Institute for Historical Review

Institute for Historical Review

Charles A. Beard: A Tribute

  • Presented at the 1981 Revisionist Conference.


Charles A. Beard was born on 27 November 1874 in Knightstown, Indiana, a small farming community about 35 miles east of Indianapolis. He was the son of a prosperous farmer, and a member of a family in which the intelligent discussion of public affairs was a tradition. When only eighteen years old, Beard's father bought and presented to him the town newspaper, the weekly Knightstown Sun, which he and his brother ran for the next four years. Following this experience, Beard enrolled in DePauw College (now University), in Greencastle, about 35 to 40 miles southwest of Indianapolis, an environment similar to the one Beard had been born in. Though Beard was for 50 years identified with sophisticated urban settings as a university professor and public figure here and abroad, and was to be a familiar presence in the nation's capital, his ties were always strong with the rural, agricultural world. It was no accident that he spent the last decades of his life as the resident on and proprietor of a working dairy farm in the small western Connecticut town of New Milford.

Beard graduated from DePauw in 1898, and thereafter for a few years divided his time between graduate study at Columbia University in New York and special study at Oxford in England, where he spent about two years.[1] It was while he was still in England that Beard's first book, a study of the Industrial Revolution, was published in 1901, a work which was to be reprinted at least ten times during his career.

In 1904 Beard obtained his doctor of philosophy degree from Columbia, and then began his short but spectacular career as a university professor. He virtually founded the school of politics at Columbia in 1907, though 'political science' had been a term associated with a collection of subjects taught more or less in unison there since 1880. Shortly thereafter he began his long association with various forces and elements interested in the reform of local government, the introduction of serious technical study of its problems through scientific public administration. It was a career with many highlights, -and worldwide recognition, including positions with the National Municipal League, a long string of publications on local government and a formidable textbook, American Government and Politics. First published by Macmillan in 1910, this book went into ten editions in his lifetime, and its revision in 1948 was one of his last literary endeavors. Probably the highlights of this side of Beard's career was his invitation to Japan for two years after the disastrous earthquake which destroyed much of Tokyo in 1923, where he contributed significantly to a major reorganization of that city's local structure and government, and his election to the Presidency of the American Political Science Association in 1926. Beard was elected President of the American Historical Association in 1933, the only person ever to hold both these posts.

Beard as a teacher gained a reputation few have ever been able to match in such a short time. Testimonials to his electric personality and ability to galvanize student participation in the joint task of learning are amazing, and memorials from those who were part of the relationship, some even thirty and forty years later, are remarkable.[2] Though he had been teaching just over four years, when it was learned that the dean of Columbia College was about to retire, in 1909, the campus paper polled the student body as to their suggestion for replacement, and Beard was the overwhelming choice. But it was unlikely he was interested in the post.

If Charles A. Beard was making quiet but influential headway in the general field of practical political labors beyond the campus, perhaps this was a sideshow to the furor he was to create nationally and even internationally with the publication of his sensational book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, in 1913. Beard was not the first student of the impact of material considerations as an influence in the construction of the American Constitution in 1787-89. But his particular structuring of the argument drew forth a sulphurous attack, and a continuing disparagement which really has never subsided. Thirty-five years later there were still scholars trying to denature the impact of Beard's book, though studies of American history textbooks indicated that his approach had been incorporated in a resounding majority of them a quarter of a century later.

The effort to tag Beard as some kind of Marxist was especially malevolent, equivalent to the ugly smears he was to reap when he blossomed as the nation's most effective critic of the foreign policy intrigues of Franklin D. Roosevelt a generation later. But Beard Was no variety of Marxist whatever. As he reiterated over the years, his view was solidly positioned on the Federalist Papers, James Madison's famous discourse on the unevenness of possessions as a source of political faction, as well as being quite in the tradition based on the mid-nineteenth century American historian Richard Hildreth,[3] whose works had been part of an exposure while at DePauw, and undoubtedly due to the influence of one of Beard's favorite teachers (and one-time Union Army officer), Prof. James R. Weaver. Furthermore, as the quarrel grew over the years after 1913, Beard was to re-emphasize that the title of his book began with the article An, not The, and was intended for sober thought and consideration as an important and previously sidetracked influence in the drawing together of the American Constitution. It was Beard's first encounter with the venom which is generated when a challenge is issued to the institutionally-entrenched representing an official Establishment.

The controversy over the book on the Constitution was still going on, and Beard was at work on two other books shortly to be published, when the World War broke out in midsummer, 1914. His views on the war are quite complex, and, though he subsequently endorsed the American decision to become involved, nearly three years later (which he subsequently deplored), in the early period of American neutrality he advanced no strong position. However, this was not the stance of the President of Columbia, Nicholas Murray Butler. Butler, one of the standouts of a generation of university heads who firmly believed that the chiefs of the nation's educational institutions had a responsibility to provide intellectual as well as other leadership, had strong views on most things. On the war which continued to widen until it involved most of the world's major States, he was no exception. A vociferous Francophile then and for over a generation later, Butler became especially testy over the sentiments of his faculty when such were known or suspected to lag in zeal and intensity for the Allied cause when compared to his.

