Zachary N. answered 03/20/22
SAT/ACT English Tutor w/ Political Science Background
Conventional understanding of the Founders' intent behind writing the Constitution as it is says that a desire for liberty and personal freedom was the primary motivation. British oppression of the American colonies moved the Founders to declare independence and wage a righteous war in defense of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Charles Beard took a giant sledgehammer to this conventional wisdom and argued that the Founders had personal motivations in fighting the British. Beard argued that the Founders were only in the fight to protect their financial interests and the Constitution was a seemingly altruistic means to a personal end. Basically, Beard argued that the Founders were an elite interest group looking to financially profit from the Revolution.
On its surface, Beard is right. The Founders as a group were deeply unrepresentative of American society writ large. The majority were lawyers by training, with many others hailing from a professional merchant, medical, and judicial background. A few were scientists, a couple were college presidents. Many owned slaves. All were white men.
Beard's theory is important because it cuts at the very heart of what ideals this country was founded upon. We like to think that we fought a war against the British Empire to preserve and maintain our freedoms. Beard argues that this country was founded on the preservation of the wealth of the rich, which would fall in line with his view that American history is the history of class conflict (i.e., historical events can be explained by economic motivations).