Zinn's Argument

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As an activist, anarchist, and self-declared democratic socialist, Howard Zinn admires the American people and their enthusiasm to improve their circumstances through protest and provocation (Zinn, Personal; Zinn, A People’s 9-10). He reflects this throughout A People’s History of the United States, placing emphasis on the plights of minorities, women, and the working class. By doing this, he chronicles the rarely told story of their struggle for equality in a biased, capitalist society. Though the US Constitution promised to “provide for the common deference,” the American government often catered to the will of wealthy businessmen and the male Caucasian elite (Constitutional). Due to the fact that the United States government failed to deliver various rights to the lower classes of the 1700s, involved the nation in the imperialistic Spanish-American war, and denied fundamental liberties to 20th century women, citizens underwent many battles to achieve the myriad of privileges withheld from them, which Howard Zinn depicts and analyzes in A People’s History of the United States. At the time of the nation’s founding, the rich lived in luxury at the expense of the poor. Coming from a lower class background in the slums of Brooklyn, Zinn comprehends class struggle and oppression of the poor (Zinn, A People’s 2). He empathetically describes the early years of the New World, in which indentured servants traveled to America in hopes of a better life. On the eight to twelve week passages, many were subject to starvation and disease, sometimes having to resort to cannibalism in order to survive (Zinn, A People’s 43). Once they were in service of their masters, it was common to become victims of beatings and rape (44). Though the Amendment VI of the United States Constitution later gave citizens the right to a trial by an impartial jury, servants were not permitted to serve as jurymen. In an effort to improve their miserable situation, servants made feeble attempts at rebellions, such as the uprising of the Gloucester County servants, which was revealed and never carried out. Large scale revolt was so impractical that servants had to defy their masters individually by physically attacking their masters, running away, or refusing to work (45). About 80% of all indentured servants “died during servitude, returned to England after it was over, or became ‘poor whites’” (qtd in Zinn, A People’s 47). Class distinctions were sharp, as the top 1% of property owners owned 44% of the nation’s money in 1770 (Zinn, A People’s 49). Howard Zinn’s socialist views are obvious as he describes how the rich lived in large mansions, surrounded by conspicuous displays of their excessive wealth, while the working class struggled to make ends meet. In the 18th century, the poor believed that they had a right to be protected by society’s elite (Gilje). When this failed to occur, the lower classes would protest via striking and rioting. When a Boston food shortage led to high prices, the poor attacked the exporting ships of Andrew Belcher and broke into his warehouses (Zinn A People’s 51). From 1766 to 1771, the Regulator movement in North Carolina, consisting of white farmers and laborers, denounced the tax system, wealthy officials, and debt collectors. Regulators organized to prevent tax collection, which they felt was an encumbrance on the poor (63-64). Following an uprising in Hillsborough, North Carolina in 1770, legislation was passed to prevent similar riots. After another revolt in May 1771, six regulators were hanged (64). Had the US Constitution been in effect at the time, said hangings would have been a violation of the First Amendment and the right to protest. Meanwhile, in the north, angry protests against the Stamp Act evolved into violence. While the Regulators’ anger lied with wealthy Americans, the grievances of the Bostonian lower classes were intertwined with resentment against the British (65). Other British...
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