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A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn

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Student Question

What is ironic about the end of "Chapter 4: Tyranny is Tyranny" in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States?

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There are examples of irony throughout Chapter Four in A People's History of the United States.  Most of the irony centers around how the colonial elite criticize the King of England for his policies and then perpetrate similar offenses on the people that they govern.  This is made clear at the end of the chapter.  There are a couple examples of irony in that part of the chapter.  One such example is that the Declaration of Independence was signed the same year that Adam Smith's treatise on capitalism was issued.  The Declaration calls for individual freedoms.  Throughout the book, Zinn chronicles how capitalism often tramples on the rights of the lower classes.  Chapter Four concludes with the following paragraph:

When the Declaration of Independence was read, with all its flaming radical language, from the town hall balcony in Boston, it was read by Thomas Crafts, a member of the Loyal Nine group, conservatives who had opposed militant action against the British. Four days after the reading, the Boston Committee of Correspondence ordered the townsmen to show up on the Common for a military draft. The rich, it turned out, could avoid the draft by paying for substitutes; the poor had to serve' This led to rioting, and shouting: "Tyranny is Tyranny let it come from whom it may.

The irony in the final paragraph is that one day the Declaration of Independence was read publicly, and the next day individuals are being forced to register to serve in the army. The implication that citizens are being forced to fight for their freedom suggests they did not feel the cause would net true freedom. The idea that the elite could buy their way out of fighting was the greatest coup. It begins a pattern of the lower classes fighting wars that benefit the upper classes.

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