How can Chapters Seven and Nine of A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn be summarized?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One way that both chapters seven and nine from A People's History of the United States can be summarized is through focusing on the issue of economic power.

The analysis of who holds economic power and who lacks it are important elements in Zinn's work. This is the ordering principle in Zinn's construction of history. Paying attention to this in chapter seven would mean focusing on how the White American government sought to exclude Native Americans.   Summarizing this chapter would involve the initiatives that government passed in order to further push Native Americans off to the side of American life.  

Part of this would include how American government was able to use technology in its fight to remove Native Americans from their land. This was seen in Chief Black Hawk's surrender: "I fought hard. But your guns were well aimed. The bullets flew like birds in the air, and whizzed by our cars like the wind through the trees in the winter. My warriors fell around me." Along these lines, the coveting of land as a source of wealth accumulation would be another part of a chapter seven summary. Leaders like President Andrew Jackson were so convinced of the need to control Native American lands that they lied to them. Such leaders hoped that their voluntary departure would mean a seizure of their land:

...removing from the limits of the States of Mississippi and Alabama and by being settled on the lands I offer them, put it in my power to be such-There, beyond the limits of any State, in possession of land of their own, which they shall possess as long as Grass grows or water runs.

The bitter irony of Chapter seven's title comes from Jackson's utterance. Lies and deceit were used as a means to further economic power. The ability to control Native Americans and marginalize them was a significant part of government policy. Exploring how the desire for economic control played a role in government policy towards the Native Americans would be one way to summarize chapter seven of Zinn's work.

The same principle can be used to summarize chapter nine. The study of slavery in chapter nine is shown to be a force of economic control. Summary of this chapter could include how slave rebellions were put down because of their threat to the economic system that Southern Whites had established. Resistance to slavery was as much economic as it was political or social. Being able to analyze how slavery resistance impacted Whites on these levels could also be included, along with noting the statistics of wealth accumulation under the institution of slavery. Finally, discussion of Lincoln's approach to slavery as one steeped in pragmatism as opposed to idealism could help capstone a summary of chapter nine. Such a summary would focus on how power was a driving force in the creation of the Civil War more than anything moral or idealistic.

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