Two Books,
One History: A Look At The American Revolution


David Weinman

people's history






Howard Zinn

Book and Picture Source
Founding Myths
Picture and Book Source: Founding Myths
Founding Myths

Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past


Ray Raphael

flagA Comparison of American Revolutionary War Historyflag

Picture Source:

[Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States]                       [Ray Raphael's Founding Myths]

The American Revolutionary War: Two Books One History:

The purpose of this webpage is to introduce two different books: Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States 1492-Present and Ray Raphael's book Founding Myths in a comparison of American History. This website is to act as an educational resource using my previous website of Raphael's Book Founding Myths and this one to compare two author's perspective on American history. Because these two books are written in two different contexts, I will compare them is by looking at the American Revolution and slavery during these historical American period of history. Introducing these books as an educational resource to current and future educators will enable the learning of American history from variety of perspectives that is well researched, and described in detail as an accurate summary the American History. It is important when studying history that people receive knowledge of history that is not based on myths and legends, but on facts, events, a variety people's perspectives, historical documents, and accurate references to the past.

Howard Zinn's book covers a much larger portion of American history than Ray Raphael's Founding Myths book. Zinn's book as the title emphasizes focus much more on the "people's" history. This implies that American history is not just about one person, but about many. It is because history is told through a variety of perspective and about a variety of people that makes it so subjective. Zinn does a great job of describing five centuries American History through a linear progression through the perspectives of the Natives, blacks, woman, men, slaves, politicians, Founding Fathers, Congress, social classes, many more to provide the reader an clear idea for how American history is created, and that it is about many people's lives over time.

Ray Raphael's Book Founding Myths focuses more on introducing the truth about American myths during the American Revolution. The book focuses on analyzing the stories of why people like Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, and
 Adams are so famous, and why even today they are thought of as hero's and heroines. The book describes how events in which the smaller army was able to over come a larger one in a "David and Goliath" events including the "Shot Heard Round The World: Lexington and Concord, and the Winter At Valley Forge. Raphael focuses on how slaves were involved in the war for freedom, but not necessarily their own in the chapter Patriotic Slaves. The book describes how battle's such as the Final Battle of Yorktown are thought of the end of the American Revolutionary war, when in fact the war did not end then, but years later.

This website along with my Founding Myths website will help provide viewers with a different perspective for how to look at American history. One purpose is to help educators understand that American Revolutionary war history is about people, and learning about what many people have done to want a change to occur in their lives. Both of these books provide detailed descriptions for how people in the American colonies have suffered while defending their rights, and struggled to survive the oppression of the British determination to rule. The books describe how the Continental army represented the American colonies as they fought for what they believe in, as well as how those who chose not to fight were affected by those who did. Described within the books are how the American colonists were desiring change from the oppression of the British. Within are how the colonists with a Declaration of Independence, a fight for freedom and their success led to the development of a Constitution, a developing government, and a transformation of colonies into states within an American nation.
people's history Links to Howard Zinn and Other Written Works:
Amazon Books: A People's History of the United States
Wikipedia-Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn's Online Works
A People's History of the United States:

Howard Zinn's book A People's History of the United States 1492-Present describes the American Revolution through the perspective of the people who it most affected. This included the people within the American colonies (the Indians (Native Americans), the British, blacks, woman, slaves, whites), and how their classification (wealthy, poor, etc.) determined their place during the War. Zinn describes how the war was a people's desire for change. The American colonists wanted to break away from the rule of the British, create a new government, unite people of the colonies into states, and into one nation. Before this could be done the American colonists had to declare their independence, and needed to establish that they would not be ruled by the British.

Zinn's A People's History of the United States emphasizes that history is determined and described through the point of view of the people who share and record their experiences. The book acts as a detailed resource that can be used to educate readers about how experiences in American history are different for everyone. There is no one way to describe the history of the American Revolution. It was a collective experience between thousands of people during approximately six years. When studying the history of American Revolution, it is important to look at a variety of perspectives (the wealthy, the poor, the middle class, whites, the slaves (black, Indians (Natives), soldiers, militia,), and evaluate how the American Revolutionary War was different for many depending on who you were and what you did during your life.

