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). See also R. A. McGuire, To Form A More Perfect Union: A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution (2003).

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