It was out of this conviction that there eventuated the celebrated incident resulting in Butler's dismissal from the Columbia faculty of J. McKeen Cattell, H.W.L. Dana and then Leon Fraser, largely on a guilt-by-association basis, for known incidental company-keeping with persons considered lukewarm in their attitudes toward the moral superiority of President's long-favored side. It was the incident which led to Beard's resignation from Columbia[4] and the academic world. to which he returned for only brief moments in the following thirty years.[5]

By the time this happened, the U.S.A. was involved in the war, and Beard was an outspoken supporter of involvement. His repudiation of the anti-war sentiments of Dana, Cattell and Fraser was a matter of record. But when they were dismissed by Butler, Beard's indignation swelled, and at the end of a few months of fierce controversy over the firings, Beard submitted on 8 October 1917 a letter of resignation from Columbia which is to this day one of the great documents in support of academic freedom in its best sense. (Strangely enough, in the case of Fraser, it had been Butler who had proposed his employment in the first place, in Beard's own department. Beard opposed his hiring, but after he had been employed, Beard was dead set against his firing. Aggravated by what happened to Dana and Cattell, the dismissal of Fraser was the last straw, so to speak. The subsequent eminence of the careers of Dana and Cattell has drawn much comment over the years but few followed that of Fraser. In the mid-thirties he was chairman of the board and president of the Bank of International Settlements and in 1937 became president of the First National Bank of New York[6] One might be led to comment that Butler's talent for dismissing the competent was demonstrable.)

It has been advanced by various commentators on Beard's career that walking away from an influential and well-paid professorial post such as that he held at Columbia was an act of more than ordinary courage, since it left him with the problem of support for a wife and two children. But it turned out to be no catastrophe, as one unacquainted with the scope of Beard's diligence and imagination might conjecture. He was already engaged in a joint labor with William C. Bagley, which bloomed as a textbook destined for nation-wide acceptance and use.

Macmillan published A History of the American People in 1918, not long after the resolution of the confrontation at Columbia. In its various editions, one adapted for use by the American Army Educational Commission, another for the California public school system (over 600,000 copies here alone), and a third tailored to the lower school and junior high school co-authored with Bagley published in 1920 and 1922 sold in excess of 600,000 more copies. In this time, after separating from Columbia, Beard was feverishly involved in his labors in behalf of various institutions working professionally to improve and reform American local government, and the climax of his activities in the early 1920s was his invitation for the two-year stay in Japan, and shortly after that his election to the presidency of the American Political Science Association.

Beard's unsurpassed skill at condensation, generalization and synthesis suited well a writing career which involved joint work with some forty other writers. His two works with Harry Elmer Barnes's favorite teacher at Columbia, James Harvey Robinson, History of Europe: Our Own Times and Outlines of European History (this also including a second co-worker, the famed Orientologist, James H. Breasted), sold in excess of a million copies. But perhaps Beard's greatest triumph and claim to permanent fame as a historian was a result of a pair of joint works with his wife, Mary Ritter Beard, a formidable writer of history in her own right. The first 2-volume work, The Rise of American Civilization, appeared in the spring of 1927. Its influence is incalculable, and those who have borrowed from it or who have cited from it or made other use of it surely are a vast number. The sequel, also in 2 volumes, America in Mid-Passage, appeared on the eve of World War Two. It is instructive to note that these ponderous tomes (the four volumes in their original hardcover editions weighed in excess of ten pounds) were written not for the Academy and the professoriat but for the general reader. Their adoption as Book of the Month club selections in their time testifies in part to that. In fact, it can be advanced that Beard was the last historian of top repute in this land to write for the general public, and for not once patronizing it and deliberately writing down to it.

Beard's books in his lifetime may have sold in excess of 12,000,000 copies.[7] Inadequate information on the many translations (some editions were in Braille) and publications abroad (editions of various titles appeared in Britain, Germany, Brazil, Japan, Austria, Switzerland, Mexico and elsewhere) make the determination of a precise figure difficult, but editions subsequent to Beard's demise have been quite inadequately accounted for as well (an updated edition of the widely hailed wartime Basic History of the United States [1944] was released as late as 1960.) The total over the more than 80 years since the publication of his first work in 1901 may exceed fifteen million, worldwide, while, when it comes to total readership in that span of time, using estimates and techniques adopted by total readership surveys conducted to determine total magazine readership by N. W. Ayer and Son's Directory of Newspapers and Periodicals; one is not likely to be far off the mark in concluding Charles A. Beard's readers, of one work or another, to be in the seventy-five million range.

But in assessing these awesome statistics and projecting others in the absence of hard evidence on the basis of the known total situation we should pay attention to something even more important: the substance of Beard's historical writing in terms of quality, its impact, and its enduring significance. Particularly apropos in this context is the closing paragraph in the essay on Beard as a historian by Professor Howard K. Beale, the editor of the symposium and mini-festschrift in Beard's honor published in 1951:

Yet it is not the quantity but the quality of Beard's writing that gives it importance. His Industrial Revolution was one of the first books on that important phenomenon. His and Robinson's writings on European history, in which Beard was responsible for most of the economic element, pioneered in "the new history" that emphasized social and economic forces and ideas. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, his Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy, and his Economic Basis of Politics profoundly affected American historiography. The first of these and his last two books on foreign policy have excited more controversy and more denunciation than any other history of the half century. His Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy, parts of The Rise of American Civilization, The Idea of National Interest, and The Open Door at Home rank among the small number of great American books that deal with the history of ideas. His and Mary Beard's America in Midpassage is a great example of a successful synthesis, which is overshadowed by the even better Rise of American Civilization, one of the most highly praised books of the century and probably the most successful large-scale synthesis in American historical writing.[8]

