Understanding the American Past: American History and Its Interpretation

By Edward N. Saveth | Go to book overview

The Forces behind the Constitution

by STUART BRUCHEY and E. JAMES FERGUSON

[ "Critical Review of the Framework of E. James Ferguson's The Power of the Purse," William and Mary Quarterly XIX ( July 1962), 429-438. Reprinted by permission, Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia.]

One of the two promises of Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution was to substitute for "the abstraction known as `the whole people'. . .an analysis of `the people' into its constituent elements." Beardwas concerned with the relationship between men's membership in certain classes or groups and their ideas on particular issues, especially toward the framing and adoption of the Constitution. The key to the group concept as developed by Beard was in the economic biographies of all who were connected with this process -- perhaps about 160,000 men -- whose political behavior was determined by the amount and kind of property they owned. "Class" and "group," words that Beardtended to use interchangeably, were defined almost entirely according to economic variables.1

This conception of group and class had weaknesses, which the social science literature dealing with these concepts has made all too plain. Yet, despite the mountainous literature on these themes, it is significant that there has emerged no uniform understanding of "class" and "group." All that is apparent is that there are a greater number of variables entering into these concepts than Beardhad taken into consideration.

Beard's use of the technique of economic biography, which is a

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