The late Howard Zinn is a much respected historian. His views are known to be bold and nonetheless controversial. In his book, “A People’s History of the United States,” Zinn touches on topics such as indentured servants, angry civilians, and the United States Constitution. Indentured servants were people of a lower economic class who worked for people of a higher economic background. These servants worked for a given amount of time, usually between five and seven years and either worked for money, food, shelter, or freedom.
Indentured servants were originally made up of mostly young white males who were trading their time in prison or their poverty for time working as a servant. The number of indentured servants began to decrease and soon after English colonists looked for other potential people to enslave. The Virginia colony needed labor. They needed to grow corn for subsistence, and needed to grow tobacco for export because they had just learned to grow tobacco.
Virginia couldn’t make the Indians work for them like Christopher Columbus had done in the past. The colonists would be outnumbered if they decided to try to take over the Indians even though they were equipped with firearms. The Indians were resourceful, defiant, tough, and practically fearless. The colony needed an alternate choice. African slaves were the answer to Virginia’s labor problem. Blacks had already been imported as slaves to South America and the Caribbean to Spanish and Portuguese colonies.
The blacks made enslavement easier because of how hopeless they were. They were robbed of their homeland and culture and in most cases they were separated from their families. Zinn referred to the slavery against the blacks to be the cruelest form of slavery in history. The British were taxing the colonial population to pay for the French war. Many colonists did not agree with the Stamp Act and wanted it repealed.
That summer, Ebenezer Macintosh, a shoemaker, led a mob in destroying the house of a rich Boston merchants like Andrew Oliver and Thomas Hutchinson. Rioters smashed up their houses with axes, drank all the wine in the cellars, and looted the houses of the furniture and other objects. English officers reported these acts to be a part of a larger scheme in which the houses of 15 rich people were to be destroyed. The riots against the Stamp Act swept Boston in 1767.
It took the Stamp Act crisis to make the leadership aware of its dilemma. After the riots a town meeting was arranged and mainly upper and middle class citizens were allowed to attend. Zinn argues the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, may have had ulterior economic and class preservation motivations that were hidden by the universal language of the constitution document.
Zinn also argues that the rich, in order to secure their own interests and economic status, must either control the government directly or control the laws by which government operates. Zinn often refers to the views and writings of historian Charles Beard. Beard studied the economic backgrounds and political ideas of the fifty-five men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to draw up the constitution. In his findings a majority of them were lawyers by profession, most of them were wealthy due to land, slaves, manufacturing, or shipping.
Half of them had money loaned out at interest, and that forty out of fifty held government bonds according to the records of the treasury department. Beard also found that most of the makers of the constitution had some direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government. Beard did not think the constitution as written to benefit the Founding Fathers personally. The problem of democracy in the post- revolutionary society was not however the constitutional limitations on voting.
It lay much deeper beyond the constitution in the division of society into rich and poor. The constitution then illustrates the complexity of the American system: that it serves the interests of wealthy elite, but also does enough for small owners, for middle-income farmers and mechanics to build a broad base of support. Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of Treasury and one of the Founding Fathers, believed that the government must ally itself with the richest elements of society to make itself strong.