American History Response Paper
Module D: Colonial America
The British Empire used to have colonies all over the world. It has been taking economical. Natural and human resources from those colonies for centuries. It imposed its religion and led the policy of total submission to the British government and nation. It is possible to find numerous examples of the imperialistic policy the British Empire led in the United States before the revolution. They can be divided into the following main aspects that characterize the British imperialism the best.
First, it is the desire for economic growth with the help of the colony. Great Britain itself did not possess the working force and economical resources in the amounts that were necessary for supporting the image of the empire. The labor of the slaves and poor immigrants was extremely cheap and allowed to gain profit without any difficulties. The colony also provided natural resources and raw materials that were not available in Great Britain.
The history of the black people in the United States started with so-called servitude and determined the way they lived for the future centuries. White people saw nothing wrong in the fact that black people were inferior to them, they were not able to learn and were not humans to the extent white people were. It became a solid foundation for the racism in the US. The blacks were brought as slaves to Virginia from Europe first, and then the number of black servants increased because of the African population. In fact, it became legal to buy and sell slaves in America (Zinn, 2005).
The situation with Indian population was more difficult. It was problematic to make them serve the colonizers and all of the attempts resulted into mass massacres and wars. The colonizers took the lands of where the Indian tribes have lived for centuries and wanted to make them serve the Europeans, thinking that it was the only thing the Indians were able to do. According to the ideas that were popular among the colonizers, the Indians could not understand the notion of liberty, because it was not present in their society. Such idea originated primarily from the European point of view that freedom means possessing private property and having individual independence (Foner, 2011). It was not characteristic to Indians, that is why the colonizers thought they were slaves by their nature.
The second issue that is worth mentioning is the political influence the expansion guarantees to the empire. It increases the country’s weight in the geopolitical sphere. In the beginning of the 18th century Great Britain was engaged in several wars (King George’s War and Queen Anne’s War in 1730s and 1700s correspondingly). From one point of view, it was an attempt to improve the economic situation in the country, because people were striving in extreme poverty. Many of them immigrated to America and formed a steady Anglo-Saxon community overseas, which was a strategically important phenomenon for the British Empire. In 1717 the British Parliament legalized sending criminals to the New World as the punishment, which helped to start the Anglo-Saxon immigration to the new continent in some way (Zinn, 2005).
The third issue that is characteristic to imperialism is the feeling of moral superiority over the primitive indigenous population. It is considered that those people need a leader, that can show them the right ideology. Transportation of criminals from Britain was also made to mix black slaves, who were trying to rebel, with white servants, who had more rights in America and were controlling the colored ones. Such initiative became a start of social inequality, that was based on the race.
The last characteristic of the British imperialism is the religious activity and spread of Christianity among the native pagan population of America. The Europeans thought that the words of the Bible will give the pagans liberty. In this case the notion of freedom was not the same for the Christians and for the Indians, like it was in the example about natural determination of slavery. The colonizers claimed that only the true faith in God will free people from the sins, and the status of the slave could not become an obstacle for liberation. That understanding of liberty according to the Christian doctrine of that time was not connected with the contemporary understanding of freedom and tolerance (Foner, 2011). The native population of America were not content to become morally free slaves and it led to armed conflicts between Indians and the colonizers.
Module F: The American Revolution
After the Seven Years’ War the British Empire thought that their colonies were their allies on geopolitical arena and had to pay with enormous taxes for the military help Britain provided them with. Among legislations that increased the taxation level in America were the Stamp Act, that imposed direct taxes on printed materials of any kind in 1765 or the Sugar Act, that decreased the revenue of colonial merchants greatly in 1764. The reforms made the merchants in America lose money, and living conditions of their workers worsened. All these led to the first conflicts between the colonists and the British Parliament concerning liberty and rights (Foner, 2011).
The population of America was living in extreme poverty and the wealth belonged to a small group of white colonists. The tension in the society grew as people became poorer, and the number of riots increased. The ruling elite decided that it would be effective to direct the anger the lower classes felt against the British Empire, that became the symbol of imperialistic exploitation and the source of all evil. Zinn (2005) wrote that the politicians from the upper classes mobilized the energy of the lower classes, their economic grievance, to fight with the enemy. He also stated that it became a traditional approach of the American government to fight their enemies with the hands of the other people.