The Colonies, Class, and War:

Within the American colonies were immigrants from Europe, and Natives who inhabited the land long before the settlers arrived. Over time, the immigrants from Europe had formed the 13 American colonies. Within the colonies, the people became divided. They separated themselves by what their interests were, the property they owned, politics, their wealth, and the opportunities available to them. For many people divided themselves by their wealth. Few owned land, and became wealthy from it, many worked the land for small wages and struggled to survive. Within the Colonies were thousands of slaves, some natives, and many brought over from other parts of the world (Europe, Africa). The wealthy owned slaves to work the lands, and manage and sustain the plantations within the colonies. When the American Revolutionary war began it was the poor that ended up deciding to resist the oppression from taxes, British rule, and deciding rebel ended in many massacres within the cities of the colonies (Boston Massacre). When the Continental Army began to form it was the poor that were first to serve. This was because the wealthy could buy their way out of the draft, and/or provide a slave to serve in their stead. Due to the expenses of the war, many properties (homes, plantations, supplies from businesses) were taken away from people and were only compensated with notes that lost their value exponentially over the years of the war due to inflation. This left the poor with little options but to find new work (which was very limited), or to serve in the war where they were persuaded by the officer's commission and the meals provided during service.  

"The colonies, it seems were societies of contending classes--a fact obscured by the emphasis, in traditional histories, on the external struggle against England, the unity of colonists in the Revolution. The country therefore was not 'born free' but born slave and free, servant and master, tenant, and landlord, poor and rich. Free white workers were better off than slaves or servants, but they still resented unfair treatment by the wealthier classes," (Zinn p. 50).

War does nothing for the poor, the poor are worse off because of it. Few made fortunes from wars, "but for most people they meant higher taxes, unemployment, poverty," (Zinn, p. 52).

Zinn explains that although many advocated for the war against the British to occur, there was many who did not want it. During the time of the American Revolution is was those with wealth who had the power to make things they wanted to have happen happen. The Founding Fathers were all described as very wealthy men, and it was these men that advocated for many levies to be passed. It was the wealthy who became politicians and a part of the Continental Congress. During the American Revolution it was the wealthy that had access to more resources (education, food, security, political influence) than the non wealthy. It was the wealthy that were able to buy their way out of fighting in the war (or buying a slave to represent their absence in stead). It was the mentality of the wealthy during this time to live their lives based on the golden rule (those with wealth, have power, and those with power make the rules).

Key Points to Think About:

  1. During the war, those without wealth suffered from high taxes, unemployment, struggled to survive, and were encouraged if not required to serve in the war.
  2. Slaves (such as blacks, and Indians (Native Americans) had little or no choice outside their master's wishes. Some escaped their masters to serve in the British Army or Continental Army in hope of freedom. The war (a fight for freedom) did not apply to the slaves or to the Natives already inhabiting the land.
  3. The wealthy had more opportunities than the non wealthy in the choices for fighting in the war. The wealthier you were the more likely you were able to keep your home and its resources and not have them taken from you by the British or taken by the growing needs of the Continental Army's funds.

Slavery and The War:

The American fight for their freedom from British rule and oppression almost seems hypocritical to what the American colonists were doing to the Indians (Native Americans), and blacks. The American colonists were not slaves to the British, but were not treated well either. It seems that having the Americans colonists fighting for a freedom that they do not wish to apply to all the people within the American colonies seems unjust. When we look to examples of whats right and what wrong, we look to the law and to our leaders. When our leaders say that people should be free to live a life of choice, and build a democratic foundation for that life within a government, one would expect the leaders to demonstrate it their lives. This was not the case of many of the leaders who advocated for freedom but still insisted using blacks and Indians (Native Americans) as slaves. The leaders of the American colonies insisted on moving westward to expand the borders of the colonies, but by doing so robbing the Native Americans of their homes, and their freedom. Even when the Natives chose to stand up for their rights (through fighting), they were massacred by the thousands, and pushed further westward.

