The Pragmatic Revolt in American History: Carl Becker and Charles Beard

By Cushing Strout | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Civilization and the Market Place

I ONLY want you to know that anything from your pen is always an event for me,"1Carl Becker, late in his life, wrote to Charles Beard. Though never an economic determinist, Becker, as an admiring student of Turner, who had urged historians to uncover the social and economic life shaping formal institutions, responded sympathetically to Beard's economic interpretation of history, noting that he had modernized "the ancient lady Clio, famous for her spotless flowing robes," into an up-to-date "flapper."2Beard wanted to do for Clio what he felt Roscoe Pound had done for "Miss Absolute Justice" and V. L. Parrington had done for "Miss Beautiful Letters": to yank her down from "her cold marble throne," hand her an apron, and "put her to work in a mundane place where she could learn about lives of men and women, loving and hating, acquiring and spending, hoping and fearing."3Beard did not, of course, invent the economic interpretation of history, nor was he the first to apply it to the American past, but no American historian had ever before used it with as much depth and breadth or with so powerful an influence. When the New Republic ran a symposium in 1938 on Books That Changed Our Minds, no writer was cited by other intellectuals more often than Beard, and the wide acceptance of his views on the making of the Constitution and the coming of the Civil War in the great majority of college

____________________
1
Letter, May 10, 1943, Becker Papers.
2
Becker, "Fresh Air in American History", Nation, 124 ( 1927), 560.
3
Beard, "Fresh Air in American Letters", ibid.

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