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A Review Of A Peoples History, First 250 Years

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Dr. Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States might be

better titled A Proletarian's History of the United States. In the first

three chapters Zinn looks at not only the history of the conquerors,

rulers, and leaders; but also the history of the enslaved, the

oppressed, and the led. Like any American History book covering the time

period of 1492 until the early 1760's, A People's History tells the

story of the "discovery" of America, early colonization by European

powers, the governing of these colonies, and the rising discontent of

the colonists towards their leaders. Zinn, however, stresses the role of

a number of groups and ideas that most books neglect or skim over: the

plight of the Native Americans that had their numbers reduced by up to

90% by European invasion, the equality of these peoples in many regards

to their European counterparts, the importation of slaves into America

and their unspeakable travel conditions and treatment, the callous

buildup of the agricultural economy around these slaves, the

discontented colonists whose plight was ignored by the ruling

bourgeoisie, and most importantly, the rising class and racial struggles

in America that Zinn correctly credits as being the root of many of the

problems that we as a nation have today. It is refreshing to see a book

that spends space based proportionately around the people that lived

this history. When Columbus arrived on the Island of Haiti, there were

39 men on board his ships compared to the 250,000 Indians on Haiti. If

the white race accounts for less than two hundredths of one percent of

the island's population, it is only fair that the natives get more than

the two or three sentences that they get in most history books. Zinn

cites population figures, first person accounts, and his own

interpretation of their effects to create an accurate and fair depiction

of the first two and a half centuries of European life on the continent

of North America.

The core part of any history book is obviously history. In the first

three chapters of the book, Zinn presents the major historical facts of

the first 250 years of American history starting from when Christopher

Columbus's NiÐ"±a, Pinta, and Santa Maria landed in the Bahamas on October

12, 1492. It was there that Europeans and Native Americans first came

into contact; the Arawak natives came out to greet the whites, and the

whites were only interested in finding the gold. From the Bahamas,

Columbus sailed to Cuba and HispaÐ"±ola, the present-day home of Haiti and

the Dominican Republic. One-hundred fifteen years later and 1,500 miles

to the north, the colony of Jamestown was founded by a group of English

settlers led by John Smith; shortly after that the Massachusetts Bay

Colony was founded by a group of Puritans known to us today as the

Pilgrims. Because of uneasy and hostile relations with the nearby Pequot

Indians, the Pequot War soon started between the colonists and the

natives. Needless to say, the colonists won, but it was at the expense

of several dozen of their own and thousands of Pequots. But despite

Indian conflict, exposure, starvation, famine, disease, and other

hardships, the English kept coming to America. In 1619 they were settled

enough that they started bringing African slaves into the middle

colonies. Before resorting to Africans, the colonists had tried to

subdue the Indians, but that idea failed before it was created. Zinn

writes:

"They couldn't force the Indians to work for them, as Columbus had

done. They were outnumbered, and while, with superior firearms, they

could massacre the Indians, they would face massacre in return. They

could not capture them and keep them enslaved; the Indians were tough,

resourceful, defiant, and at home in these woods, as the transplanted

Englishmen were not.

"White servants had not yet been brought over in sufficient

quantity.... As for free white settlers, many of them were skilled

craftsmen, or even men of leisure back in England, who were so little

inclined to work the land that John Smith... had to declare a kind of

martial law, organize them into work gangs, and force them into the

fields for survival.....

"Black slaves were the answer. And it was natural to consider imported

blacks as slaves, even if the institution of slavers would not be

regularized and legalized for several decades" (25).

Black slavery became

...

...

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