Zinn’s Argument Essay Example
Zinn’s Argument Essay Example

Zinn’s Argument Essay Example

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  • Pages: 5 (1373 words)
  • Published: April 21, 2018
  • Type: Case Study
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Howard Zinn, an activist, anarchist, and self-proclaimed democratic socialist, admires the American people's desire to improve their circumstances through protest and provocation in A People's History of the United States. In the book, he chronicles the rarely told story of minority groups, women, and the working class who struggled for equality in a biased, capitalist society. Zinn places emphasis on their plights and depicts their battles in achieving the withheld privileges. Despite the US Constitution's promise to "provide for the common deference," the American government often served wealthy businessmen and the male Caucasian elite (Constitutional). This failure by the United States government to deliver multiple rights to the lower classes during the 1700s, involvement in imperialistic actions like the Spanish-American War, and denying fundamental liberties to women in the 20th


century led citizens to fight for their rights. Coming from a lower-class background in Brooklyn's slums, Zinn understands class struggle and poor oppression (Zinn, A People's 2).

Howard Zinn provides a detailed account of the early years of the New World. Indentured servants traveled to America with hopes of improving their lives. However, during the eight to twelve week journeys, many experienced starvation and disease, and some even resulted to cannibalism in order to survive (Zinn, A People’s 43). Once serving their masters, some became subject to beatings and rape (44). Although Amendment VI of the United States Constitution granted citizens the right to a trial by an impartial jury, servants were not allowed to serve as jurymen. In response to their difficult situation, servants made weak attempts at rebellion, such as the Gloucester County uprising which was revealed and never carried out. Due

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to the impracticality of large-scale revolts, servants had to defy their masters individually by attacking them, running away or refusing to work (45).

Approximately 80% of all indentured servants “died during servitude, returned to England after it was over, or became ‘poor whites’” (as cited in Zinn, A People’s 47). Sharp class distinctions existed, with the top 1% of property owners owning 44% of the nation’s money in 1770 (Zinn, A People’s 49). Howard Zinn’s socialist views are evident as he describes how the wealthy lived in grand mansions with ostentatious displays of wealth while the working class struggled to make ends meet.In the 18th century, the impoverished populace demanded protection from society's upper echelon but were met with striking and rioting. Andrew Belcher's warehouses and exporting ships were vandalized by the poor when a food shortage in Boston led to increased prices. The Regulator movement in North Carolina from 1766 to 1771 was made up of white farmers and laborers opposing the tax system, wealthy officials, and debt collectors. Regulations were established to impede tax collection that the underprivileged believed weighed them down. Following an insurrection in Hillsborough, North Carolina in 1770, laws were passed to prevent similar revolts. Six regulators were executed after another uprising in May 1771. If the US Constitution had been present during these times, the hangings would have gone against the First Amendment and the right to protest. Meanwhile, protests against the Stamp Act resulted in violent outbreaks in northern regions. While the anger of the Regulators was aimed towards affluent Americans, the fury of Boston's lower classes involved resentment towards the British. British attempts at taxing the colonies were

met with fierce resistance. Class biases persisted even when the United States became embroiled in Revolutionary War.According to Zinn (A People's 80), while some colonists profited during the war, inflation caused great hardship for others. The wealthy minority was threatened with violence by colonists who owned little or no land, and several mutinies occurred in the military. In the south, lower classes saw no difference between the tyranny of wealthy Americans and that of Great Britain. Even after the Revolution, only the American elite and small landholders benefited, while poor whites remained in their dire situation (86). The Constitution's preamble promised to provide for the common good, and later on, through the 14th amendment, it stated that no one born in the US could be denied “life, liberty or property without due process of law” (Constitutional). However, these guarantees were not carried out before or after their inception, so it was up to the poor and working class to fight for their rights. In the late 19th century, expansion was a popular idea in America. As A People’s History of the United States explains, after the frontier was declared closed in 1890, America turned to imperialism and sought overseas markets. To increase profits, businessmen needed foreign trade markets like China due to a growing surplus of goods after the Gilded Age.The United States took an interest in Cuba and an “open door” policy to access Asia for imperialistic reasons. However, Cuba was also undergoing a revolution against Spanish tyranny, which many Americans sympathized with due to its similarity to their own revolution. Newspapers reported on Spanish atrocities towards the Cuban people, including the institution of

reconcentration camps that held rebels and their sympathizers. This outraged Americans, who were protected from cruel punishments under the eighth amendment. Sensationalist journalism manipulated citizens into believing that a war with Spain was necessary to help the Cuban rebels and support the government’s cause. Despite this, a group of anti-imperialists led by William Jennings Bryan and Carl Schurz reasoned Congress into passing the Teller Amendment, prohibiting the annexation of Cuba. Labor unions and socialists also opposed expansionism, as evidenced in several labor union journals cited in A People’s History.

The Spanish-American War had a negative impact on American and Cuban citizens alike. The war was primarily funded by the poor, who experienced increased prices and levies on common goods such as sugar and molasses (Zinn A People’s 308). American soldiers who occupied Cuba suffered from disease and unappetizing meals. Although the Spaniards were defeated, the Cuban rebels were absent during the signing of the peace treaty, which later resulted in American historians overlooking their role (309). Unlike other states that were given representation in Congress, Cuba was invaded and 80% of its imports ended up in American hands (310). This led to Cuban workers going on strike after the U.S. victory (310) to protest being under foreign tyranny. Howard Zinn provides an anti-war perspective of these events and relates them to his protests against the current war on terrorism (Zinn, Personal).

Throughout U.S history, women were viewed as inferior to men. However, feminists fought for equal rights and achieved significant progress including the right to vote. Despite this success, many feminists stopped fighting for their cause (Friedan 105). In the 1960s, white middle-class women were

inspired by Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique to seek intellectual and emotional stimulation outside of their homes (Zinn A People’s 505).

Howard Zinn diverges from other historians in his depiction of the feminist movement, highlighting the struggles faced by poor black women and women in the workforce, rather than focusing solely on bitter Caucasian homemakers. These working women were not exempt from mistreatment by their bosses, including sexual harassment, while earning significantly less than men. Women came together across the nation to organize against these injustices, rejecting subordination and traditional female roles in consciousness-raising groups. Dorothy Bolden founded the National Domestic Workers Union to give homemakers a voice in their community. Poor black women fought against aggressive male domination and class society to improve their standard of living. Women also met separately from men while taking part in various movements, including the civil rights movement alongside Zinn himself. The palpable solidarity among women in the 1960s contributed to the success of the feminist movement and improved living conditions for future generations. Howard Zinn documents citizens’ efforts to obtain the rights promised but not delivered by the United States government.

Through his social activism and lower class background, the author of A People's History of the United States not only narrates but also comprehends the great challenges faced by disadvantaged groups like the poor, minorities, and women. This book, unlike conventional textbooks that focus on elite citizens in positions of power, educates the general public on the hardships encountered by ordinary Americans. As a result, it presents a fresh and extensive view of American history and the struggle for constitutional freedoms.

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