Despite the fact that the Revolution gave freedom to everyone, except black, Indians, slaves and women, the ideals the revolutionaries proclaimed were good. In 1776, Paine published a book that criticized British aristocracy and monarchy. His Common Sense became a written support for the ideals of Revolution. He wrote that it was an absurd that Britain, which occupied a small island, was ruling the continent. He stated, that without imperialistic pressure, America would become an economically developed country, that would be ruled only by the principle of liberty and equality.
The Declaration of Independence, that followed Common Sense, finally made the US a separate country, where the rights of mankind became prior to the rights of Englishmen. The new order challenged the inequality that was dominant in all spheres of social life of that time. The Revolution gave many free people the right to vote, stopped the persecution on the Catholics and guaranteed some kind of religious freedom.
The ideas of the Revolution soon became synonymous to the American life style. Nowadays when the majority of people hear the word “democracy”, they think of the United States. The state’s government is constantly using the notion of lack of democracy to start armed conflicts all over the world. Though, the most democratic and free society of the world, the Americans, seem to live in the reality of Orwell’s 1984. The Big Brother is watching and controlling everyone: the NSA has a free access to emails, phone calls and Internet activity of all citizens. That is why it is quite difficult to say whether the American nation had really pursued happiness and freedom. In theory, people have the right to vote and to change the government. However, it is problematic to imagine that citizens are able to change the government because it does not correspond to their desires. There is a ruling elite, that has both money and power, just like it was in the times when the Revolution for independence took place.
Module G:The National Period
The Constitution of the United States became a big step forward towards the democratization of the American society and equality of its people. Though, it was also considered to be a collection of compromises. The government tried to find a solution that would combine both power and liberty in the state. The structure of the Congress was one of the most important compromises that influenced further development of the country. The debates were led concerning the new Jersey and Virginia Plans. According to the New Jersey Plan, the Congress should consist of one house and every state should have one vote in this house. Virginia Plan supposed that the Congress should consist of two houses and the citizens of the state determined their representatives in the Congress (Foner, 2011). In the result, the Congress was formed by two houses. The members of the House of Representatives were chosen by people of the particular state, and the state was represented in the Senate by two members.
There were also debates concerning the Constitution and the Bill of Rights during this period. Anti-Federalists claimed that the Constitution was the first step towards creating an oppressive government and it required an amendment, which was the Bill of Rights. In fact, Anti-Federalists were in minority, because the Federalists were supported by wealthy people and controlled the “free” press, which popularized them.
The situation with the rights was really depressive in the new state. A free person meant that it was a free white male. The living conditions of Indians, African Americans and women did not change with the ratification of the Constitution. With the time women got more opportunities for education and it happened approximately in the same time with Europe. However, the American policy concerning blacks and Indians had no equivalents in European history.
According to the Constitution, the population of the United States was divided into three categories: people (free white males), other persons (blacks, slaves), and Indians. The rights were written only for people. Indians were not present in the government, and the biggest part of their territories were occupied by the colonizers. For example, Indiana and Ohio were cleaned from Indians and became parts of the United States.
Black people were having even more rights in the new state than Indians. At least Indians were considered to be normal people and had a possibility to naturalize in the white society. The majority of white Americans thought that black people were not rational beings. In the Notes on the State of Virginia (Foner, 2011), Jefferson wrote that they lacked devotion to the community, reason and self-control. That is why the thought that Africans could not become a part of American society.
The Constitution and the Revolution made the distinction between white Americans and the others even more evident, than it used to be. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur described the United States as a melting pot, but it was more reasonable to call it a melting pot for white people, because the others were officially excluded from the American society. The Indians and the African Americans had no rights in this country and there were no signs that situation would change somehow in future.
Module H: Reform
The time between the American Revolution and the Civil War was the time of reforming the American society. At least, there were many attempts to change something by creating a Utopian community, that would make the gap between the poor and the rich not that evident and would create social harmony.
