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A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn
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Summarize chapter 3 of A People's History of the United States.

Chapter 3 of A People's History of the United States portrays the class and racial inequalities that characterized the British North American colonies. According to Zinn, the colonies, far from being a haven for freedom-seeking peoples, featured many of the same inequalities that people had come to America to escape.

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Chapter 3 of A People's History is entitled "Persons of Mean and Vile Condition." It is a class analysis of the British North American colonies in the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries. Zinn finds a great deal of inequality in every colony.

The chapter begins with an account of Bacon's Rebellion,...

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Chapter 3 of A People's History is entitled "Persons of Mean and Vile Condition." It is a class analysis of the British North American colonies in the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries. Zinn finds a great deal of inequality in every colony.

The chapter begins with an account of Bacon's Rebellion, an uprising in Virginia that shook that colony to its foundations. The rebellion was so dangerous to elites because it involved the colony's growing class of freed indentured servants, people who had worked off their obligations but had little economic opportunity. Following the rebellion, the colony's leaders turned to a racialized system of slavery that enhanced class inequalities but drew a race line between poor Whites and enslaved Black men and women.

Despite the colonies' reputation as a haven for people seeking freedom, Zinn argues, surveying the Carolinas and the cities of the Middle Colonies and New England, that British North America actually reproduced the inequalities present in Europe. The difference, Zinn argues, was that colonial leaders could use race to try to cut across class lines, appealing to poor Whites' antipathy toward Native Americans as well as enslaved people. The rhetoric of liberty that would become so much a part of the American Revolution reflected this.

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