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5: A Kind of Revolution
Howard Zinn has two major topics here, the Revolution and the Constitution passed 10 years later. It's not altogether too snarky to summarize his perspective as "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Or perhaps Zinn might think that England was a bit better than the colonial elite. That word--elite--appears again and again, and I find its use in the context to be just as facile and objectionable as its use today. I cannot recall where Zinn acknowledges that English laws and tariffs were oppressing the colonists to a significant degree. He emphasizes throughout the desire of the elite to keep their grasp on power and wealth, which entailed becoming rid of England as master. To do this, the elite managed through the language of freedom and rights to bring aboard many of the less well-off who believed the propaganda of what they would have to gain. Zinn doesn't claim that people like Washington were out to enrich themselves by jettisoning the British; he says they were out to promote the interests of their own class, which as a motivation is less persuasive in my view.
No doubt Zinn is on solid ground regarding the severe inequality of wealth distribution and the very limited franchise of voting rights. So many groups were excluded from recognition: blacks, slaves, women, servants, Indians. But although Zinn has said at least twice that we shouldn't expect our forbears to act like us enlightened moderns, he doesn't follow that line very closely. Yes, the elites believed in the necessity of elites to run the body politic and they feared that too much democracy would cause the barbarians to storm the gates, but the government they proposed was still ahead of its time; it was a start. We can see that it was a base on which to build in more inclusiveness as time went on.
Although there was inequality in the colonies, there was also a higher percentage of property ownership than in any other part of the world. There was the promise of economic mobility for many, and wouldn't this have been sufficient reason for small merchants, mechanics, and farmers to unify against the British? There was also, it's generally agreed, a change in how they viewed themselves, as no longer British but as Americans. People are not generally as passive as Zinn's view would make them out to be. or as vulnerable to crude manipulation by elites.
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