Zinn explains that with the American colonists wanting to continue their expansion westward, "the Indians, they had found, were too unruly to keep as a labor force, and remained an obstacle or expansion. Blacks were easier to control, and their profitability of southern plantations was bringing an enormous increase in the importation of slaves, who were becoming a majority in some colonies and constituted one-fifth of the entire colonial population. Indians, having the choice, almost never decided to join the whites, (Zinn, p. 53). We see other races as obstacles, or as a means for service to benefit another cause, this often results in an uproar, and leading cause for rebellion. "In the Carolinas, whites were outnumbered by black slaves and nearby Indian tribes; in the 1750s, 25,000 whites faced 40,000 black slaves, with 60,000 Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians in the area, (Zinn, p. 54). In the next two decades (coming up to time of the American Revolution), the ratio of whites to slaves would attempt to switch, increasing the racial dominance already in existance.

It almost seemed like the American colonists believed that they automatically had the right to the land, supplies, and the lives of blacks, and Indians (natives) were free to take as slaves or extinguish at will. Zinn explains that Thomas Jefferson although advocating for many things for the American Colonies and the colonists, did not care to change his views towards slavery. Even after "Benjamin Banneker (man appointed to plan the new city of Washington) ask Jefferson 'to wean yourselves from those narrow prejudices which you have imbibed,' Jefferson tried his best, as an enlightened thoughtful individual might. But the structure of the American society, the power of the cotton plantation, the slave trade, the politics of unity between northern and southern elites, the long culture of race prejudice in the colonies, as well as his own weaknesses--that combination of practical need and the ideological fixation--kept Jefferson a slave owner throughout his life," (Zinn, p. 89).

The Upper Class:

The upper middle class colonists were land owners, politicians, slave owners, controlled food production and trade from plantations, and had to maintain the loyalty of the lower classes, slavery, and a power to rule the deciding fate of the new colonies. Many were sided with the British, others were neutral and protecing their own interests. Others became the leaders of change in the colonies, advocating for new laws, rights, tax representation, tax reduction, and leaders in Revolution.

Zinn explains that as cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, and New York were expanding because of agriculture, trading, shipping, manufacturing, that it was the "upper class was getting most of the benefits and monopolized political power," (Zinn, p. 49). Zinn continues to explain that within the major cities it is the top one percent of property owners that owns a majority of the wealth.

"The Colonies it seems, were societies of contending classes--a fact obscured by the emphasis in traditional histories, on the external struggle against England, the unity of colonists in the Revolution. The country therefore was not 'born free' but born slave and free, servant and master, tenant and landlord, poor and rich. Free white workers were better off than slaves or servants, but they still resented unfair treatment by the wealthier classes," (Zinn. p 50).

Those who were not in the wealthy class, wanted to be in the wealthy class. Those who were in the wealthy class did all that they could to maintain their status and increase their wealth. Once in the wealthy class you were provided opportunities to voice your complaints, or support towards issues, and achieve the ability to cast a vote which was powerful ability to have.

"Those in the wealthy classes, to rule, needed to make concessions to the middle class without damage to their own wealth or power, at the expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whites. This brought loyalty. And to bind that loyalty with something more powerful even than material advantage, the ruling group found in the 1760's and 1770's, a wonderfully useful device. That device was the language of liberty and equality, which could unite just enough whites to fight a revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality," (Zinn, p. 57-8). Indeed, there was hope for the wealthy.

Woman During The War:

