Forrest McDonald: Out with His Memoirs

Historians in the News

Scott Morris, in the WSJ (Aug. 12, 2004):

Arguably the most influential work of American history is Charles A. Beard's"An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States," published in 1913. Beard's thesis--that our country was born of base economic self-interest and not idealism--became Holy Writ for many historians and social thinkers, launching a quasi-Marxist critique of the entire American project that persists, in certain corners of the academy, to this day.

If the critique has lost its force--and, luckily, it has--much of the credit belongs to Forrest McDonald, the historian who first took on Beard's analysis. He has now written"Recovering the Past," a bright memoir that illuminates the craft of the historian and provides a spirited account of Mr. McDonald's long-running battle against the unthinking leftist bias that plagues his profession.

A small-town boy, Mr. McDonald attended the University of Texas, where he caught fire intellectually. At 21, he produced a 272-page master's thesis on Beard's"Economic Interpretation," the scope of which amazed his professors. Mr. McDonald now believes this youthful work to be"stunningly puerile," but the audacity of it, combined with Mr. McDonald's careful research, would become the hallmarks of his career....

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Tom Peters - 11/7/2004

He was asked why the left is wrong about history--which they are--and he answered.

One has to ask why a 20th century white male American would say that the Constitutional Convention was a bunch of white men deciding how divide up the spoils among themselves. Like most leftist historians, Beard was badly wrong in his analysis of history, and ignored (or distorted) the history of our country since then--and it is fair to ask why.

Professor McDonald merely pointed this out, and his scholarship still stands.

Michael Green - 8/27/2004

In a column I write for an alternative weekly, the Las Vegas Mercury, I referred to Professor McDonald's appearance on C-SPAN. When he was asked how the left is wrong about history, he explained that the left "hates America" and is "crazy." I really didn't expect a distinguished professor to resort to the same kinds of sweeping silliness that right-wing critics of historians use. Clearly, if that is the best he can do, he has no argument to make. But I would have expected the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page demonstrates on a daily basis that the "big lie" is alive and well, to print the kind of tripe that Mr. Morris writes.