Zinn and Johnson
Historian Howard Zinn doesn’t believe that Americans were civilized in terms of sex and national origin. He views the United States from 1865 to 1900 as oppressed and racist. Many examples are presented in his book “A people’s History of the United States”, one of the examples he presents and perhaps one of the most important is that in 1877 the industrial and political elites of North and South would take hold of the country and organize the greatest march of economic growth in human history (Zinn, 253).
Zinn views this country as unorganized because of the working strike, they oppressed minorities to do the work to built and stabilize the economy of this country. The separation of labor between black and whites is what emphasizes the idea of oppression in the United States during this period. Between the Civil War and 1900, steam and electricity replaced human muscle (Zinn, 253). The creation of new machines soon began to change farming. Huge supplies of human beings were needed to test out these new machines that were backbreaking, unhealthful, and dangerous work.
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This shows how the United States only cared about social status, inventors were not to adjust or work the new machines, and therefore, people from a lower economic status, such as immigrants from Europe and China, would come to the United States and take the risks. An additional example of the change that occurred during this time period was the construction of the first transcontinental railroad which was built with blood, sweat, and politics ( Zinn, 254).
Americans felt they were superior and submitted three thousand Irish and ten thousand Chinese to built the railroads for only about one or two dollars a day. Many workers died because of the heat and the war that was being held by the Indians that opposed the invasion of the territory ( Zinn, 255). Political standings also played a big role in the social injustice. The wild fraud on the railroads led to more control of railroad finances by bankers, who wanted more stability (Zinn, 255). J.
P Morgan started off selling stocks for the railroads for good commissions but, during the Civil War he bought five thousand rifles from an army arsenal, and sold them to a general in the field. The rifles were defective and would shoot off the thumbs of the soldiers using them. He thought of himself as an American but the degradation of humanity in this act shows the contrary. James Mellon’s father wrote to him “a man may be a patriot without risking his own life or sacrificing his health.
There are plenty of lives less valuable” ( Zinn, 255). This statement emphasizes the idea that Zinn is presenting about the United States and how it is full of oppression and racism. However, Historian Paul Johnson viewed things differently from Zinn. He described the United States from 1865 to 1900 as a panorama of general progress in which all classes shared and in which all intellectual and cultural interests were abundantly displayed (Johnson, 591). He ultimately believes that the United States was composed of American geniuses.
If this were true I do not understand why minorities were being exploited by having them work long hours with no good payment. Johnson argues that although America’s high status elites deliberately spent their money on conspicuous consumption, they were still great Americans that wanted to succeed in being self satisfying, competitive swaggers, and excellent leaders for this country during that time. He compares American leaders to French and English noblemen, when in fact the United States as stated by Zinn had French and English people building the first transcontinental railroad.
When describing the “Age of Robber Barons” Johnson compares, once again, French people and the building of a large country house to the building of the railroad constructed in 1877, the lack of information and no interest at all in what American history really was about, leads him to find without any facts a similarity between these two countries that had nothing to do with each other during that time. Johnson goes on talking about how between 1880 and 1920 there more country houses were built in the United States than in any other period of time.
He again demonstrates us that he was more interested in story telling about the French instead of actually providing us with important facts about the United States. The history of the United States was not composed of how many houses were built; it was composed on how immigrants and lower class people were exploited to build more important things such as the railroads, while the white upper class spent their money on useless things. Zinn’s theories and ideas about the United States are much more meaningful than those of Johnson.
Johnson is more interested in story than presenting actual facts about the United States. Johnson does not focus on the issue of race and the differences in treatment between social classes. Zinn on the hand provides us with facts about the cruelty that went on during this time. He focuses on telling us how people were mistreated, minorities were abruptly abused and the government did nothing to help the situation. The government of the United States was behaving almost exactly as Karl Marx described a capitalist state: pretending neutrality to maintain order, but serving the interests of the rich.