How do Paul Johnson's and Howard Zinn's views differ in why the American colonists had a revolution?

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mrkirschner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Probably the only thing about the American Revolution that Howard Zinn and Paul Johnson could agree on is that the thirteen colonies won the war.  These two historians are from opposite ends of the political spectrum and they each bring a bias to their re-evaluations of American history.

Howard Zinn, from the left of the political spectrum, views the American Revolution as a group of elitists from the colonies that were able to manipulate the masses into joining up arms against Britain.  Zinn cites numerous examples of the populace being unmotivated to trade one oppressor for another and how the elites would use various methods to get them back in line.  Minor economic incentives, threats of imprisonment, and capital punishments were all methods used by the elite to keep the commoners in tune to the goal of independence from England. According to Zinn, the American Revolution was motivated by wealth and greed.

Paul Johnson, a conservative writer, has a more patriotic view of the Revolution.  Johnson believes that the Revolution was ''specifically created by and for ordinary men and women."  Johnson believes that religion and the Great Awakening were the driving forces behind the Revolution.  Johnson also cites the colonists love of the "rule of law" as an important factor.  Johnson believes that the colonists viewed the courtroom as the secular church.

Obviously, as both writers continue their journey from the Revolution to the present day, they rarely find stories that they can agree on.