Motives Behind the Creation of the
Howard Zinn vs. Gordon Wood
24 March 2014
The debate between Professor’s Wood and Zinn confronts two notions concerning the intent of the Constitution of the United States. This alternative view, depicting the Constitution in anything more than a light of admiration, was first introduce by Charles A. Beard in 1913. It stirred such controversy that the resonance of his different perspective still ripples through the political teachings today. Wood and Zinn remarked on this debate with their personal perspectives concerning the intent of the Constitution in 1980, however, despite the intent of the Constitution, it is hard to deny the argument most supportive when taking into account the modern state of politics. Section One: Summarizing Zinn’s Argument
Zinn argues, “The Constitution illustrates the complexity of the American system; that it serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are the buffers against the blacks, the Indians, the very poor whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law- all made palatable by the fan fare of patriotism and unity.” First he brings up the elements of the Shays Rebellion; a group he illustrates as disenfranchised farmers who became radicalists. The repetitive use of the words rebellion and insurgent send the message later to be taken as a generalization to the lower class. Despite being included in the group to which the Constitution, he argues, is created to defend as land owners; he depicts the farmers as the far end of the spectrum and thus removed from civility (Pg 119). The use of the word insurgent also evokes a certain patriotic reaction considering this is how the British referred to the Revolutionaries; he is quick to follow this up with the point that the greater federal government had to step in to prevent further contempt from diminishing the reputation of the seat of power. Zinn also brings in the power names of Constitutional formation: Madison and Hamilton; to support his perspective regarding the elite. He regards Madison’s political philosophy concerning the permanence of an elite political body as complimentary to Hamilton’s address at the Constitutional Convention, at which he recommended a President and Senate chosen for life (Pg 121). Noting that the representative government was needed to address the local concerns at the state level of affairs, Madison and Hamilton both participated in the Federalist Papers distributed throughout the states nearing the time of ratification. Zinn then dives into the demonstrations of support for the ratification shown by the laborers in the urban areas; he uses this to illustrate the point that the lower class support was being derived from those employed by the elite both directly and indirectly, but this distinction is how they differ from the independent farmer (Pg 123). In the latter part of Zinn’s paper he does touch briefly on how compromise was met to deal with the grievances brought on by the ratification of the constitution. This is simply attributed to the Bill of Rights, which he quickly demonstrates were abused by those who drafted and ratified the Constitution. This demonstration was exemplified in the recount of the US Treasurer Hamilton personally attending to a “rebellion” in Pennsylvania concerning the Whiskey Tax. Zinn goes on to use more keywords to further diminish the reputation of the founding fathers by referring to their revered history as mythology. The closing statement in his argument is one, which may come off as bigotry, he closes with the making the comparison that those not considered “contending powers” were the “women of early America”(Pg 160) Section Two:...
References: Byrom, B. (2013). Early United States History. McGraw-Hill Education.
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