Beard the master synthesist did not entirely obscure Beard the student of special studies. The scope of his understanding of the latter may be discerned by the wide range of books he reviewed. One of these special areas was the field of revisionist studies dealing with the origins of the World War and the circumstances attending America's involvement. Though a supporter of Wilson and involvement at the start, like several others, Beard soon repudiated his enthusiasm and joined the critics and revisionists, even though he made no special studies himself. His acceptance of the revisionist diplomatic studies, which repudiated the German war guilt thesis, the basis for the Versailles settlement of 1919-21, was rapid. He enthusiastically reviewed the works of Barnes and Sidney B. Fay in this area in the late '20s, and summarized its upshot in a remarkable paragraph in the 1927 Rise of American Civilization, published in April. Following a searing quotation from Sir Philip Gibbs' Now It Can Be Told, Beard added the following:[9]

To the confessions of once-muzzled journalists were added more impressive documents. When Russian, German and Austrian archives were torn open by revolution, the secret negotiations, conversations, agreements, and treaties by which the Entente Powers had planned to break Germany and divide the spoils of war, according to the ancient rules, were exposed to the public gaze. In all its naked horror the sordid and grimy diplomacy which had precipitated the bloody conflict was revealed; and by way of supplement memoirs, papers, treaties, and articles on the back-ground of the war began to flow from the presses. Though cautious editors long ignored the researches of scholars, though aged club men and embattled women continued to fight the war along canonical lines, the task of keeping alive the old reverie was far beyond their powers.

In fact, Beard was of the view that "the spell of the war to end war (he did not enclose these last five words in quotes) was shattered" "by the spring of 1920." Most Americans in the academic world started disavowing their one-time high zeal for it all. The deflation of the academic participation in the war auxiliary was carried out with especial conviction in H.L. Mencken's new journal, The American Mercury, and Beard was a contributor to the very first volume in 1924. But there probably were few American historians who had labored so hard i n promoting "Mr. Wilson's war" who had the nerve to read the famous estimate of their work in Mencken's journal later on, by C. Hartley Grattan, titled "The Historians Cut Loose." (The American Mercury, August, 1927.)


The closing years of the 1920s, the national troubles signaled by the stock market collapse in October, 1929 (though several somewhat lower "lows" were to be experienced down into 1932) and the era of general malaise of the early 1930s found Beard as busy writing as ever, updating older books and turning out a stream of articles for various journals of both scholarly and general interest. It was the time when he began to show the first indications of a serious and sustained interest in American foreign policy as such, as opposed to attention to this field submerged in general accounts and sweeping narratives which tried to take the entire scope of affairs into consideration.

It can be advanced that his concentration on foreign policy and foreign affairs is traceable mainly from works produced in the early 1930s, especially two slim volumes published in 1934 and obviously put together before that, The Idea of National Interest and The Open Door at Home. One may argue that the World War had been a personal catastrophe for him, and sobered rumination on its consequences colored several of his writings in the decade after it ended. He demonstrably was aware of the changed season in American thinking after 1890 and thereabouts, with the emergence of a variety of American imperial[10] thinking as best exemplified by Alfred Thayer Mahan, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and Albert J. Beveridge, whom he was to characterize in 1939 as "four of the most powerful agitators that ever afflicted any nation." Beard even had flashes of presentiment as to where the inexorable American expansion into the world was taking its people, as when, shortly after returning from Japan, he wrote a speculative piece published in The Nation in March, 1925 on what he saw as the coming war with Japan might accrue to the U.S.A.[11] His repeated articles during the 1920s on the continuous pressure for the creation of an ever larger Navy and the relation of this to sustained global expansion is another side of his picture of the world and America's increased presence in it. But it was not until the coming of the New Deal that we find him taking the time to write a book length work on the substance of foreign politics.

Like an immense swath of Americans of all persuasions, Beard initially looked with favor on the Roosevelt New Deal, especially that part of its program (divided by some into "the Three Rs," relief, recovery, and reform) which constituted the effort to emerge from the economic slump, "recovery" (in actuality a global disaster, and as traceable to the profound planetary dislocations caused by the war of 1914-1918 as to any of the technical aberrations so prized by economist analysts.) Beard even subscribed to the idea of "national planning" of a sort, but more in harmony by far with ideas one can discern in plenitude in the pages of the Harvard Business Review and the publications of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School than those current among the likes of Bolshevik and related collectivists. (A perusal of the top rank,business school theorists in their writing between 1917 and 1932 reveals the firm outlines of the "mixed economy" and "government-in-partnership-with-business" views which evolved into working models well before anyone got around to blaming it all on John Maynard Keynes.)

