Monday, March 19, 2012

A People's Read-a-long: Week 10


Welcome to Week 10 of A People's Read-a-long! We're reading a chapter a week, and I'm finding the pace deligtful. Note: the hosts have switched to posting every other week instead of every week, but I'm bucking the trend and posting every week. (Missed the earlier posts? Check out my posts for weeks onetwothreefourfivesixseven, and eight and nine.)

My thoughts: Chapter 10, entitled "The Other Civil War," focuses on the rights of renters and property owners. It opens with the Anti-Renter movement that sprung up in the Hudson Valley over the rampant wealth of landowners, who often had a legal right to the timber and other resources on the land. The scope of their control was massive:
"The tenants paid taxes and rents. The largest manor was owned by the Rensselaer family, which ruled over about eighty thousand tenants and had accumulated a fortune of $41 million."
The anti-rent movement grew quickly and they had some success:
"The farmers had fought, been crushed by the law, their struggle diverted into voting, and the system stabilized by enlarging the class of small landowners, leaving the basic structure of rich and poor intact. It was a common sequence in American history."
In the bigger picture, I was fascinated by two things: the timidity of the Supreme Court and Andrew Jackson's pioneering use of liberal rhetoric. The Supreme Court opted not to get involved in the 'big' issues; it left those to Congress and the President. I was most struck by this unevenness in the checks and balances system. Clearly, it was a system designed in name only, but it is heartening to know of the progress the Supreme Court allow in the future. Zinn writes of Jackson:
"Jackson was the first President to master the liberal rhetoric--to speak for the common man. This was a necessity for political victory when the vote was being demanded--as in Rhode Island--by more and more people, and state legislatures were loosening voting restrictions." 
I was also intrigued by the shifting demographics of the United States:
 "Now there were canals, railroads, the telegraph. In 1790, fewer than a million Americans lived in cities; in 1840 the figure was 11 million. New York had 130,000 people in 1820, a million by 1860."
There was also a reminder of why I love historical fiction and its ability to tell the untold stories:
"The full extent of the working-class consciousness of those years--as of any years--is lost in history, but fragments remain and make us wonder how much of this always existed underneath the very practical silence of working people."
Yet the chapter ends on an unsurprising somber note:
"In 1877, the same year blacks learned they did not have enough strength to make real the promise of equality in the Civil War, working people learned they were not united enough, not powerful enough, to defeat the combination of private capital and government power. But there was more to come."
Intrigued? Read along! Buy A People's History of the United States from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (the Kindle version.) You don't have to post each week. Stop by Fizzy Thoughts and Life...With Books to join the conversation again next Monday!

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8 comments:

  1. I've sort of forgotten about reading this! Ahhh I need to get caught up!

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    1. I'm beginning to think I'm the only one who looks forward to this reading each week!

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  2. I also need to get caught up, but I have to say that the book is not taking the direction that I thought it would. Kudos to you for sticking it out and for getting so much out of it!

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    1. I'm curious to hear what you were expecting of it Zibilee. It has met my expectations thus far, and I look forward to the more modern chapters to see how they compare to my memories!

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  3. As always, well done. I love your point that historical fiction can tell those stories that have been lost in the past. That is a great way to look at it!!! This was a brutal and difficult time -- certainly one that I didn't hear too much about in history classes. And your point about the Supreme Court is a good one. Thank God it evolved over time.

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    1. Thanks, Jenners! I definitely read on my Kindle with the notion of writing reviews and attach lots of notes to my highlights.

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  4. I haven't read this chapter yet (procrastinator!!), so lalalalalalalala...not reading. I'll be back.

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  5. Aaaaand this is why I prefer fiction. I continue to be frustrated by all of the brief mentions of people and events. I want some meat! Some backstory!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!