The religious sphere underwent significant innovations in that period of time. People were searching for equality and numerous religious organizations appeared. The Shakers claimed that women and men were equal in spiritual sense and there was need in private property. The Mormons practiced polygamy and and wanted to change the traditional way of life. Another organization, New Harmony, tried to create a new moral world and fought for women’s right to get education (Foner, 2011). People, who could not find their place in the American society of that time, came to those new churches and organizations in search of a more equal and fair community. The majority of them were deprived of it in their “previous life”. They were not able to reform the entire society, but they gathered in groups and formed their own small and separate communities, like Mormons.
The “crusade against slavery”, as Foner (2011) calls it, was among the most important attempts to reform the American society. In 1816 the American Colonization Society started promoting the ideas that slavery should be abolished and black slaves should be sent back to Africa. This initiative originated from the idea that the United States was only for white people and Africans were not able to integrate into the American society. Though, this movement did not try to free the slaves. Instead of it, they have found a colony in West Africa, Liberia, and sent them home.
The antislavery movement that wanted to set the slaves free also existed in that period of time. The abolitionists doubted the usefulness of the Constitution, that proclaimed equal rights for all people. They considered the Africans to be “fellow countrymen, not foreigners” (Foner, 2011).
Women also fought for reforms in that time. While some of them wanted to get the right to vote and to an ability for self realization, others wanted to get adequate payment and food for their work. The desires connected with social class differed greatly in this case. The feminists appealed to the notion of “slavery of sex”, criticized the authority of males and tried to make the notions of slavery and marriage synonymous (Foner, 2011). Those women who worked on factories were not considering marriage to be an institution of slavery. Their problems were horrible working conditions and lack of money. Zinn (2005) describes it in the following way:
“The dormitories became prisonlike, controlled by rules and regulations. The supper (served after the women had risen at four in the morning and worked until seven thirty in the evening) often consisted merely of bread and gravy. They protested against the weaving rooms, which were poorly lit, badly ventilated, impossibly hot in the summer, damp and cold in the winter”.
That is why those women started organizing working associations to fight for their rights. In the beginning, the leaders of demonstrations were fired and other women returned to work for reduced wages. Though, with the time, they succeeded and managed to improve their working conditions. After a series of failures when women tried to gather on demonstration they decided that it would be more efficient to organize a newspaper, where they would write about their working conditions and the ways they needed to be improved. The problem soon acquired public resonance and the majority of people payed attention to it.
Module J: Westward Movement
It is really possible to find such things as racism, ethnocentrism and exceptionalism in the policy of westward expansion. The US government introduced it slightly before the War for Independence and soon it acquired written support in the works like The Great Nation of Futurity by John L. O’Sullivan (1845).
O’Sullivan writes about the Americans as the nation blessed by Providence and claims that the God gave them a special permission to show the other nations how to live right. He sees the exceptional position of the American nation in the fact that they have no bloody history, like the Europeans have. Thousands of assassinated victims of the regime do not prevent the Americans from development and do not cover their eyes with prejudice.
The history of the United States has a great number of examples of racism and ethnocentrism. In general, as it was mentioned in other responses, an American who had all possible rights and enjoyed living in a democratic country was a white free male. In the United States of that time the notion of class devision was substituted by the notion of race distinction. The court process and the decision about the case of Dred Scott can be considered to be a vivid illustration of the racist and ethnocentric ideas, that were dominant in that time.
Dred Scott was a black slave who had lived on free territories for some time and that is why he decided to apply to the court for his freedom. The questions the Supreme Court discussed were a black person had a right to apply to the federal court and could be called a citizen. Then, the question whether living in a free state makes a slave free or not was discussed. The last problem was whether the Congress has the right to prohibit slavery in a state.
The results of the Dred Scott case were the following. First, it was decided that only a white person can be called a citizen of the United States. Second, the Congress had no right to abolish slavery in a specific state, that is why Dred Scott remained a slave (Foner, 2011). This case became a starting point for even more harsh reforms in expansion of slavery and supported the idea that racism and ethnocentrism were indispensable parts of the American society in that time.
War is another characteristic of that time in the US history and the example of American exceptionalism. In fact, it was the result of this ideology and supported the claim that the Americans were the best nation and had the right to show the others how to live. Those people, who opposed the war thought that they were afraid that it was only a means of territory expansion and increasing the number of slaves. In fact, they were right, because the wars were not started to bring democracy to other countries.