Few persons of prominence in the land were as generous as Beard in affording the New Deal a chance to succeed. He wavered back and forth between an eagerness to believe it could succeed in bringing about national economic recovery and a kind of hardheaded realization, which probably stemmed from his own canny business sense, that it could not. And if it did not, then what? Right away he sensed the likelihood that a very attractive alternative scheme would be to try to solve the nation's dolors by dissolving them into a much bigger pool of such: the world's. As early as the winter of 1934-35 we find Beard making a remarkable speculation in this direction, published in the February, 1935 issue of Scribner's Magazine ("National Politics and War," pp.65-70): "Confronted by the difficulties of a deepening domestic crisis and by the comparative ease of a foreign war, what will President Roosevelt do? judging by the history of American politicians, he will choose the latter." FDR's discovery of sin abroad in the early fall of 1937 after the horrendous return of depression collapse that summer seemed to be an almost eerie following-out of a course already planned, and previously divulged, by Beard. One can see in Beard's piece in Scribner's in 1935 the germ of the much more expanded version of this thesis in his 1939 book, Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels.

Beard's own ideas of a desirable policy were expressed in The Open Door at Home, after he had explored the slippery abstraction called "national interest" from all angles, demonstrating sufficiently that it masked the interests of individuals and small groups far,more often than reflecting a true general hope or concern. At the core of his own views for national procedure was the belief that autonomy, whether or not desirable, was surely possible. Since 95% of the country's commerce was internal or domestic, policy should be based on this reality, and foreign trade effectively muffled. To satisfy the need for the remainder that presumably could not be locally produced, Beard suggested the stepping up of research into substitutes. His system eventually graduated into what was described as 'continentalism," and extended more or less to incorporate the Western Hemisphere. It was a program of reduced aspirations which he called "national self-restraint," eminently more attainable, he asserted, than the possibility of restraining fifty other countries in an international convention, or having to go to war with one or more of them. Beard found in the incessant and interminable search for foreign commerce one of the steady producers of the instigations of international armed conflict. But hanging like a pall over much of his work in the 1933-39 period, as reflected especially in his foreign policy and public affairs books and articles, was the recurring thought that sooner or later the United States was going to be carried into another war. One of his least successful volumes, The Devil Theory of War, published in 1936 (Vanguard), incorporated in its subtitle, An Inquiry into the Nature of History and the Possibility of Keeping Out of War, perhaps the substance of what all his furious production during those times was about.

Though the year 1936 did not reveal any serious concern with world affairs or edging in the direction of involvement somewhere in some state of belligerency on the part of RooAevelt's regime, there being many opportunities for such in that year of world upheaval, it probably was reason for dubiety on the part of someone once-burnt, twice-shy as Beard. But all one heard from the White House were sweet cooings about the beauties of peace, in FDR's speech at Chautauqua, N.Y., on 14 August of that year, and his famous disparagement of a national economy based on armament production in his address in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 1. Beard's hesitancy might have been based on a number of doubts and circumstances, the most important of which might have been the knowledge that the federal government had gone over the billion dollar mark for the first time in American history, in the area of annual military appropriations, in peacetime, in 1936.

The following year however things began to take shape in the direction of the apparition Beard had been seeing since the 1920's. Roosevelt's staggering, near-total victory at the polls in November 1936, creating the illusion of an unheard-of 'mandate' and blank check to do about anything, foundered on two unexpected eventualities: the rejection by Congress of his plan to pack the Supreme Court with six more judges who might look more kindly on the constitutionality of New Deal legislation, and the horrendous economic collapse in the summer of 1937, with unemployment totals and stock market lows exceeding what had prevailed before the New Dealers succeeded to power.

The stage was set for the remarkable turnaround on world affairs to be taken by Roosevelt. On 5 October 1937 came the famous speech in Chicago urging the "peace-loving nations" to "quarantine the aggressors," accompanied by a spirited plug for the idea of "collective security," which unfortunately had also been a major stratagem urged by Stalinist Russia and the Comintern. It came as no surprise that though the speech in general appalled Americans so that Cordell Hull and other New Deal luminaries later admitted to being much friqhtened by the adverse public reaction, it did receive a most vociferous reception by American Communists and especially their nominal leader, Earl Browder. The anti-interventionist (at that time) liberal weekly New Republic, long an outlet for Beard's quite hostile views on the things Roosevelt now was advocating, created a literary 'debate' between Browder and Beard on the subject at hand. It was the occasion for one of Beard's most effective demonstrations in behalf of anti-interventionism and deflation of the enthusiasms of Roosevelt, and Browder. It was published in the New Republic for 2 February1938.[12]

From this point on it can be determined with accuracy that Beard had become a fighter, not just a writer, on the foreign policy-foreign affairs front. Through 1938 into the early months of 1939, as crisis replaced crisis in European diplomatic confrontations, he saw taking shape here the firm foundations of a war party, deep in influence, prestige and resources, across all political attitudes from millionaires to Stalinists, with Roosevelt its symbol and organizational rallying point. And, as Beard had long expected and predicted, the emphasis in the conduct of public affairs had steadily shifted to concentration on evil in distant places instead of preoccupation with effecting social and economic salvation at home.

The substance of all of Beard's lecturing and writing on this political revolution in-the-making was incorporated into one searing statement, a masterpiece published by Harper[13] a few days before the Hitler-Stalin pact and the outbreak of the German-Polish war in the late summer of 1939, titled Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels. The title referred to the famed discourse in the fourth act of Shakespeare's Henry IV, in which the dying king advised his son to "busy" the "giddy minds" of his subjects "with foreign quarrels" in the event of dire straits befalling his kingdom in domestic matters. It fit in beautifully with Beard's suspicions of. the direction matters would take, from a time when the New Dealers and their President never even mentioned the subject of 'foreign affairs.' It sold into the generous six figures, and its message, Beard's editor at Harper's, George Leighton, said, "was more than intellectuals and crusaders among Roosevelt's followers could endure."

