One of America’s most important historians and an intellectual leader of early twentieth century liberalism, he is best known for analyzing economic influence on public policy. His most famous book “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States” (1913), argued that the financial interests of the founding fathers were paramount in the development of the United States Constitution. Beard and his wife Mary also wrote the widely acclaimed and wide reaching “The Rise of American Civilization” (1927), as well as “America in Midpassage” (1939), and “The American Spirit” (1943). He was one of the first to note that interpretation of history is very much influenced by the historian’s contemporary environment and personal perspective. In the 1930s Beard, an isolationist, turned his attention to foreign policy and began writing books and articles that accused President Roosevelt of maneuvering the United States into war with Japan.
Born in Indiana to a prosperous Quaker family, Beard edited a local newspaper before attending DePauw University, where he was exposed to progressive thinkers and social reformers. He continued his education at Oxford University. In England, with the financial aid of a Kansas socialist, he helped to found a college, Ruskin Hall, for English workingmen. He married Mary Ritter in 1900 and returned to the United States to study at Columbia University in 1902. He joined Columbia’s faculty in 1904 and became prominent in movements seeking better government and public policy. In 1917 he resigned from Columbia University to protest the dismissal of several faculty members on grounds of disloyalty during World War I. He never held an academic post after resigning from Columbia, but he co-founded the New School for Social Research in 1919 and remained active in public movements.