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Colonial Elite Maintains Power – 9/9

In Zinn’s “Persons of Mean and Vile Condition” chapter, he argues that one of the main priorities of the colonial elites’ was to divide the persecuted people of North America, specifically between racial lines, so they could maintain their power in society and prevent rebellions. This division was created through laws such as forbidding interracial marriages and preventing blacks from traveling into Indian territory.  It still baffles me that the colonial legislature could create such racially motivated laws during this time period. I am thankful that no laws exist with such explicit racism within them today, but I cannot say our government is completely free of these underlying racist motives that divide society. 

In Zinn’s “Tyranny is Tyranny” chapter, he brings in a new idea of how the colonial elite managed to hold such immense power over all other classes. In order to truly assert power, the elite had to gain the working-class’ loyalty. This weapon of power became the “rhetoric of freedom” that Zinn deems “the most effective system of national control devised in modern times”. According to Zinn, the elite managed to focus the anger of the working-class towards the British instead of at the rich to keep the power dynamic undisturbed. The Declaration of Independence was a tool for this,  with the phrase “all men are created equal” blurring out any distinctions between the rich and poor. 

Reading these chapters honestly makes me question the intentions of any ruling body now. I have never been taught the hidden flaws within the American Revolution until coming to Richmond. A class I took freshmen year, Slavery and Freedom, highlighted that the Revolution was quite hypocritical in that Americans were vouching for freedom while still possessing slaves. Now I hear the argument that the Revolution was an attempt for colonial elites to maintain their power by pinning the anger from the working-class against the British. I am sure there are many critiques of the American Revolution and other glorified moments of American history, and I am glad I am finally learning about them. Despite scholars formulating arguments of the true intentions of America’s leaders, how will we ever truly know their motivations if it is all in the past and there is no historical document that clearly states it?

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  1. William Clifton William Clifton

    I feel like I can really relate to your perspective Sara, I too have never been in an environment where we acknowledge the flaws of our nation. For me, I feel very uncertain about how I feel about our country today. I do know that we cannot change our history and it is our job to educate ourselves on where we come from and better understand how we can better ourselves today because of that knowledge.

  2. Zariah Chiverton Zariah Chiverton

    I too feel very cheated when it comes to history. Many of the things I’ve learned and thought I knew have been very distorted or outright wrong. I am also shocked about the American Revolution not just being a fight for independence but there being many underlying factors that are never talked about. This goes to show how much we have to analyze the information we are given and not given even. This makes me wonder though, how much of history do I have to relearn?

  3. Kayla O'Connell Kayla O'Connell

    I was also surprised when I read about the different racist laws inflicted on the black individuals and indigenous people. It’s so crazy to think that these blatantly racist laws were once socially accepted . Learning about the different motives of the leaders also makes me question whether a leader can ever be truly just. How do we know that leaders are in it for the right reasons?

  4. Alexander Barnett Alexander Barnett

    I was saddened to hear that one of the main reasons for writing the declaring our independence from Great Britain was simply a ploy to con the common folk into trusting the wealthy upperclass.

  5. Julia Borger Julia Borger

    Similar to my other classmates, I was shocked by the true intentions of our nation, specifically with the Declaration of Independence and the phrase “all men are created equal”. I feel like this phrase has traditionally been overused in a fake positive light, highlighting how great our country was regarding everyone as equals, when in reality it was only citizens (men) who owned land.

  6. Delaney Demaret Delaney Demaret

    I was also shocked by seeing America’s entire history in this different light, yet I know from the studies of other colonial power structures worldwide that the pattern is not uncommon. In South Africa, for example, their history of colonial slavery is also marked by a pattern of division between poor white laborers in slaves. It is an all-too common pattern by colonial elites to create division between both class and race, as a way of stratifying the labor market to exert more control.

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