It was expectable that those who salivated for involvement in war someplace would heap malevolent vituperation on Beard generously. His lengthy and unnerving assault from this new perspective forced these self-styled would-be saviors of 'civilization' and 'Western culture' to assume a defensive posture, and elicited a sustained rhetoric devoted to absolving themselves of any such deviousness. As for Beard, the more intense became the assaults on him as a consequence of publishing Giddy Minds, the more resolute and unbending he became.[14]

If Beard had not completely estranged himself from that portion of his former liberal admirers-now-turned-inteHectual-warriors by his publication of Giddy Minds, then he surely finished the process by his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in opposition to the Lend-Lease Bill before Congress of 4 February 1941. Another string of "measures short of war" by which the Administration became a de facto, if not de jure, belligerent, it eventually passed, but not before Beard had at least penetrated its hide with a stinging commentary. Beard objected to the Title of the Bill, "An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States," and declared that, in view of its incredibly loose-worded structure, it be retitled, suggesting a sardonic alternate:[15]

All provisions of law and the Constitution to the contrary, notwithstanding, an Act to place all the wealth and all the men and women in the United States at the free disposal of the President, to permit him to transfer or carry goods to any foreign government he may be pleased to designate, anywhere in the world, to authorize him to wage undeclared wars for anybody, anywhere in the world, until the affairs of the world are ordered to suit his policies, and for any other purpose he may have in mind now or at any time in the future, which may be remotely related to the contingencies contemplated in the title of this Act.

Beard and the anti-interventionists lost the battle over Lend-Lease; it became public law in March. Thereafter came a continuing series of other Presidential moves and maneuvers calculated to enhance the chances of involvement in the war but under circumstances which were exploited to try to convince the unwarlike populace that the initiative had been taken by the putative enemy. It may be that the U.S. might never have got into the war that way, or possibly by actions which would have been profoundly unwanted, because of their political implications and possibilities. (It was conceded in the summer of 1938 by Lord Halifax that war was "a very uncertain remedy" for the situation taking place worldwide; by that same time three years later this kind of sober sentiment had virtually vanished.)

A good case can be advanced that the anti-involvement elements fought Roosevelt and the interventionists to a standstill down to the end of the fall of 1941. Then came the irretrievable event of December 7. Pearl Harbor washed the entire question from the agenda. It was a grievious tactical error for the anti-interventionists to run from the scene in precipitate disarray and to remain silent for the duration of the war. It gave the Administration the opportunity to conduct a global war with a book of blank checks, unimpeded by criticism and with an opportunity to make as many blunders and mistakes as they might, with little if any accountability, and eventually to conclude the fighting on the basis of settlements so bad that the effects were still being experienced almost forty years later. But, run they did, and with them went most of the tradition of what might be termed a "loyal opposition." The resulting near-totalitarian liberal war machine was hailed by its directors as 'unity.'

Beard joined the underground too, so to speak, though he was hardly silent. Several projects occupied his time. Included was the work producing a 1,450-page revision of his 1910 political science text, and time to dwell on the Federalist Papers, almost a ritual with him; he was known to re-read them every year. During the war he took time out to produce one of the better editions, titled The Enduring Federalist, not published until 1948. But the two memorable achievements of the war years were a lengthy, almost speculative and ruminative exploration of the American political phenomenon, titled The Republic: Conversations on Fundamentals, (1943) which sold more than four million copies, and the remarkable single-volume condensation of his previous works with his wife, issued in 1944 as A Basic History of the United States, which sold about 650,000 copies in the ensuing five years.

Though Beard spent the war prodigiously involved in several memorable literary projects, it was known that he was also industriously collecting materials for an extensive labor on the approach of the war and also the war itself. The first installment was published less than a year after hostilities ceased. In the late summer of 1946 came American Foreign Policy in the Making, 1932-1940, which bore the sub-title, A Study in Responsibilities. It accrued some grudging and uneasy reviews[16] from the spokesmen for the New American Order now taking shape in its preliminary organization of the portions of the world not already conceded to the Stalinists or about to be conceded to the Maoists.

Beard's inexorable procedure of demonstrating the actions of the profoundly domestically-oriented Democratic Party, its eschewing of all involvements in the League of Nations, collective security and other internationalist ploys, as well as devotion to an unswerving policy of neutrality in foreign affairs, troubled the readers committed to the New Dispensation. They perhaps suspected where the next blow would strike, and thus were able to prepare themselves psychologically for it, so that when it was upon them they were able to direct upon Beard a ferocious flamethrower of criticism and personal denunciation far beyond what greeted him on the occasion of the publication of American Foreign Policy in 1946.

