The origin of the United States Constitution is a perennial question in American historiography. In the last two decades a new ‘International’ interpretation has appeared that challenges an older ‘economic’ interpretation associated with Charles Beard and the so-called ‘Progressive’ tradition of historical analysis, which dominated scholarship for much of the twentieth century. The two interpretations assume different positions on what is known in American historiography as the ‘dual revolution’ thesis, i.e. the idea that the American founding was at the same time a struggle for home rule and a struggle over who should rule at home. Whereas the Progressive tradition has concentrated on the latter question, the International interpretation calls for renewed investigation of the former. The International interpretation presents the Constitution as a federal treaty that allowed thirteen newly independent and comparatively weak republics to maintain peace among themselves and to act in unison against competitors in the Atlantic marketplace and in the western borderlands of the continental interior. Whereas the Progressives identify the principal outcome of the founding to be the creation of a bourgeois state that faced inwards to make North America safe for capitalism, the Internationalists identify it as the creation of a stronger federal union that faced outward and allowed the United States to stand up to European powers and to conquer the North American continent. Yet despite the focus on the question of home rule, the Internationalist redefinition of the Constitution as a federal treaty also makes possible a fresh view on the old question of who should rule at home.
Read on here.