What are the points of argument in chapter 4 of A People's History of the United States?
The basic point of Zinn’s argument in this chapter can be seen in the title of the chapter: “Tyranny is Tyranny.” Zinn is arguing that the American Revolution was really just a substitution of one tyranny for another. He is saying that the Founding Fathers that we venerate were really just another elite who wanted to keep the lower classes down. As he says early in the chapter, the Founders were able to
take over land, profits, and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.
Zinn is saying that the Founders were really not that different; they were just a new privileged class.
According to Zinn, there was a great deal of lower class anger against the rich elites before the Revolution. The question for the colonial elites was
Could class hatred be focused against the pro-British elite, and deflected from the nationalist elite?
In the time leading up to the Revolution, the Founders managed to find a way to convince the lower classes to support them against the British.
Zinn closes the chapter by pointing out that most of the leaders of the Patriot movement had been leaders under British rule. He says that 69% of those who signed the Declaration of Independence had held office under the British. He says that the lower classes came to recognize that the elites were still going to lead and were going to do things that would support their own interests. Therefore, he says, there were riots against the Patriot leadership, with protestors shouting
Tyranny is Tyranny let it come from whom it may.
In this chapter, Zinn looks at the American Revolution as a form of tyranny that took power away from the privileged British elite and replaced them with an American elite that rallied enough support to keep working-class rebellions at bay. According to Zinn, leaders of the Revolution, such as James Otis and Sam Adams, were people who were elite but kept out of the British elite system; to gain more power, they convinced working-class Americans to support them.
Before powerful colonists could sway the poor to their side, there were a number of revolts conducted by the poor against colonial landlords. During the lead up to the Revolution, the leaders of the movement harnessed the anger of the working class to defeat the British while trying not to give the working class too much power. While the merchants of Boston and other cities wanted to encourage revolt against the British, they still wanted to maintain civic order and preserve restraint. In Virginia, Patrick Henry, a member of the elite, was able to motivate the lower classes to revolt with his fiery words. Thomas Paine, who was from the working class and who wrote Common Sense to urge the colonists to rebellion, came to support a restrained revolution. Even the Declaration of Independence was in many ways, like the American Revolution itself, a conservative document, as it supported rights only for propertied men.