Monday, November 29, 2010

Reading Notes: A People's History, Part II

So I'm a couple days behind schedule...but it was a holiday weekend and my parents were visiting!

Chapters 6 through 10 cover post-Revolutionary War to the post-Civil War era in American history. So many groups in America were angry during this time period—women, Indians, slaves, farmers, workers, poor whites. The only group that was living easy was, of course, the upper class, and they aimed to keep it that way. The period before and after the Civil War involved a lot of manipulation by the elite to benefit their economic wealth and support a growing nation. Each of these five chapters have the same point but are pretty individual, so this will be long. I'm thinking it will come together later with 20th century reform, though.

Chapter 6, "The Intimately Oppressed", WOMEN—

What's interesting is how the status of women evolved as a result of the capitalistic environment of the new nation. A chain of events:
  1. Europeans brought to America a capitalistic society that sharply contrasted the egalitarian society of the Native Americans.
  2. “Societies became based on private property and competition in which monogamous families became practical units for work and socialization.” A “cult of domesticity" was created for the woman…a way of pacifying her with a doctrine of ‘separate but equal’—giving her work as equally as important as the man’s but separate and different.” A common theme in history books.
  3. Many women in the early 1800s refused this idea and began to rally behind causes such as equal rights, voting, abolition of slavery, and, especially once women were a strong part of the factory workforce, labor reform. And these are the strong women of history that we know—Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman—proving the point of one author: Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. Of course, women wouldn’t gain the right to vote until 1920, but that’s neither here nor there…

Chapter 7, "As Long As the Grass Grows or the Water Runs," INDIANS—

A simple cause and effect here. A) Americans wanted to expand their territory. B) These lands were already occupied by the native Americans.
“Indian removal was necessary for the opening of the vast American lands to agriculture, to commerce, to markets, to money, to the development of the modern capitalist economy.” 
It’s that money thing again. President Andrew Jackson took charge of this mission and, in a series of conniving maneuvers, turned Indians against one another to weaken their defense and take their land. Zinn talks about this a lot. I don’t think he likes Andrew Jackson. He may be upset with how many times I’ve been to his home, the Hermitage, back home in Tennessee….Anyway, it’s interesting because basically, it was a tactic of “civilizing” them—introducing them to western thought and forcing them to abide by national and state laws—that led to the disintegration of their own cultures and, along with it, their solidarity. Which I’m sure was Jackson’s evil plan.

Chapter 8, "We Take Nothing By Conquest, Thank God," MEXICO—

Texas was part of the Union after 1845, of which the Rio Grande may or may not have been the Texas/Mexican border. Either way, President James Taylor decided to move troops into this debatable area just to provoke Mexico. And it did, obviously. He wanted Mexico's territory (present-day New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, and part of Colorado). And he got it by moving in and taking it, all in the name of “manifest destiny”—because God wants the American people to spread over the entire continent as they multiple, spreading liberty and democracy to more people. Yes, God wants it. In the end, America provoked Mexico into a war, forced them into surrender, and then “bought” the land for $15 million as if the statement, “we take nothing by conquest…Thank God,” were actually true. Ha!

Chapter 9, "Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom," SLAVES—

The Civil War has always been tied to the issue of slavery, but it's a bit more complicated than that. Yes, there had been rumblings to end it prior to war—outlawing slave importation, slave rebellions, abolitionist causes. But there were many other people in the country suffering from their own economic hardships, and the nation couldn't unite behind this one cause. This is why Abraham Lincoln is important:
“Such a national government would never accept an end to slavery by rebellion. It would end slavery only under conditions controlled by whites, and only when required by the political and economic needs of the business elite of the North. It was Abraham Lincoln who combined perfectly the needs of business, the political ambition of the new Republican party, and the rhetoric of humanitarianism….Lincoln could skillfully blend the interests of the very rich and the interests of the black at a moment in history when these two interests met. And he could link these two with a growing section of Americans, the white, up-and-coming, economically ambitious, politically active middle class.”
In so many words, once the South seceded, the North fought to keep those territories and resources, and the issue of slavery was tied in as part of that crusade. And once Southern slaves abandoned their work to fight with the North, the South’s resources were crippled, leading to defeat. However, the emancipated slaves didn’t find much freedom after the war as whites began taking control of the South again, violence against blacks escalated once the slave profits of the old South disappeared, and most states still did not allow blacks to vote. The Civil War is a lot more complicated than grade school textbooks let on, always pinning it as a clear-cut, black-white issue. This is one of the most interesting chapters so far.

Chapter 10, "The Other Civil War," FARMERS AND WORKERS—

The people of America were agitated before the Civil War with many groups suffering at the hands of the wealthy. The gap between rich and poor was widening, technological advancements were lowering the value of human labor, farmers and workers were rebelling, immigrants flooded the country spurning racial hostility as a substitute for class frustration. This movement was put on hold when the country was sidetracked by the Civil War in the 1860s, but only briefly. As soon as the war ended, people quickly began to focus on their own survival, forming labor unions and organizing strikes against unfair business practices. For decades after the Civil War, the “common man” was struggling for his rights and equality as promised to him by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But it was a disheartening period, exacerbated by economic depression, and as Zinn states, “…working people learned they were not united enough, not powerful enough, to defeat the combination of private capital and government power.”

People are angry and starting to actually act on it. We'll see what that action leads to as we enter the 20th century. But, enough for now...

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