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A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn

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In A People's History of the United States, why is chapter 10 named "The Other Civil War"?

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In using this title, Zinn simply means that, as well as the Civil War between North and South (the actual armed conflict), there was another civil war going on in the United States: a civil war between the classes.

The traditional historical narrative tells us that people in both the North and South joined together in a common endeavor to ensure that their side prevailed in the conflict. But Zinn reveals a different story. He shows us that class warfare between the haves and the have-nots raged just as strongly during the Civil War as it did before and after.

Economic exploitation, especially in the North's burgeoning industrial plants and factories, was rampant during this period, despite the increased opportunities available for working men and women. Working people responded in some cases by staging illegal industrial action against their employers.

For Zinn, this was all part of an ongoing struggle between capital and labor that only intensified as the Civil War progressed. Yet because this conflict—this civil war, as Zinn would have it—didn't fit into the traditional historical narrative, it tended to be ignored by successive generations of historians, whose main focus continued to be on the many battles fought during the Civil War.

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"The Other Civil War" is about the ongoing class war in the United States during the 1800s. This is the other civil war, alongside the Civil War that was fought between the forces of slavery and those of freedom. Zinn discusses several revolts of the oppressed working class against the ruling class, including the Anti-Renter movement in the Hudson Valley against the patroon system and the Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island, which agitated for electoral reform so that more working-class people could vote. In answering these questions, the Supreme Court decided it would essentially be conservative. It deferred to the legislative and executive branch, and the federal government defended business interests.

In this climate, revolts by working-class people, including Lowell factory girls and other unions, continued. Though the poor lived in squalor and working people toiled in unsafe conditions, the government remained a staunch defender of the rich and of the business class. The government did not even intervene to protect the safety of workers until the early 1900s. Therefore, the other civil war between the rich and the working class continued throughout the 1800s.

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Zinn calls this chapter "The Other Civil War" because it focuses not on the war between the North and the South but on the struggle or "war" between the rich and the working class. Rather than divide US history, as is usually done, into the "Ante-bellum" or before-the-Civil War period and "Reconstruction," Zinn lumps together the years from the late 1830s to the railroad strike of 1877, looking at this period from the worker's perspective. The actual Civil War was not strongly supported by white Northern workers, Zinn says, as it was seen as benefitting not them and their slave-like conditions, but only the black slaves and the wealthy classes of the North. The Civil War forced the working classes to fight and die in a war they were not particularly invested in and drove up prices, making it more difficult to live. 

For Zinn, "The Other Civil War" is comprised of the series of strikes and labor organizing done by desperate factory workers and other laborers, both male and female, who struggled for decent wages, a 40-hour work week, some job security and an end to abuses. Zinn shows how the law was stacked against them in this period.

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Howard Zinn’s main argument in this book is that the United States has been a country that has historically abused its working class, along with other groups like women and people of color.  Because of this, it is not surprising that he calls Chapter 10 “the other Civil War” because he says that US society was waging a war against the working class.

Zinn follows what he sees as class struggles dating from the 1830s through the 1860s.  He argues that the government and the society of the US oppressed the working class during this time.  He makes this argument even though this was an era, the Jacksonian Era, that is typically seen as the “era of the common man” in courses on US history.  Zinn argues that the sorts of moves that Jacksonians made toward democracy were more of lip service.  They really only helped to keep the working class from understanding what its class interest was and rising up against its oppressors.  As Zinn says

The Jacksonian idea was to achieve stability and control by winning to the Democratic party "the middling interest, and especially ... the substantial yeomanry of the country" by "prudent, judicious, well-considered reform." That is, reform that would not yield too much.

Zinn calls this chapter the “other Civil War,” then, because he believes that the ruling class in the US spent the antebellum years trying to create a society that they would dominate and in which the workers would be exploited.

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