Howard Zinn Questions and Answers

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Why would the white elite want to determine when and how slavery would end?

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Zinn argues in chapter nine of A People's History of the United States, entitled "Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom," that emancipation by the government would allow it to "set limits" that would allow it to be "pulled back to a safer position." In other words, emancipation would be limited in order to control and profit from the labor of African Americans. He stresses the limited gains and ultimate setbacks of Reconstruction, particularly the refusal of even Radicals to enact substantial land reforms. He also points to the end of Reconstruction, in which Southerners eventually embraced the "new capitalist order" while persuading Northern Republicans to abandon attempts at bringing about racial justice through federal action. Through its actions, the federal government managed Reconstruction in such a way as to avoid a truly radical change. With the end of Reconstruction, Northern whites accepted the subjugation of blacks in the South in order to establish industry there. Zion points to the racism prevalent in the North before the Civil War to demonstrate that the "North . . . did not have to undergo a revolution in its thinking in order to accept the subordination of the Negro." 

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