Was the American Revolution truly a revolution, according to Howard Zinn?

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In his book A People's History of the United States , Zinn argues that the American Revolution was not truly a revolution. It wasn't, as a revolution usually is, a mass of common people rising up against the people in power. Instead, it was members of the wealthy, elite classes...

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In his book A People's History of the United States, Zinn argues that the American Revolution was not truly a revolution. It wasn't, as a revolution usually is, a mass of common people rising up against the people in power. Instead, it was members of the wealthy, elite classes in the colonies who wanted to break away from Great Britain.

Zinn contends that once Britain won the French and Indian War, the upper-class colonists no longer needed the protection of the mother country. At this point, being a British colony (or in this case, a group of colonies) was simply an economic burden to the elites. They didn't want to pay taxes to the British (even if was to pay off the war the British fought on their behalf) and they didn't see any benefit in the trade restrictions involved with being colonies. The wealthy determined that they would benefit if they could free themselves from Britain.

Therefore, the elites drummed up—or tried to drum up—popular support against the British, but in the end, it was a war of one elite against another. The American Revolution did not free the slaves, emancipate women, or help lower class whites. It actually hurt Native Americans, whose treaties with the British became null and void after the colonies won independence. It was primarily upper class white males who gained more freedom.

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Historian Howard Zinn does not believe the American Revolution was truly a revolution. Most Americans tend to view the American Revolution as a war of Americans (us) vs. the British (them). In this narrative, all Americans equally benefited from winning freedom from the British and their tyrant, King George III. However, Zinn believes the truth of the conflict is not quite that simple.

As he wrote in a 2009 article for The Progressive, "The American Revolution was not a simple affair of all of us against all of them." What he means by this is the American Revolution and the resulting Constitution disproportionately benefited the American upper class. In contrast, the American Revolution did not help Native Americans--most of whom did not want America to receive independence--or black Americans, most of whom remained slaves. Similarly, the Revolution did not benefit poor white farmers.

As Zinn views the conflict, essentially the same people (the white upper class) ruled America both before and after the Revolution. Likewise, the lower classes and minorities continued to be oppressed. Thus, the American Revolution was not truly a revolution.

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