During the American Revolution, woman didn't have much power politically (if any), their rights were minimal and obligated socially to their husbands if married. They roles if married were to bare their husband's children, if not-look for a partner, care for their children, and educate their children. In some cases, woman sold themselves, or acted as slaves in a oppressed society. Woman acted as servants for their household, kept things clean and presentable, and were treated by many as a convenience for men. Woman of the wealthier class would be known for their active roles in supporting their husband's (if not married- their own) politics to friends and to the public. The war enabled woman to take a more active role in society. Woman took the opportunity to speak out publicly about the war due to the right of freedom of speech. Woman under this right were able to publicly cry out and demonstrate their patriotism. Many woman wrote letters, created articles for newspapers and the Continental Congress to inspire the uninspired, and make a name for themselves. Zinn explains that "woman formed patriotic groups, carried out anti-British actions, wrote articles for independence. They were active in the campaign against the British tea tax which made tea prices intolerably high. They organized Daughters of Liberty groups, boycotting British goods, urging women to make their own clothes and buy only American- made things. In 1777 there was a women's counterpart to the Boston Tea Party--a 'coffee party,'" (Zinn, p. 109). Woman were known for marrying to higher class wealthier men. By doing so, they became more connected to powerful influential social groups, increased their chances of being heard, and/or recorded into history as a significant role model. Zinn explains that in American history, "the explorers were men, the landholders and merchants men, the political leaders men, the military figures men. The very invisibility of woman, the overlooking of women, is a sign of their submerged status. It seems that their physical characteristics became a convenience for men, who could use, exploit, and cherish someone who was at the same time servant, sex mate, and companion, " (Zinn, p. 103).

Public Voice:

In a time of war, being able to voice your opinion is a powerful weapon. With an opportunity to be heard by many, then persuading others to follow can become a powerful tool for change. Unfortunately, being able to vote for change was a privilege only given to those who had wealth. During time of the American Revolution (1776-1782), those with property wealth were able to vote in town elections, for laws, or for levies. This left a lot of people without a vote. There were many poor individuals, including white men, woman, slaves, blacks, and Indians (Natives) who were left to live by the deciding fate of the wealthy. With war comes high taxes, higher prices on goods, difficult times for merchants and traders due to the British occupying many of the major roads surrounding East coast near major cities. Those who had property during the time of the war, in some cases were forced to sell them for the needs of the Continental army. As a result in doing so, lost a right to vote. Zinn explains "The propertyless could not vote and so (like blacks, woman, Indians) could not participate in town meetings. This included sailors, journeymen, apprentices, and servants, (Zinn, p. 65). There was a lack of public opportunities to express opinion. A large population had no voice for change, and many of those who wished for change were lost in the oppression because there was no change, (Zinn, p. 71)."

"This statement in the Declaration of Independence: 'All men are created equal' seemed to express moral indignation against slavery and the slave trade (Jefferson's personal distaste for slavery must be put alongside the fact that he owned hundreds of slaves to the day he died), (Zinn, p. 72). These words written by Jefferson, unfortunately did not necessarily apply to slaves, or woman of the time period. A result was to disengage them entirely from a voice of political expression.

In the Declaration of Independence, second paragraph: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," (Zinn, p. 71).  "Woman were beyond consideration as worthy of inclusion. They were politically invisible." (Zinn 73). This meant that approximately half the population (woman) were without vote as well.
The War Begins: A People's Uprising Against Oppression:

When a group of people is oppressed for too long, they are bound to rebel. The people of the American colonies were not in favor of paying taxes to benefit King George, especially when there was no vote for the tax, and the funds accumulated would not be redistributed towards the colonies development."On March, 5, 1770, grievances of rope makers against British soldiers taking their jobs led to a fight. A crowd gathered in front of the custom-house and began provoking the soldiers, who fired and killed. This became known as the Boston Massacre. Feelings against the British mounted quickly. In the Boston Tea Party of December 1773, the Boston Committee of Correspondence, formed a year before to organize the anti-British actions, 'controlled crowd action against the tea from  the start.' The Tea Party led to the Coercive Acts by Parliament, virtually establishing martial law in Massachusetts, dissolving the colonial government, closing the port in Boston, and sending in troops. Still, town meetings and mass meetings rose in oppression, (Zinn, p. 67). It was after the  military clash at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, between colonial Minutemen and British troops, that the Continental Congress decided on separation. They organized a small committee to draw up the Declaration of Independence, which Thomas Jefferson wrote. It was adopted by the Congress on July, 2, and officially proclaimed July, 4 1776.

In 1776, people of the American colonies were tired of obeying the laws set up by the British for which they had no say in, or any desire to abide by. By this time there was already a powerful sentiment for independence. The poor couldn't continue to afford to pay the high taxes, and people were tired of the British controlling what they could and could not do. "Resolutions adopted in North Carolina in May of 1776, and sent to the Continental Congress, declared independence of England, asserted that all British law was null and void, and urged military preparations," (Zinn, p. 71). The majority of votes in other states (by the wealthy) continued to declare their independence quickly, uniting the American colonies against British rule.

