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A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn
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What are the major themes in Chapter 9 of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the Untied States?

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The title of chapter 9 of A People's History is "Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom," and its subject is antebellum slavery and its decline during the Civil War and Reconstruction era. Several themes emerge in this chapter.

One major theme is slave resistance, as the first part of the...

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The title of chapter 9 of A People's History is "Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom," and its subject is antebellum slavery and its decline during the Civil War and Reconstruction era. Several themes emerge in this chapter.

One major theme is slave resistance, as the first part of the chapter title suggests. Enslaved people never accepted enslavement, and even if they did not rise up in armed rebellion, they ran away, slowed down work, broke tools, and did other things to resist their enslavement. Even the culture that arose on plantations was oppositional in nature, a "complex mixture of adaptation and rebellion," as Zinn puts it. Zinn also emphasizes the lives of those people who advocated open armed rebellion, including David Walker.

Another theme is emancipation, which took place in terms that avoided an open rebellion of the enslaved, which seemed possible in the midst of the Civil War. Emancipation proved an incomplete proposition, and one entered into hesitantly and gradually by the Lincoln administration.

Still another theme is freedom, which is quite different from emancipation. In the wake of the Civil War, under Reconstruction, African Americans experienced unprecedented freedoms, as thousands received an education, voted, held public office, and started their own businesses. But as Zinn argues has been the case throughout American history, the freedom asserted by these people resulted in a violent backlash as southern whites organized into groups like the Ku Klux Klan to regain control of Southern society. This continual contest between the ruling class and ordinary people is the most consistent running theme through Zinn's work.

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Chapter 9 of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is titled "Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom" because it is devoted to the theme of slavery in the United States, both before and after the Civil War.

Zinn takes a critical view of the U.S. government's role in institutionalizing slavery, even though the government was also instrumental in abolishing slavery. He argues that the government allowed slavery because it was practical and profitable; thus, it helped the elite to maintain their power. He argues that the U.S. government abolished slavery by a managed war--rather than empowering the slaves to rebel themselves--because it was more practical and prevented the elite from having their power threatened. Following emancipation, African Americans were not truly free; elites in both Northern and Southern states continued to use their power to subjugate the African Americans.

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