A People's History of the United States Questions and Answers
by Howard Zinn

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What is the thesis that emerges from Chapter 3 in A People's History of the United States? 

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The primary thesis that emerges out of the third chapter was that there was a strict hierarchy of power and control in American society. Zinn suggests that the narrative of struggling Colonists that embraced a sense of egalitarianism in their society is not accurate. Instead, starting with Bacon's Rebellion and concluding with the slave codes, Zinn maintains that American society was predicated upon those in the position of economic and social power being able to protect their interests by denying others theirs.  

In "a middle-class society governed for the most part by its upper classes," a strict structure where those who accumulated wealth were in a higher position than those who lacked it, Zinn suggests that the period that preceded revolution were those who sought greater control of their interests.  Zinn articulates a social setting that desired a "complex chain of oppression" in Virginia and other colonies and a condition in which the poor were seen as less than human:

A letter to Peter Zenger's New York Journal in 1737 described the poor street urchin of New York as "an Object in Human Shape, half starv'd with Cold, with Clothes out at the Elbows, Knees through the Breeches, Hair standing on end.... From the age about four to Fourteen they spend their Days in the Streets ... then they are put out as Apprentices, perhaps four, five, or six years...."

This condition of degrading the poor, resisting and suppressing Native Americans, and enacting the slave codes to keep people of color firmly at the bottom of the social order helped to define colonial society.  This becomes the premise of the chapter in seeking to enhance the narrative of Colonial society.

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