However, the interval between the two Beard books was punctuated by the appearance, in January, 1947, of the literary temblor on the question of American involvement in World War II by George Morgenstern, Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War, in the opinion of many, including this writer, still the best book published on the subject. And Beard was intimately involved in it. Perhaps the torrent of invective loosed on Beard the following year after his second book was published was in part due to the vociferous praise he accorded Morgenstern's volume, which was prominently displayed later on in the promotion of the book. In his Acknowledgments, Morgenstern stated, "The author wishes to express his gratitude to Charles A. Beard for a scholarly appraisal of this work."[17] And Beard had done so in no stinting manner:[18]

Having scrutinized the more than ten thousand pages of sworn testimony and official papers bearing on this disaster before I read the proof sheets of Mr. Morgenstern's book I can say out of some knowledge of the subject that his volume is a powerful work based on primary and irreducible facts in the case, carefully gathered and buttressed by exact citations of the sources. For his own inferences and conclusions, he gives documentary contexts. This method and procedure. I feel sure, will make Mr. Morgenstern's book a permanent contribution to the quest for an understanding of the tragedy of Pearl Harbor.

It was an acclamation at least equaling that accorded the book by retired Admiral Harry E. Yarnell in his review in the Far Eastern Survey.

Though barely half or so of Beard's age, Morgenstern was no tyro in writing.[19] But it was his first book. The main case against him however was that he was a writer for Col. Robert R. McCormick's Chicago Tribune. And the Tribune along with the Patterson papers in New York and Washington had been the principal burrs in the hide of the Roosevelt liberal camp since before the war. They had taken the initiative in focusing attention on every nuance of the Pearl Harbor story surfacing in bits and pieces all during the war. So it was incumbent upon all terminal liberals to scoff at anything coming from the Tribune stable being taken seriously, not only in their view lacking merit, integrity and competence, but now surely intended merely to slander their dead Leader's memory. That one as revered as Beard would leap at the first opportunity to hail Morgenstern's work as a landmark and a candidate for serious attention for a long time to come was more than they could stand. From that point on it was Beard who drew the majority of the poisoned arrows, and the volume only increased after his President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941 was published in the spring of 1948. The books were not competitors but in reality complementary, since they took on the problem from quite different vantage points. Morgenstern was mainly concerned with a meticulous turning over of the evidence relating to the Pearl Harbor attack preliminaries as revealed by various investigations of the event, while Beard was more concerned with broad political aspects of the growing assumption of government personally and the bypassing of various constitutional limitations by the President in the year and a half ending in the Hawaii attack?[20]

Perhaps it was easier for the academic and political Establishment to ignore Morgenstern than Beard. The eminence and the near-half century presence of the latter simply could not be conjured away, no matter how venomous and malicious the ad hominem attack became. Perhaps the most succinct comment on the impact of Beard's book came from Dr. Louis Morton, Chief of the Pacific Section of the United States Army Office of Military History. Writing in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings for April, 1955, Dr. Morton conceded:

With the publication in 1948 of his (Charles A. Beard's) President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, revisionism reached the status of a mature historical interpretation of events that no serious student of prewar policy could ignore.

When the symposium Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace[21] was published late in 1953 the foundation stones for Pearl Harbor revisionism were in place, amply supported by Professor Charles Callan Tansill's Back Door to War (1952).

Beard not only infuriated the influential supporters of Roosevelt by his insistence that the continuous deception by the President in making his steady moves toward war while endlessly talking about his peacefulness (few were allowed to forget his pre-election promise in 1940 never to send Americans off to a war outside U.S. borders) was in essentials, as Leighton described it, "completely to undermine constitutional government and set the stage for a Caesar" (Beard's famed peroration on pp. 582-584 of his Epilogue to President Roosevelt is required reading in this context.) He had opened up another sore while writing his book with a famed article in the Saturday Evening Post for October 4, 1947, "Who's to Write the History of the War?," in which he revealed that the Rockefeller Foundation, working with its alter ego, the Council on Foreign Relations, had provided $139,000 for the latter to spend in underwriting an official-line history of how the war had come about, in an effort to defeat at the start the same kind of "debunking" historical campaign which had immediately followed the end of World War I. Beard complained of inaccessibility of various documents, which he was sure would be fully available to anyone doing an Establishment version of the wartime past, convinced that these would be sat on as 'classified' for a generation or more. Coming to Beard's side in an even more vociferous exposure of these newest developments was the columnist George Sokolsky, in a remarkable story published nationally a week later (11 October).[22]

So it was understandable that the following February, two months before-the publication of President Roosevelt, when the National Institute of Arts and Letters awarded Beard their gold medal for the best historical work published in the preceding decade, that his erstwhile liberal admirers would reach the end of their tolerance. The highlight of their protest was the resignation in rage from the Institute by one of its most influential members, Lewis Mumford, accompanied by abuse of Beard so extreme that it led to a memorable chiding to Mumford from Harry Elmer Barnes in a 11/2 column letter to the editors of the Chicago Tribune, published 11 February 1948. But the attack on Beard had barely begun. With the publication of President Roosevelt two months later, in April, the denunciation of Beard became a veritable industry, and the most eminent of the Roosevelt academic defenders were recruited to contribute to the character assassination. Probably the most outrageous was that of Harvard's Samuel Eliot Morison, Roosevelt's handpicked choice to write a history of American naval operations in World War II, and even elevated to the rank of Admiral in recognition of his labors.[23] But the outline of the total campaign aimed at Beard is substantial, extensively documented in the later editions of Barnes's booklet The Struggle Against the Historical Blackout (especially 6th thru. 9th).

Probably Charles A. Beard's last public act was his appearance in Washington once more, this time testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 3, 1948, presenting testimony against the adoption of universal military training.