One of the examples of territory expansion was the purchase of Louisiana by Jefferson. It doubled the territory of the country and from that moment it reached the Rocky Mountains. Then, after the Americans helped Mexico after their war for independence from Spain, Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico became the parts of the United States. Then, in 1845 Texas became the part of the US (Zinn, 2005).
The second question is whether such horrible things like Indian removal, slavery and wars were indispensable parts of progress is closely connected with the theory expressed by O’Sullivan and further developed both by American politicians. If the idea of American exceptionalism supposes that having no history is an advantage in building a better society, then all those previously mentioned disasters of the US history were not necessary in the process of creating a new fair nation. In a contrary, they deprive the American nation of the right to teach someone how to live, because their history is also full of inequalities and bloodshed.
If we suppose that slavery, Indian removal, wars and other things like that had to happen in order to progress to a truly democratic nation, the idea of exceptionalism is doubted. A really exceptional and God blessed nation does not need to spoil before it spins. In my opinion, the progress of the American nation is not the result of its exceptionalism, it is just a natural course of things in history.
The Indian removal, mass assassinations at war and years of slavery with further decades of social inequality were the results of human mistakes, ambitions, cruelty and stereotypes. It was possible to avid them and the progress would still be achieved. Though, the problem is in the well known idea that history does not have a subjunctive mood.
Module K: The Civil War
Question two: Did their efforts lead to the Civil War or was the war a result of other things and the abolitionists just happened to be there?
The Civil War was the result of a number of reasons and it is impossible to state that it was started due to the efforts of the abolitionists. It can be called the starting point from which contemporary United States have developed. The two sides of the conflict were fighting to defend something and every party had its reasons for participating in the war. The Confederate army was fighting for their right to have slaves, and the Union wanted to abolish slavery and preserve the territorial integrity. After the Civil War, the slavery was abolished and the United States stepped into the new industrial era, where the farmers were independent, the workers were payed and the small business developed.
The main economical issue that determined the start of the Civil War was the economical one. The majority of people were living in extreme poverty, the workers suffered form inadequate payment for their job and they were not able to find any other way to solve their problems. Lincoln addressed those people, who were not content with the current state of things in the following words: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war” (Foner, 2011).
In the beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln insisted on the idea that slavery has nothing to do with the conflict. When the Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden proposed a resolution to the Congress that stated that the United States were not willing to interfere into the problems connected with slavery, it was adopted.
The problem of slavery was initially ignored not only on the higher political level. The soldiers treated the Negroes the same way. Fugitive black slaves were considered to be the property of the soldiers who have found them. It was a sort of contraband of war. At the same time, black slaves considered the war to be a starting point for their liberation and were full of hope for the better future.
In fact, the problem of slavery became a good theme for creating a liberal discourse and promoting it in the press. Mass media became a powerful source of propaganda during the war and both sides of the conflict made all possible attempts to shows people through newspapers that their point of view is more right than the one of their opponents. Oppressed slaves soon became the symbol of the time and a sufficient humanist reason to fight for. Liberating another human being, a God’s creation, was a better reason for killing the other people than expansion of the territory and improving the financial conditions of the ruling elite. That is why the ideas of abolitionism became extremely popular in the end of the Civil War and with the time became the symbol of the epoch.
The emancipation Proclamation was signed by Lincoln in 1863. According to it, the slaves who were living on the territory of the Confederates, were set free. In certain aspects the content of the Emancipation Proclamation changed the way of thinking of Lincoln, who did not even think about liberating the slaves in the beginning of the War. In addition, it added a new deep sense to the Civil War. It became a fight for human rights and freedom, and supported the idea that the American nation is the most progressive and democratic nations. So, it is possible to conclude that the ideas of abolitionism were not among the main reasons to start the Civil War. In a contrary, there were not among its reasons at all in the beginning, but soon the politicians understood that it was a perfect idea that explained many horrible things that the war led to.
Foner, E. Give Me Liberty! An American History. W. W. Norton & Company; Seagull Third Edition edition, 2011.
O’Sullivan, J. The Great Nation of Futurity. n.d., 1845.
Zinn, H. A People’s History of the United States, 20th Anniversary edition. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.