A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is a groundbreaking work of history. The book tells the story of America from the perspective of the people who have lived through it – slaves, workers, immigrants, women, Native Americans, and more.
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Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress
Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States might change the way you think about American history. In this book, Zinn challenges the idea that history is something that happens to other people. Instead, he argues that history is made by everyday people in their everyday lives.
The First Contacts
Some of the first contacts between Europeans and Native Americans were marked by violence and conflict. In 1492, for example, Christopher Columbus led a Spanish expedition to the Americas in search of gold and other riches. The indigenous people he encountered there were not the docile and submissive beings he had expected. Instead, they resisted Spanish efforts to enslave them and drive them off their land.
The Conquest of the Indians
In his popular history of the United States, A People’s History, Howard Zinn argues that Columbus’ “discovery” of America led to the enslavement and genocide of Native Americans. Zinn writes that Columbus’ arrival in the New World ushered in a period of “persecution, rumor, deceit, greed, racism, and violence.”
The Spanish Conquest of the Americas began with Columbus’ arrival in the Bahamas in 1492. The native people who inhabited the islands were known as the Arawak Indians. The Arawak were a peaceful people who lived in small villages and subsisted on fishing and farming.
When Columbus arrived, he mistook the Arawak for a more warlike tribe known as the Caribs. He began to round up the Indians and force them into slavery. Those who resisted were killed.
The Spanish Conquest would eventually lead to the enslavement or death of millions of indigenous people throughout North and South America. It would also result in the destruction of many cultures and civilizations.
Tyranny is Tyranny
In A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn argues that the history of the United States is not one of liberty, equality, and justice for all, but rather a history of oppression and exploitation. He challenges the traditional view of history, which he believes is biased in favor of the rich and powerful.
The Rule of the Rich
The rich have always been in control in the United States, but after the Civil War, they consolidated their power to a degree unmatched in world history. The great business corporation was invented in the 1860s, and quickly came to dominate transportation, industry, mining, and commerce. The new billionaires who ran these trusts amassed fortunes greater than those of the old-time aristocrats of Europe.
In the few years after the Civil War, the Supreme Court handed down a series of decisions that limited the ability of workers to form unions and strike for better wages and working conditions. These “labor injunctions” banned workers from picketing or even talking about unionizing. In one famous case, strikers at the Carnegie Steel Company in Homestead, Pennsylvania, were attacked by Pinkerton detectives hired by management; several workers were killed.
The labor injunctions were supplemented by state laws making it a crime to interfere with “property rights,” meaning the right of businesses to make profits. These “anti-trust” laws were used against unions and strikers again and again. For example, in 1886 police in Chicago killed several striking workers during a peaceful demonstration; later that year, eight trade unionists were convicted under Illinois’ new anti-trust law and sentenced to death (they were later pardoned by Illinois’ governor).
The American Revolution
The American Revolution was a political and social upheaval in the late eighteenth century that resulted in the American colonies breaking away from British rule and forming the United States of America. The Revolutionary War (1775-83) was the result of this struggle, and ultimately resulted in American victory.
The Revolution was precipitated by a number of factors, including the oppressive policies of the British government, such as the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts; economic issues, like high taxes and trade restrictions; and philosophical principles, like natural rights and self-government. These issues led to increasing tensions between Britain and the colonies, culminating in open conflict with the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.
After eight years of war, the Americans emerged victorious, and in 1783 the Treaty of Paris formalized Britain’s recognition of American independence. The new nation then set about creating a government based on the principles of liberty and justice for all.
Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom
Zinn begins his history with Columbus’s arrival in the West Indies and the enslavement of Native Americans. He moves on to discuss the various revolts by slaves and indentured servants throughout US history. He also covers the American Revolution and how it led to the Constitution, which legalized slavery.
The Intolerable Acts
In the spring of 1774, as tensions between Great Britain and the American colonies began to mount, the British Parliament passed a series of laws designed to bring the colonists into greater compliance with British rule. These laws, known collectively as the Intolerable Acts, attempted to punish the colony of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party and to prevent further resistance to British authority.
The first of the Intolerable Acts was the Boston Port Bill, which closed the port of Boston until restitution was made for the lost tea. This effectively cut off all trade to and from Massachusetts, causing great economic hardship in the colony. The second act was the Massachusetts Government Act, which annulled many of the colony’s charter rights and replaced its elected governor and town officials with royal appointees.