Beard had suffered from an ailment known as aplastic anemia and on August 2 entered the hospital in New Haven, Conn., for treatment. His death occurred on 1 September 1949, in his 74th year.[24]

After all the trendy faddish conceptions and misconceptions about him are assessed, discounted and dismissed, it is quite possible that Beard's editor at Harper's, George Leighton, had estimated him most accurately. To Leighton, the irreducible Beard remained what he had always been: a "hardnut Indiana populist" with "humanitarian tendencies." To others Charles A. Beard in his lifetime was the quintessential and ultimate irritant and annoyance to the puffed-up gasbag mandarins of the Establishment, in the words of his former student and vast admirer, Sokolsky, "one of those tough fighters who goes after a fact with all the excitement of a big game hunter," and who "abhorred the lie, the bluff, the fake and the trick." His energy, diligence and imagination made a memorable impact on all fortunate enough to know him. For the others there is the legacy of his immense literary production, examples of which are so widely dispersed even in these days that it is unlikely he will fade from memory for a long time to come.


  1. Beard actually spent three years in Britain. His first year was followed by a return to the U.S.A. Then he came back to study at Oxford for two years.
  2. See especiafly Arthur W. McMahon, "Charles Beard, the Teacher, in Howard K. Beale, ed., Charles A. Beard: An Appraisal (University of Kentucky Press, 1951), pp. 213-230.
  3. Hildreth, a graduate of Harvard in 1826, produced a six-volume work published 3 volumes at a time in 1849 and 1851, which carried the story from the Columbian expeditions to the Missouri Compromise. There is a fair estimate of Hildreth in Michael Kraus, The Writing of American History (University of Oklahoma Press, 1953), pp. 129-135. Hildreth's opening statement in the first volume of The History of the United States, 1497-1789 read:
    Of centennial sermons and Forth-of-july orations, whether professedly such or in the guise of history, there are more than enough. It is due to our fathers and ourselves, it is due to truth and philosophy, to present for once, on the historic stage, the founders of our American nation unbedaubed with patriotic rouge, wrapped up in no fine-spun cloaks of excuses and apology ... often rude, hard, narrow, superstitious and mistaken, but always earnest, downright, manly and sincere.
    The result of their labors is eulogy enough; their best apology is to tell their story exactly as it was.
  4. Technically, the dismissed teachers were separated from the Columbia faculty by the Trustees of Columbia, and Beard addressed his condemnation of the action to them and centered his denunciation on them, suggesting that what was wrong with higher education in the land was due to a similar class of persons in charge everywhere, When the following year Thorstein Veblen published his The Higher Learning in America, which especially took to task such university presidents as Butler and Ray Lyman Wilbur of Stanford, Beard reviewed the book favorably and used the satiric phrase "hire learning," which quickly established its currency and was still to be heard many decades later.
  5. Strangely enough, Beard returned to Columbia for a semester as visiting professor of government in 1939, with World War II already underway and Butler still president of Columbia. Beard also received an LLD degree from Columbia in 1944. His only extended teaching in his long exile was a year at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1940-1941.
  6. On Fraser, see Beale's editorial note to the essay by George Counts, "Charles Beard, the Public Man," in Beale, ed., Charles A. Beard, p. 224.
  7. See tentative compilation of the sale of Beard's books in Beale, ad., Charles A. Beard, pp. 310-312.
  8. Beale, "Beard's Historical Writings," in Beale, ed., Charles A. Beard, p.263.
  9. Beard, The Rise of American Civilization (2 vols., Macmillan, 1927), Vol. II, p. 673. This was rephrased but with no change whatever in substance in A Basic History of the United States (Doubleday, Doran, 1944), covering over half of page 442.
  10. Beard's most succinct definition of what he meant by the word 'imperialism' is the following: "employment of the engines of government and diplomacy to acquire territories, protectorates, and/or spheres of influence occupied usually by other races or peoples, and to promote industrial, trade, and investment opportunities in competition with other imperialist powers or on occasion in collaboration with them where there is mutuality of interests or perils." Beard, American Foreign Policy in the Making, 1932-1940 (Yale University Press, 1946), p. 11 3n.
  11. Beard, "War with Japan: What Shall We Get Out of It?," The Nation, Vol. CXX (March 25, 1925), pp. 311-313.
  12. The Beard-Browder "debate" is discussed by this writer in American Liberalism and World Politics, 1931-1941 (2 vols., Devin-Adair, 1964), Vol. II, pp. 876-880.
  13. Subtitled An Estimate of American Foreign Policy, this was published by Macmillan, but it was the abridged version, in Harper's Magazine for September, 1939, published on August 20, which reached by far the most readers.
  14. Porter Sargent, the authority on American private schools, was also a testy and effective critic of American public affairs, in a succession of hardhitting books. When he started a newsletter in May, 1939 Beard became one of his earliest and most enthusiastic readers. Sargent was a great admirer of Beard's historical work, quoted from it liberally, and occasionally printed excerpts from communications he received from Beard during the tenure of the newsletter. Sargent's output down through March, 1941 was collected and published, with extensive commentary, in 1941 under the title Getting US Into War. It is one of the primary sources for anyone interested in the facts and opinion which circulated in this country during the 1939-41 days, in the area of international affairs.
  15. Leighton, "Beard and Foreign Policy," in Beale, ad., Charles A. Beard, P. 182, reproduced from the published Hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 77 Cong., I Sess., pp. 307-313.