One ideology of the Revolutionary war was that the people should come together, and fight for their rights against the British rule. Unfortunately, history reflects an American ideology of hypocrisy, dishonor, and a fight for freedom. Looking back at the history and who "walked their talk," it was not mainly the rich upper class wealthy population. "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,'" (Zinn p. 75). With "All men created equal," and the idea of fighting together as brothers, was a sad case when it was the poor that faced the front lines, when the rich paid to send their servants to fight in their stead. Washington being a general at the time of the American revolution, and a wealthy won, was likey to be found near the back lines of battle.

Getting The Poor To Fight:

The wealthy were in charge of the American politics. They had property, wealth, and the right to vote for war. When independence from the British was declared in many of the cities within the American colonies, it was the wealthy who were in charge of deciding how to distribute the funds available to the Continental Army's need. The wealthy property owners also if they chose (and many did) had the option of not fighting in the war against the British, leaving many of the less wealthy to fight a war many were not eager to fight.

Getting the poor, slaves, and Indians to fight against the war was not an easy task. It was especially not an easy process for the wealthy upper class, and politicians (mostly wealthy upper class) to do. The poor hated war. It meant harder work, more taxes, less homeland security, higher costs of foods, limited trading, and merchant travel opportunities. "The revolutionary leadership distrusted the mobs of poor. But they knew the revolution had no appeal to slaves and Indians. They would have to woo the armed white population," (Zinn p. 77).

People were upset by the war. Many were forced to sell their property. This included homes, ships, arms, and land to the war service. They received only notes stating how much their claim was worth. These notes became almost worthless with the inflation rising due to the war's expenses over time. People joined the war for a commission, some a life change (now that they no longer had land to work). People wanted to find a way to rise above others, and make a name and build a wealth for themselves. The Continental army and the Militia thought using a "traditional device by those in charge of any social order mobilize and discipline a recalcitrant population--offering the adventure and rewards of military service to get poor people to fight for a cause that they may not see clearly as their own," (Zinn, p. 78).

Many were forced into service, taken off the streets, had nothing left to go home to, and held no value in possession or asset to sustain their current lifestyle. If those who were recruited to the service of the Continental army by force or choice didn't show they were jailed. Once in jail they were forced to pay a fine, or released from jail only to fight in the war. The only other options were to provide a substitute for your service, or pay a five pound service fee. Once in service, mutiny was not an option, you had to accept what was given to you, your place in the service, or face torture and even execution.

A Brief Summary of The Continental Army's Success:

The Continental army was not having much success against the well organized, strong supply of British troops. They were spending a lot of money to build up a resistance against the thousands of British troops located throughout the colonies. It was hard for people to have much confidence in the efforts of the American Continental army because of the their little success in the first battles against the British. Many people saw little faith in the Continental army because the British would enter cities, kill off much of the resistance with very few casualties. Those who lived in the occupied British cities lived in fear, and evacuated their homes and businesses due to the British appearance and force.

Washington and other leaders of the Continental Army were in no way ready to give up. They continued to ask the Continental Congress for more funds, and insisted that even though battles were won, that the war would continue until King George signed an official peace treaty and sent British troops back home.

Zinn explains that "the Americans lost the first battles of the war: Bunker Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Harlem Heights, the Deep South, they won small battles at Trenton and Princeton, and then in a turning point a big battle at Saratoga, New York, in 1777. Washington's frozen army hung on at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, while Benjamin Franklin negotiated an alliance with the French monarchy, which was anxious for revenge on England. The war turned to the South, where the British won victory, until the Americans, aided by a large French army, with the French navy blocking off the British from supplies and reinforcement, won the final victory of the war at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781," (Zinn, p. 80).