The third act, known as the Administration of Justice Act, made it difficult for alleged criminals to receive a fair trial in Massachusetts if they were accused of crimes related to protests against British rule. The fourth act was called the Quartering Act, and it required American colonists to provide food and lodging for British soldiers stationed in their towns.
These acts outraged American colonists, who saw them as an attempt by Great Britain to establish complete control over their lives. In response to the passage of these laws, colonial legislatures began meeting in secret to plan a unified resistance. These meetings would eventually lead to the convening of the First Continental Congress in September 1774.
The First Great Awakening
In the late 1730s and 1740s, a series of religious revivals swept across the American colonies. This religious movement, known as the First Great Awakening, resulted from a combination of factors. One was a desire by British authorities to instill more patriotic and religious values in the colonies following the 1729 passages of the Quebec Act (which expanded French Catholicism in North America) and the Marriage Act (which required couples in England to be married in Anglican churches). Another factor was a growing reaction among colonists to the increasing number of Enlightenment thought, which emphasized rationalism over traditional religious beliefs.
The First Great Awakening was marked by intense emotion and passionate preaching that led large numbers of people to experience “conversions,” or decisions to dedicate their lives to Christ. This evangelical fervor spread throughout the colonies, inspiring religious revivals, new church membership, and increased support for missionaries. The First Great Awakening also had political and social repercussions. It helped to foster a sense of unity among colonists and solidify resistance to British authority. It also stoked fears among slaveholders that emancipated slaves could pose a threat to whiteControl.
The United States has a long and complicated history, one that has often seen drastic changes. The country was founded on the idea of freedom and equality, but it took many years and a lot of fighting to actually achieve those goals. In the early days of the country, people were divided into two groups: those who wanted a strong central government and those who wanted more power for the states.
The Second Great Awakening
The Second Great Awakening was a religious revival that took place in the United States in the early 19th century. It was led by evangelical Protestant ministers and touched off by the powerful preaching of evangelist Charles Grandison Finney. The Awakening spread quickly through the country, reviving interest in religion and attracting huge crowds to outdoor revival meetings.
The Second Great Awakening had a profound impact on American society. It helped to fuel the growth of reform movements such as temperance and abolition, and it played a role in the expansion of education and women’s rights. The Awakening also gave rise to new religious movements, such as Mormonism and Seventh-day Adventism.
The American Revolution
In 1763, the British government imposed a series of taxes on the American colonies in an attempt to raise revenue for the war effort in Europe. The colonists, who were not represented in the British Parliament, began to resentment these taxes. In 1773, a group of colonists protesting the tax on tea dumped crates of tea into Boston Harbor in an event known as the Boston Tea Party.
The British government responded to the Boston Tea Party by passing a series of laws which placed even more restrictions on the colonists. In 1775, tensions between the American colonists and the British government came to a head when colonial militias and British troops fought each other at Lexington and Concord. The American Revolution had begun.
Over the next several years, the Continental Army, led by George Washington, fought against the British Army in a series of battles across America. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming that all men are created equal and have certain inalienable rights. In 1781, the Continental Army finally succeeded in defeating the British Army at Yorktown, effectively ending the war.
The Constitution: A More or Less Perfect Union
The Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, was written during a time when the American people were afraid of strong centralized government. The Remember the Ladies speech given by Abigail Adams to her husband, John Adams, during the Continental Congress in 1776 reflects this sentiment: “…I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.”
Under the Articles of Confederation, each state was sovereign and had its own government. The national government was very weak and could not tax or regulate interstate commerce. There was no president or judiciary, and theunicameral legislature (Congress) could not pass laws without the unanimous consent of all thirteen states.
The Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781 and remained in effect until 1789 when they were replaced by the Constitution. Although the Articles provided for a loose federation of states, they were inadequate to meet the needs of a rapidly growing nation. The lack of unity among the states led to interstate disputes, economic stagnation, and Shay’s Rebellion, a violent uprising in western Massachusetts in 1786-1787. These problems caused many Americans to call for a stronger national government.
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It was ratified on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and took effect on March 4, 1789.
The Constitution originally consisted of seven articles. The first three articles establish the three branches of government: the legislative, executive, and judicial. Article IV establishes states’ rights. Articles V and VI establish the amendment process. Article VII Ratification of the Constitution requires acceptance by nine states via special conventions held in those states.
The Bill of Rights, consisting of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, was ratified on December 15, 1791. Amendments 11–27 were ratified later.
The Constitution has been amended 27 times; the first 10 amendments form the Bill of Rights.