Howard K. Beale

Howard Kennedy Beale (April 8, 1899 – December 27, 1959) was an American historian. He had several temporary appointments before becoming a professor of history at the University of North Carolina in 1935. His most famous student was C. Vann Woodward, who adopted the Beard-Beale approach to Reconstruction. He went to the University of Wisconsin in 1948, where he directed many dissertations. He specialized in nineteenth and twentieth-century American history, particularly the Reconstruction Era, and the foreign policy of the early 20th century. He was a noted civil libertarian and advocate for academic freedom.[1]


Beale was born in Chicago to Frank A. and Nellie Kennedy Beale.[2] In 1921 he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a PhB in English from the University of Chicago.[3] Beale received an M.A. and PhD from Harvard University.


In his PhD dissertation, finished in 1924 under the direction of Edward Channing, Beale developed a complex new interpretation of Reconstruction. The dominant interpretation for the previous two decades was that of the Dunning School, which held that unscrupulous Northern adventurers, known as Carpetbaggers, manipulated the new black vote in the South to take control of state governments for their own advantage in terms of speculation, and corruption. The Freedmen (freed slaves) were merely pawns in the hands of the Carpetbaggers.

Beale argued that the Carpetbaggers themselves were pawns in the hands of northern industrialists, who were the real villains of Reconstruction. These industrialists had taken control of the nation during the Civil War, and set up high tariffs to protect their profits, as well as a lucrative national banking system and a railroad network fueled by government subsidies and secret payoffs. The return to power of the southern whites would seriously threaten all their gains, and so the ex-Confederates had to be kept out of power. The tool used by the industrialists was the combination of the Northern Republican Party and sufficient Southern support using Carpetbaggers and black voters. The rhetoric of civil rights for blacks, and the dream of equality, was rhetoric designed to fool idealistic voters. Beale called it "claptrap." In his chapter, "Claptrap and Issues," Beale argued, "Constitutional discussions of the rights of the negro, the status of Southern states, the legal position of ex-rebels, and the powers of Congress and the president determined nothing. They were pure sham."[4][5]

President Andrew Johnson had tried, and failed, to stop the juggernaut of the industrialists. The Dunning school had praised Johnson for upholding the rights of the white men in the South and endorsing white supremacy. Beale was not a racist, and indeed was one of the most vigorous historians working for black civil rights in the 1930s and 1940s. In his view, Johnson was not a hero for his racism, but rather for his forlorn battle against the industrialists. Beale did not publish his dissertation until 1930, when The Critical Year appeared to widespread scholarly acclaim. However Charles A. Beard and Mary Beard had already published The Rise of American Civilization which in much abbreviated form had developed a similar theme. Instead of feeling upstaged by the Beards, Beale became friends with them and vigorously promoted their general interpretation of American history. The Beard-Beale interpretation of Reconstruction became known as "revisionism," and replaced the Dunning school for most historians, until the 1950s.[6][7]

The Beard-Beale interpretation of the monolithic Northern industrialists fell apart in the 1950s when it was closely examined by numerous historians, including Robert P. Sharkey, Irwin Unger, and Stanley Coben. They conclusively demonstrated that there was no unified economic policy on the part of the dominant Republican Party, and there was no conspiracy to use Reconstruction to impose any such unified economic policy on the nation. Furthermore, the rhetoric on behalf of the rights of the Freedman was not claptrap but deeply held and very serious political philosophy.[8]

Foreign policy and editing

Beale turned his attention to foreign-policy during the 1940s and published his major study of Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy (the Shaw Lectures on Diplomatic History delivered at the Johns Hopkins University). Beale, like Beard, felt both world wars were mistakes for the United States, and strongly disagreed with the interventionism and imperialism of Theodore Roosevelt. However, in writing the 600 page monograph he changed his mind, deciding that Roosevelt had a remarkably deep comprehension of world affairs, and practiced very careful, very successful diplomacy. Beale did complain that Roosevelt was too ambiguous regarding race, and too friendly toward Britain and Japan.[9]

Beale was an active scholarly editor. He edited the diaries of Edward Bates (Attorney General) and Gideon Welles (Secretary of the Navy), who were members of Abraham Lincoln's cabinet. He edited a notable memorial work of essays by leading historians in honor of Charles A. Beard. Beale was an influence on the young William Appleman Williams at the University of Wisconsin.[10]

In 1950 Beale spoke out against the call by Conyers Read, President of the American Historical Association, for historians to be enlisted in the ideological struggle against totalitarianism.[11]



  1. Paul M. Buhle and Edward Rice-Maxim, William Appleman Williams: The Tragedy of Empire (New York: Routledge, 1995): 39; Michael Fellman, Views from the Dark Side of American History (LSU Press, 2011): 20.
  2. Biography at Book Rags
  3. The University of Chicago magazine, Volumes 7–8. University of Chicago. Alumni Association, University of Chicago. Alumni Council. pp. 188–190. Retrieved 26 March 2011.
  4. Beale, The Critical Year, p 147
  5. Hugh Tulloch (1999). The Debate On the American Civil War Era. Manchester UP. p. 226.
  6. Allan D. Charles, "Howard K Beale," in Clyde N. Wilson, ed. Twentieth-century American Historians (Gale Research Company, 1983) pp 32-38
  7. T. Harry Williams, "An Analysis of Some Reconstruction Attitudes," Journal of Southern History (1946) 12#4 pp: 469-486 in JSTOR
  8. Kenneth M. Stampp and Leon F. Litwack, eds., Reconstruction: An Anthology of Revisionist Writings (1969) p 85-106
  9. Charles, p 37
  10. Paul M. Buhle and Edward Rice-Maxim, William Appleman Williams: The Tragedy of Empire (New York: Routledge, 1995): 39.
  11. Ian R. Tyrrell, The Absent Marx: Class Analysis and Liberal History in Twentieth Century America (Westport, Conn., 1986), p. 82

Further reading

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