A People's History of the United States Questions and Answers
by Howard Zinn

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How does Zinn’s assessment of US history correlate with either the Federalist or Republican arguments?

Howard Zinn's history is often at odds with how Republicans and Federalists portray history. While Republicans tend to portray Abraham Lincoln as the person who ended slavery, Zinn sees Lincoln as a figure who transitions Black people into a different kind of slavery. While Federalists claimed a big central government would be the best way to look out for the interests of all people, Zinn claims the Federalists's main priority was to advance the interests of the wealthy.

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Howard Zinn's history of the United States correlates to the Federalist or Republican arguments of history in an antagonistic way. Another way to put it: Zinn's history is often at odds with the way that past events have been portrayed by Federalists and Republicans (and you could also include Democrats).

One critical event in United States history that pits Zinn against Republicans is the issue of slavery. According to Zinn, Republicans view the abolition of slavery as a consequence of Abraham Lincoln's war. Summarizing the Republican argument, Zinn writes: "Hence, it was Lincoln who freed the slaves."

For Zinn, Lincoln shouldn't be seen as the freer of slaves. According to Zinn, it was the various revolts from the slaves and their allies that forced the country to confront its tolerance of slavery. For Zinn, it'd be more accurate to credit the end of formal slavery to people like Harriet Tubman or John Brown rather than the Republican president Abraham Lincoln.

Zinn argues that Lincoln didn't really liberate the slaves. Rather, Zinn says Lincoln "set limits to emancipation." Reading Zinn's description, it's almost as if the slaves weren't headed toward freedom. Instead, they were being led into another kind of oppression.

Now, let's move to an example of how Zinn's history bumps heads with that of Federalists. Federalists maintained that a strong, central government was needed to maintain peace and order for everyone regardless of their economic status.

Zinn maintains Federalists were more concerned with maintaining economic inequality. Zinn believes the Federalists knew that a strong federal government would be better equipped to ward off potential uprisings among the less fortunate.

Zinn arrives at his version of history partly through the writings of Federalist James Madison. Madison writes how conflict tends to come from "the various and unequal distribution of property." Madison adds that those who have property and those who don't have property have interests that are odds with one another. According to Zinn, the federal government's main goal was to look out for the specific interests of those who held property.

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