The Founders’ Fortunes: How Money Shaped the Birth of America

Dutton. Feb. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9781524745929. $29. HIST
Randall, award-winning biographer of several Founding Fathers, re-assesses Charles Beard’s argument regarding the economic objectives of wealthy elites in designing the Constitution. Drawing on material unavailable to Beard, Randall examines the financial successes, failures, and motives of key figures, all prominent businessmen, whose monetary health was affected by British mercantile policies. Most were involved in risky land speculation and other schemes to expand their wealth, and fortunes fluctuated significantly pre- and post-Revolution, leaving many of them in debt. The war resulted in grave financial hardships manifested in increased trade restrictions, lack of a dependable currency, conflicts and policy constraints in the “West,” unemployment, rioting, discord among the states, and lack of capital and credit. The Constitution’s defenders argued that only a stable, unified national government could address grievous threats to political and economic independence. In an engaging style, Randall skillfully compiles material from extensive research regarding the compelling impact of the Founders’ personal financial interests on their political decision-making—from rebelling against Britain through ratifying the Constitution—but contends that they were not driven exclusively by personal gain.
VERDICT This accessible, concise, yet informative work would benefit from a conclusion summarizing Randall’s observations. It will appeal to general readers and academics.
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