A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn fundamentally changed the way millions of people think about history with his book A People’s History of the United States. He would be the first to acknowledge, however, that he didn’t do it alone. Many of the most significant struggles in American history — the fights for higher wages and workers’ rights, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women’s rights, and racial equality — were carried out by grassroots movements that often faced bloody resistance.

The American revolution (1765-1783) set in motion a process that would ultimately transform a group of self-governing colonies into a nation with one national government. This transformation was largely a result of wartime urgency, the need for foreign recognition and aid, and the growth of national feeling. The first attempt to create a permanent central government was the Albany Plan, sent in June 1775 by New York provincial Congress delegates to the Continental Congress. Franklin, in July, proposed a plan for an Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, but Congress declined to act on it.

American historians have interpreted the revolution as a rejection of mercantile values, which had dominated previous economies, in favor of more abstract notions of the common good. They have also emphasized the importance of the idea that there was a “natural law” governing human affairs that could be discovered through careful observation and analysis.

In the early years of the republic, these ideas fueled the development of what was called Manifest Destiny, a belief that God had granted America a role in the world’s history and that its destiny was to expand westward across the North American continent.

This ideology was especially prevalent among Protestant ministers, who used the Bible to justify the nation’s role as the vanguard of human progress. It was, in turn, a major source of popular support for slavery and the expansionist policies of the era.

By the time the Civil War erupted, the idea of a natural law was being challenged by more scientific and philosophical influences, which were beginning to gain ground in American culture. These intellectual developments, combined with the rise of socialism in Europe and the United States, led to a gradual dissolution of the anti-materialist ideology that had inspired Manifest Destiny.

From its beginnings in the 1875, the field of American history had a growing presence within academia. The American Historical Association and its journal, the American Historical Review, were well established by 1900, and a number of university Ph.D. programs were offering degrees in the subject. Increasingly, the study of American history began to encompass such diverse topics as the economic and cultural history of the United States, the origins of the American revolution, and the causes of the Civil War. In addition, American history was gaining a place in the global arena as the United States became a dominant force in world politics and international diplomacy. In the twentieth century, this trend has only intensified.

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