  16. See especially the quite lengthy estimates in review by Crane Brinton of Harvard in the New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, Sec. VIL p. 3, September 1, 1946, and by R.M. MacIver of Columbia in the New York Times Book Review, p. 3, August 18,1946, which was decorated by an ugly insinuating cartoon.
  17. Morgenstern, Pearl Harbor (Devin-Adair, 1947), p. xiv.
  18. Comment by Beard on back of the jacket of the original edition, also printed separately on promotional material advertising the second printing.
  19. Morgenstern was a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Chicago in 1930. During the War, he had served as a Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, based at Headquarters, directing the corps of Marine combat correspondents. He became a member of the Chicago Tribune editorial staff in 1939, returning after the war and ultimately rising to become Editor of the Editorial page.
  20. Beard's long quotations from documents, speeches made in Congress, and his meticulous coverage of the substance of the published reports and documents growing out the Congressional investigation of the Pearl Harbor attack make the book especially useful.
  21. "Perpetual war for perpetual peace" was an expression coined by Beard, to describe satirically the apparent objective of the world 'liberators'in fashioning their peculiar "postwar world," in which the United Nations Organization was presumed to be put into business largely to conduct military operations against any power "threatening the peace." Barnes was especially taken by the remark and chose it for the title of the symposium published late in 1953 by Caxton. (None of the major publishers would touch a revisionist book, even those by Beard, which were done by a university press. Five years after Beard's death it was almost impossible to find anyone who would issue a book with a revisionist thesis.) Perpetual War was also dedicated to Beard.
  22. As things turned out, what the Rockefeller Foundation and the Council on Foreign Affairs were backing was a more rigidly Establishment tome than either Beard or Sokolsky ever dreamed. Issued in two volumes as The Challenge to Isolation, 1937-1940 (1952) and The Undeclared War, 1940-1941 (1953) by Harper, with the slogan proudly displayed on the title page, "Published for the Council on Foreign Relations," the authors were Professors William L. Langer of Harvard andS. EverettGleason of Amherst. Whatfew knew then or later was that both authors had prestigious jobs during the war in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), probably the most overrated intelligence organization since the Napoleonic Wars, and later also had equally important posts, in its postwar successor, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in the case of Langer, (assistant director) while Gleason, at publication time, was Deputy Executive Secretary of the National Security Council. An indispensable commentary on the first of the Langer-Gleason volumes is the first 19 pages of Harry Elmer Barnes's privately-printed brochure, The Court Historians Versus Revisionism (1952).
  23. Morison's attack on Beard and his second book in the August, 1948 Atlantic Monthly had a two-part title, the second reading, "History Through a Beard." When he later chose to include this review in a book of essays he was reproached for including this utterly tasteless pun on Beard's name by the editor of the American Historical Review, Guy Stanton Ford. Contemporaneous with this ugly attack on Beard was a poisonous whispering campaign that he was senile, deaf, and unaware of what was going on any longer. But Beard wore a modern hearing aid, and could match anyone for acumen in the world of history and public affairs. Barnes did a masterful job of combating what he called the "senility smear" of Beard, but traces could be detected about the land for some time thereafter. Morison (1887-1976) lived 16 years longer than Beard, writing almost to the end of his 89 years. But the liberal Establishment launched no venomous gossip about him being 'senile.'
  24. Though Beard had hardly become the favorite person of the editors of the New York Times in the last 15 years of his fife, they did display residual decency by devoting well over a column and a half to an obituary of the deceased historical luminary on September 2, which was remarkably restrained in areas where abuse might have been expected. A full column editorial obituary was devoted to Beard in the Chicago Tribune for September 4, in which several remarks attributed to him in quotations must have been in correspondence to Morgenstern. It was in this account that Beard told of working on a third book, presumably from the period after 1941. He was quoted as saying "My study is advancing rapidly," and declaring, "It makes my last book seem like a Sunday School sermon." Nothing of the manuscript of this work has ever been described or published.
    The counterattack on Beard by Roosevelt's partisans in Academe was not confined entirely to hostility to his books in review, and Fained ground after his death, which seemed to encourage bravery in some circles. By 1950 a large book prepared as a refutation of Beard was published by Prof. Basil Rauch of Columbia, titled Roosevelt from Munich to Pearl Harbor. Barnes dealt with its major shortcomings in one of his brochures, Rauch on Roosevelt (1952), though most of the professoriat followed Rauch. One who did not was the tough old Dakotan, Fred A. Shannon, professor of economic history at the University of Illinois. A Pulitzer prize winner earlier for his book on the organization and administration of the Union Army and a future president of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (now known as the Organization of American Historians) Shannon in his bibliographical recommendations in his America's Economic Growth (3rd. ad., Macmillan, 1951), p. 914, read:
    The most scholarly and satisfactory story of the diplomatic background of America's entry into the (Second World) war is Charles A. Beard, American Foreign Policy in the Making, 1932-1940 (New Haven, 1946) and President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941 (New Haven, 1948). An inadequate and unconvincing rebuttal of Beard is Basil Rauch, Roosevelt from Munich to Pearl Harbor (New York, 1950).

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