My thoughts: Chapter 3, entitled "Persons of Mean and Vile Condition," deals with the class system in the colonies. More specifically, Zinn addresses how class was impacted by the existing class system of Britain and how it shifted to include Indians, slaves, (white) servants, and former servants. I'm deeply concerned at what I see as our current class system in this country, and this chapter was fascinating and disturbing to see how long we've faced these problems:
"A historian who studied Boston tax lists in 1687 and 1771 found that in 1687 there were, out of a population of six thousand, about one thousand property owners, and that the top 5 percent—1 percent of the population—consisted of fifty rich individuals who had 25 percent of the wealth. By 1770, the top 1 percent of property owners owned 44 percent of the wealth."In the last chapter I was fascinated by the difference in behavior between freed slaves brought to the U.S. and those born here. This chapter offered a similarly eerie glimpse into the behavior of freed servants:
"The first batches of servants became landowners and politically active in the colony, but by the second half of the century more than half the servants, even after ten years of freedom, remained landless. Servants became tenants, providing cheap labor for the large planters both during and after their servitude."The illusion of America as a place to start fresh is once again dissected in this chapter as Zinn looks at who these people were before they came to the United States:
"The servants who joined Bacon’s Rebellion were part of a large underclass of miserably poor whites who came to the North American colonies from European cities whose governments were anxious to be rid of them. In England, the development of commerce and capitalism in the 1500s and 1600s, the enclosing of land for the production of wool, filled the cities with vagrant poor, and from the reign of Elizabeth on, laws were passed to punish them, imprison them in workhouses, or exile them."Perhaps the most damning (and incredibly fascinating tidbit) about America not being an idyllic land of opportunity is this one: "Parliament, in 1717, made transportation to the New World a legal punishment for crime. After that, tens of thousands of convicts could be sent to Virginia, Maryland, and other colonies."
In the midst of a presidential campaign, where the rhetoric of liberty and equality are thrown around my candidates able to self-finance a campaign, I witnessed eerie similarities to the behavior of the ruling class in colonial times. The cynic in me came out strongly as I read this chapter and bemoaned how little has changed.
Favorite passage: "Those upper classes, to rule, needed to make concessions to the middle class, without damage to their own wealth or power, at the expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whites. This bought loyalty. And to bind that loyalty with something more powerful even than material advantage, the ruling group found, in the 1760s and 1770s, a wonderfully useful device. That device was the language of liberty and equality, which could unite just enough whites to fight a Revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality."
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