Charles Austin Beard

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Beard, Charles Austin

Beard, Charles Austin, 1874–1948, American historian, b. near Knightstown, Ind. A year at Oxford as a graduate student gave him an interest in English local government, and after further study at Cornell and Columbia universities he wrote, for his doctoral dissertation at Columbia, The Office of Justice of the Peace in England (1904, repr. 1962). While teaching (1904–17) history and politics at Columbia, he joined James Harvey Robinson in promoting the teaching of history that would encompass all aspects of civilization, including economics, politics, the intellectual life, and culture. Together they wrote The Development of Modern Europe (1907) and compiled an accompanying book of readings.

Beard was especially concerned with the relationship of economic interests and politics. His study of the conservative economic interests of the men at the Federal Constitutional Convention, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913), caused much stir; he also wrote Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy (1915, repr. 1965) and The Economic Basis of Politics (1922). His interest in city government led to American City Government (1912) as well as the long-standard American Government and Politics (1910). After resigning from Columbia in World War I, he helped to found the New School for Social Research (now New School Univ.), was director (1917–22) of the Training School for Public Service in New York City, and was an adviser on administration in Tokyo after the disastrous Japanese earthquake of 1923. Beard wrote A Charter for the Social Sciences in the Schools (1932), which had an enormous influence on the teaching of history.

Beard became widely known to the general reading public through The Rise of American Civilization (2 vol., 1927, repr. 1933) and its sequels (Vol. III and Vol. IV), America in Midpassage (1939), and The American Spirit (1943), all written in collaboration with his wife, Mary Ritter Beard, 1876–1958. This panoramic work is an example of the broad historical view that Beard championed; the great store of fact is laid open with easy and graceful literary style. With his wife he also later wrote a brief survey, The Beards' Basic History of the United States (1944, rev. ed. 1960).

Charles Beard, much criticized as a radical in his earlier years, was just as much criticized by the liberals in his later years for his violent opposition to Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, especially in the struggle over the Supreme Court and in foreign policy. Beard's last work was President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941 (1948, repr. 1968). Mary R. Beard, a historian in her own right, was particularly interested in feminism and the labor movement and wrote a number of works on the subjects, notably Women's Work in Municipalities (1915), A Short History of the American Labor Movement (1920), On Understanding Women (1931), and Woman as Force in History (1946).


See studies by B. C. Borning (1962) and R. Hofstadter (1968, repr. 1970).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Beard, Charles Austin


Born Nov. 27, 1874, in Knightstown, Ind.; died Sept. 1,1948, in New Haven, Conn. American historian, one of the founders of the economic school in US historiography.

From 1904 to 1917, Beard taught at Columbia University. In 1933 he was president of the American Historical Association. At the beginning of his career Beard upheld the necessity for bourgeois reforms. In the 1930’s he became a supporter of President F. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In the works An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913), The Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy (1915), and The Rise of American Civilization (1927), Beard attempted to give an economic analysis of the most important problems in US history. He was the first bourgeois historian to characterize the Civil War of 1861—65 in the USA as “the second American Revolution.” However, Beard replaced a class division of society with a classification of the national economy by branches. His concept of the history of the USA in the 18th and 19th centuries was based on the contraposition of agriculture and industry. Beard obscured the class contradictions between the farmers and the plantation slaveholders at the time of the creation of the Constitution of 1787. Beard’s incipient transition to a position of vulgar materialism led him to the conclusion that the downfall of slavery in the USA was fatally predetermined by the development of capitalist relations in the North. In the America of his time, Beard also placed greatest emphasis not on class contradictions but on conflicts between individual groups of the bourgeoisie, individual strata of farmers, and so forth. Beard also attempted to prove the possibility of elevating the state to the role of a supraclass arbiter.

Beard’s bourgeois economism was one of the main forms of the struggle against Marxism in American historiography. Under conditions of an intensified class struggle in the USA in the 1930’s, Beard renounced bourgeois economism and adhered to the idea that it is impossible to discover the laws of historical development. In The Republic (1943) and A Basic History of the United States (1944), Beard revised his views on the most important historical events of the 18th and 19th centuries, including the constitution and the Civil War. In the works American Foreign Policy in the Making,. 1932–1940 (1946) and President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941 (1948), Beard criticized F. Roosevelt’s foreign policy from an isolationist position and attacked the Soviet Union. However, in the very last years of his life Beard condemned the aggressive foreign policy of the USA after World War II. After Beard’s death his early historical views became a target of criticism for reactionary historians.


An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. New York, 1960.
The Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy. New York, 1949.
The Rise of American Civilization, vols. 1–2. New York, 1942. (Jointly with M. R. Beard.)
The Republic. New York, 1946.
A Basic History of the United States. New York, 1945. (Jointly with M. R. Beard.)
American Foreign Policy in the Making, 1932–1940. New York, 1947.
President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941. London, 1948.


Dement’ev, I. P. “Ob istoricheskikh vzgliadakh Charlza Birda.” Voprosy istorii, 1957, no. 6.
Charles A. Beard. Edited by H. K. Beale. [Lexington, Ky.,] 1954.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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When Charles Austin Beard arrived at Columbia University in 1902 to begin his graduate studies, he had already absorbed a world of social experience.
(7.) Charles Austin Beard and Mary Ritter Beard Papers (unpublished manuscripts) (on file with DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind.) [hereinafter "CABP"].
(18.) See "Charles Austin Beard, Transcript" in Folder 15: DePauw, Subjects Taken, 1898, DC 10, CABP; HOFSTADTER, supra note 3, at 169; Bernard C.
Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian of American Imperialism, Richard Drake, Cornell University Press, 336 pages
Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian of American Imperialism is a new book by Richard Drake, himself an accomplished historian who teaches at the University of Montana.