The Natives and Slaves:

The golden rule: those with wealth have power, and those with power make the rules. The colonists believed they had the power to oppress the Natives. In all that the American Continental Congress was fighting for against the British (freedom of choice, freedom of oppression, freedom of government), the American Revolution meant little to the Indians (Native Americans). The natives had no reason to support the war against the British and the American colonists. If they did support the Continental army, the colonists would expand and take their land and resources. If the natives helped the British, the British would have the land and would attempt to control the natives through taxes or push them westward as the colonists had done. If captured the natives were forced to work as slaves or serve the resistance of the side they were captured by or be killed. Blacks had almost no choice. They were brought to the colonies to be cheap labor for the wealthy. They were forced to serve their masters despite the war between the British and the Continental army. In some cases, black slaves were either captured by the British when they confiscated property and forced to serve or be killed. The British at times even offered a chance of freedom if blacks decided to fight on their side after a term of service. Under the decision of Washington and other generals, the Continental army did not accept any blacks into service until they absolutely had to due to the growing numbers of the British forces.

The Declaration of Independence when written did not apply to  the natives, their existing villages, and tribes. The Declaration of Independence did not apply to blacks either. To many it seemed that blacks were only in the American colonies to work the lands and serve the wealthy, they were not considered a citizen of the American colonies, and thus had no rights. The Natives "had not been considered equal, certainly not in choosing those who would govern the American territories in which they lived, nor in being able to pursue happiness as they pursued it for centuries before they white people arrived. With the British out of the way, the Americans could begin the inexorable process of pushing the Indians off the their lands, killing them if they resisted," (Zinn, p. 86).

During this time the Americans assumed that the land, the supplies, the lives of blacks, and natives were free to take at will. In the colonies, people assumed they had the right to own slaves. This assumption probably came from the wealthy upper class demonstrating that if you have money, you have power, and the right to control others. Throughout the war many natives and blacks fought in the American Revolution, but despite their courage and accommodations, their privilege of representation did not come with service and tax.

Creating A Constitution: Who Did It Serve?

The Constitution was created to serve the people as it set up guidelines for the people of the Colonies becoming states in a new American nation. The Constitution contained set up the foundation for the legislative branch of government creating a House of Representatives, Senate, elections, rules for these branches, and limitations of power. The Constitution also set up the guidelines for the presidency, its power, and obligations to the government and people. The Constitution created a foundation for the judiciary power within the government system, as a security and balance for the government and people. The Constitution also provided an explanation for how states will be incorporated into the American nation, and what their privileges and obligations are while part of a the nation.
Zinn explains that leaders like James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay were in favor of adopting the newly written Constitution as a start to the formation of an American government, state, nation of the 13 states. Zinn explains that "Madison's argument for having a government which can maintain peace and avoid continuous disorder" (Zinn, p. 97) is a good one." Madison argued that representation of government was needed to maintain peace in a society ridden by factional disputes. These disputes came from the 'the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.' The problem was how to control the fractional struggles that came from inequalities in wealth. Minority factions could be controlled, he said, by the principle that decisions would be the vote of the majority. The real problem according to Madison, was a majority faction and here the solution was offered by the Constitution, to have 'an extensive republic,' that is, a large nation ranging over thirteen states, for then, 'it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other....The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame with their particular Sates, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.' Madison's argument can be seen as a sensible argument for having a government which can maintain peace and avoid continuous disorder. But is it the aim of government simply to maintain order, as a referee, between two equally matched fighters? Or is it that government officials are not neutral referees but participants? In that case, the disorder they might worry about is the disorder of popular rebellion against those monopolizing the society's wealth. This interpretation makes sense when one looks at the economic interests, the social backgrounds, of the makers of the Constitution," (Federalist Paper #10 (Zinn, p. 96-7).  

The Constitution helped maintain the financial interests of the people within the American colonies (soon to be states in an American Nation. People wanted to know that their property and wealth would be recognized by new American government. Zinn explains a concern among people from the North and South of American Colonies in regards to land ownership, trade, slavery, and what will change when the new Constitution is adopted to the states of the American Nation. Zinn explains that "the Constitution was a compromise between slave holding interests of the South and the moneyed interests of the North. For the purpose of uniting the thirteen states into one great market for commerce, the northern delegates wanted laws regulating interstate commerce, and urged that such laws require only a majority of Congress to pass. The South agreed to this, in return for allowing the trade in slaves to continue for twenty years before being outlawed. Practically everyone was interested in the protection of property because many Americans owned property. There were many property owners, but some people had much more than others. A few people had great amounts of property; many people had small amounts; others had none, (Zinn, p. 98).

