To Form a More Perfect Union: A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution

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Many important questions regarding the creation and adoption of the United States Constitution remain unresolved. Did slaveholdings or financial holdings significantly influence our Founding Fathers' stance on particular clauses or rules contained in the Constitution? Was there a division of support for the Constitution related to religious beliefs or ethnicity? Were founders from less commercial areas more likely to oppose the Constitution? To Form a More Perfect Union successfully answers these questions and offers an economic explanation for the behavior of our Founding Fathers during the nation's constitutional founding.
In 1913, American historian Charles A. Beard controversially argued in his book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States that the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution were less interested in furthering democratic principles than in advancing specific economic and financial interests. Beard's thesis eventually emerged as the standard historical interpretation and remained so until the 1950s. Since then, many constitutional and historical scholars have questioned an economic interpretation of the Constitution as being too narrow or too calculating, believing the great principles and political philosophies that motivated the Founding Fathers to be worthier subjects of study.
In this meticulously researched reexamination of the drafting and ratification of our nation's Constitution, Robert McGuire argues that Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, George Mason and the other Founding Fathers did act as much for economic motives as for abstract ideals. To Form a More Perfect Union offers compelling evidence showing that the economic, financial, and other interests of the founders can account for the specific design and adoption of our Constitution. This is the first book to provide modern evidence that substantiates many of the overall conclusions found in Charles Beard's An Economic Interpretation while challenging and overturning other of Beard's specific findings. To Form a More Perfect Union presents an entirely new approach to the study of the shaping of the U.S. Constitution. Through the application of economic thinking and rigorous statistical techniques, as well as the processing of vast amounts of data on the economic interests and personal characteristics of the Founding Fathers, McGuire convincingly demonstrates that an economic interpretation of the Constitution is valid. Radically challenging the prevailing views of most historians, political scientists, and legal scholars, To Form a More Perfect Union provides a wealth of new findings about the Founding Fathers' constitutional choices and sheds new light on the motivations behind the design and adoption of the United States Constitution.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Robert McGuire's To Form a More Perfect Union is and will long remain the definitive study of the effect of economic influences on the drafting and ratification of the American Constitution." - Cal Jillson, Chair, Department of Political Science, Southern Methodist University

"No longer can economic interpretations of the Founding Fathers' votes on the Constitution be dismissed as 'simplistic.' Robert McGuire's careful reasoning and thorough testing of alternative viewpoints yields a rich harvest of persuasive conclusions. The mix of economic interests definitely shaped the Constitution. A different mix could easily have defeated ratification and produced a very different America. In fact, had the delegates just had the same amounts of slave-owning of their average constituents, there would have been stronger opposition to the Constitution we have lived under ever since."—Peter H. Lindert, President, Economic History Association and Professor of Economics and Director of the Agricultural History Center, University of California-Davis

"The U.S. Constitution is the wonder of the world. It has been key in development of the American society, government, and economy. Yet, the process by which the document was drafted and ratified remains controversial . In this provocative and valuable book, Robert McGuire uses formal economic models, the empirical techniques of economic history and political science, and modern statistical analysis to examine the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. His findings support Beard's conjectures - self interest influenced both government design as well as specific constitutional provisions. McGuire provides guidance for interpreting these findings and their implications for understanding the origins of the Constitution." - Gary Libecap, Anheuser Busch Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies, Economics, and Law, Director of Karl Eller Center for Entrepreneurship

"To Form A More Perfect Union presents a new and quite interesting examination of the drafting and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Robert McGuire's interpretation will reopen many old debates, as well asstart some new ones regarding Charles Beard and the economic interpretation of the Constitution."—Stanley L. Engerman, John Munro Professor of Economics and Professor of History, University of Rochester

"This is an important book that will be of great interested to any student of American political-economic history."—EH.NET, Keith Poole, Department of Political Science, University of Houston

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195139709
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/28/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert A. McGuire was born in Long Beach, California, and educated at Long Beach State and the University of Washington. A professor of economics at the University of Akron, he is the author of many studies that have appeared in academic journals, including the American Economic Review, American Journal of Political Science, Economic History Review, Journal of Economic History, and Public Choice. Among his most recent research is a study of the Confederate constitution appearing in Economic Inquiry and an ongoing study of the role of diseases in American economic history funded with a National Science Foundation grant in 2000.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: A New Economic Interpretation
1. The Evolution of the Prevailing Interpretation
2. Economics and the Constitution
Part I: The Philadelphia Convention of 1787
3. The Choice of Specific Clauses in the Constitution
4. Another Look at the Choice of Specific Clauses in the Constitution
5. The Choice of the Basic Design of the Constitution
Part II: The Ratification of the Constitution, 1787-1790
6. The Overall Ratification Vote in the Nation
7. The Ratification Vote within Individual State Conventions
Epilogue: The Lessons of 1787 and Ratification
Appendix 1: Documents
Appendix 2: The Data and Their Sources
Appendix 3: Full and Parsimonius Voting Models for the Philadelphia Convention
Appendix 4: Personal-Interest and Constituent-Interest Voting Models for the Philadelphia Convention
Appendix 5: Alternative Voting Model and Hypothesis Tests for Nationalism at the Philadelphia Convention
Appendix 6: Voting Models for Pooled Samples of the State Ratifying Conventions
Appendix 7: Voting Models for Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia Ratifying Conventions

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