not having it at hand and forty years having passed, my recall is not exact. What I do remember is that McDonald seemed obliged to accept Beard's general thesis that economic factors substantially influenced the behaviors of the framers of the Constitution. His critique of Beard, so it seemed to me, amounted to saying that Beard had been too simplistic. There were lots of economic factors, many of them regional, so that the rich weren't united as a class against the poor. But, then, I thought, Beard wasn't doing some sort of simplistic Marxist analysis. He never even cited Marx or any Marxists in his book. I tended to think that the rich had interests importantly different than the poor, then and now, but Beard, while not as detailed as McDonald, didn't seem to be ignoring divisions within the ranks of the wealthy and/or landed. In other words, McDonald seemed to be taking Beard's thesis and, with the advantage of more data and more research, refining it. His explicit criticisms of Beard seemed overstated, perhaps, I thought, simply to sell his book.Finally, while McDonald's book represents impressive scholarship, it is certainly not as readable of Beard's.

Steven Peterson

One of the major works critiquing Charles Beard's "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution." What makes McDonald's work so welcome is his use of hard data. He pointed out that some major Founders who refused to sign the document at the end of the Convention were people with large personal property holdings--precisely the interest that Beard argued created a Constitution to benefit its members. All in all, a solid work. . . .

Craig J.

We the People : The Economic Origins of the Constitution (Library of Conservative Thought) by Forrest McDonald (1991)

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