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Charles Beard

15 Dec 2017Essay Samples

Charles Beard was interested in the interrelation of economics and politics. In An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, he argued that the framers of the Constitution, as property owners, were chiefly interested in constructing a charter to protect their wealth. This was a Marxist analysis that focused on the haves and the have-nots.

Beard was interested in the question of who benefited from the Constitution. In other words, his title basically instructed what he was doing: making an economic interpretation of the Constitution. More than anything else, he argued the thesis that the Founding Fathers were very much interested in protecting property rights and maintaining the status quo of the propertyholders. They believed that the existence of man depended upon his ability to sustain himself and that the economic life was the fundamental condition of all life. Beard wrote, "Inasmuch as the primary object of government, beyond the mere repression of physical violence, is the making of rules which determine the property relations of members of society, the dominant classes whose rights are thus to be determined must perforce obtain from the government such rules as are consonant with the larger interests necessary to the continuance of their economic processes . . ."

Thus, for Beard and other Progressives of his time, the Constitution appeared to be a counter-revolutionary reaction against the democracy of the Revolution. It was seen as a kind of conspiracy of the rich minority of the people to restrain the less rich majority who might threaten property rights. In other words, there was an economic divergence between debtors and creditors.

Overall, a look at today's society appears to show that the reality that Beard spoke about is almost undeniable. Indeed, everywhere you look, class conflict can be easily seen. The more one examines the political and social order, it becomes transparently clear that wealthier groups consistently benefit, and the poorer groups are consistently hurt, by the changes in society. This has very much to do with what kind of society neoConservatives in our capitalist society are building. In many respects, therefore, there is an incompatibility between productivity and equity.

Much of this reality has to do with the issue of income, which involves an individual's control over his or her own resources. It is what a person owns and makes, as well as what the value is of what he or she makes and owns, and how much that value changes over time, which is the main issue. The change in the spatial form of the city, for instance, can greatly affect the redistribution of income. This is directly connected to what beard was talking about.

Wages, for example, are very much connected by the location of where someone works. So, if a person has to work far away from where he/she lives, this will increase that person's transportation costs, which changes that person's income. The changes in the value of property rights can also affect income. All of this has very much to do with the issue of taxation and how wealthy people can make their tax money work for them. This is why, as author Paul Peterson notes, "the process of migration from central cities continues, as residents search for a locale where they can receive the most for what they pay in taxes." (Peterson, p.1O6) Thus, we see how property is directly connected to exploitation, as Beard showed us.

Thus, all we have to do is watch how businesses move their operations to urban areas, and other locations outside of the central city. The people that work there have to follow. But people in the inner city cannot afford new homes in the suburbs, and they cannot easily afford the increased cost in the transportation now necessary to get where they are going. Moreover, due to the fact that these businesses are growing, there are less consumer goods and other resources available in the void they leave behind. The inner city grows more destitute, while rich people can simply just move to the suburb.

Thus, spatial form separates social classes, as did the Constitution itself. Affluent people can improve their income by moving, while poor people just start living in more miserable conditions. The value of private property also decreases in the places getting poorer, and increases in the more affluent areas. All of this was foretold long ago, as Beard clearly showed that the framers of the Constitution were only really interested in constructing a charter to protect their wealth and property. They were not interested in real democracy, as poor people have learned well.

All in all, today's society is a clear epitome of how certain elites practise a form of social control. When those in political power appear to be making egalitarian changes, all that is really happening is that they are making policies that benefit themselves. Surely those that own their own property are not going to make a democratic society which will threaten their own property rights. Property-holders, as Beard so well demonstrated, must do all that they can to maintain the status quo. Thus, they can appear to be making a free society which offers choice, but in fact what is really happening is the social construction of the negation of choice.

Thus, the social and political reality of the United States today is that those who are dominant in the context of class do all they can to keep the lower classes in a subordinate and powerless position. The wealthy and powerful pretend that they are caring for the poor, but in fact their policies only normalize poverty and appear to make it seem as though it is in the natural order of things. Beard is to be credited for showing us that the very foundation of the inequality of this society was founded on the inequality perpetrated by people who were looking out to consistently benefit themselves. The rich care about controlling and protecting their own resources.

Works Cited

  • Beard, Charles. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (Macmillan, 1965)
  • Peterson, Paul. City Limits (University of Chicago Press, 1981). 

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