Charles Beard & the Founding Fathers

Charles Beard & the Founding Fathers

Perhaps the best way to break through the perplexities which arise when we compare Charles Beard’s simple view of the Founding Fathers with the more complex view that closer inspection reveals is to start, once again, free of his categories. Let us start with the proposition, at first almost too obvious to be interesting, that their main object was to form what they often called a “more energetic” government—that is, a true national state with all the customary powers—without losing the liberties they had. Let us assume, in short, that they were nationalists first of all, whose purpose was neither to restrict nor to enlarge democracy.

This will help us to remember that what we say about the relation of the Constitution to democracy elevates the problem of democracy to a position it did not have in the minds either of the Constitution’s friends or its foes. And let us assume further that as nationalists in a country still made up of separate provinces the Fathers found it necessary, like all innovators and reformers, to keep public opinion in mind— and, indeed, references to what would please the people or what they would approve rippled through the discussion of the Convention.

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