The Constitution was written by the wealthy property owners, and politicians who were educated, and that wanted to develop the American colonies into an American nation by building a strong government to support it. Those who were on the committee to develop a Constitution knew that it had to serve everyone, not just the wealthy. Zinn explains that "the Constitution illustrates the complexity of the American system: that it serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers against the blacks, the Indians, the very poor whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law--all made palatable by the fanfare of patriotism and unity. The Constitution became even more acceptable to the public at large after the first Congress, responding to the criticism, passed a series of amendments known as the Bill of Rights. These amendments seemed to make the new government a guardian of people's liberties: to speak, to publish, to worship, to petition, to assemble, to be tried fairly, to be secure at home against official intrusion. What was not made clear--it was a time when the language of freedom was new and its reality untested--was the shakiness of anyone's liberty when entrusted to a government of the rich and powerful," (Zinn, p. 99).

There were those that were not represented in Constitution, or as equals in the developing America. Zinn explains "four groups were not represented in the Constitution Convention: slaves, indentured servants, women, men without property. And so the Constitution did not reflect the interests of those groups," (Zinn, p. 91). The Constitution was not meant for those in power, but it is significant that the Founding Fathers (Hamilton, Franklin, Madison, Washington, etc.) were some of the wealthiest men in the colonies.

The Founding Fathers although trying to make develop an American Nation that people could be proud of, they still were the wealthy class, developing a nation to serve their needs. There of course were things that they wanted to change as the new American nation developed, but the elements of their lifestyle that they enjoyed and made them the men who they were (slavery, the right to tax, the wealthy property owners get to vote, etc.). Zinn asks, "were the Founding Father's wise and just men trying to achieve a good balance? In fact, they did not want a balance, except one which kept things as they were, a balance among the dominant forces at that time. They certainly did not want an equal balance between slaves and masters, property less and property holders, Indians (Natives) and white. As many as half the people were not even considered by the Founding Fathers as among Bailyn's (Bernard Bailyn-historian) 'contending powers' (Bailyn says: Everyone knew the basic prescriptions for a wise and just government. It was so to balance the contending powers in society that no one power could overwhelm the others and, unchecked, destroy the liberties that belonged to all. The problem was how to arrange the institutions of government so that this balance could be achieved.) in society. They were not mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, they were absent in the Constitution, they were invisible in the new political democracy. (Zinn, p. 101-2).

A New Nation:

With a land full of resources and large areas to expand to, the American colonists knew that creating a new American nation would create a opportunities for a great economy, a political power, and provide new opportunities for colonial growth and development. The first step in doing so was to expand west and declare an independence from the British.

"Around 1776, certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years, They found that creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership, (Zinn, p. 59). These men were the leaders, the wealthy, the elite, the Founding Fathers, the Generals of the Continental army, the politicians, and the new law makers. It was their time to rise up.

Founding Myths
Founding Myths
Homepage for Ray Raphael and Book:

This section along with my other website Founding Myths are a representation of how the same American history can be described, and taught in multiple ways. The section below is a comparison between Howard Zinn's Book specifically focusing on the American Revolution, and Ray Raphael's Founding Myths that focus on "Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past" during the American Revolution. Raphael's book is different from Zinn's book, other than the fact that they both overview sections of the American Revolution focusing on people, events, and the underlining cause and end of the American Revolution. Because the content and style of Raphael's book differs from Zinn's, this section along with my Founding Mythswebpage will provide some overview of what Raphael describes in his book, and similar American Revolution concepts that both books have discussed. Because the concept of slavery and oppression is a reoccurring topic that is discussed throughout a majority of history, In Howard Zinn's book, and Ray Raphael's Founding Myths I find it necessary to link the two books within this topic during the American Revolution.

Overview of Founding Myths

In Ray Raphael's book Founding Myths, the American Revolution is not covered as a linear history summary, but as an explanation of popular myths about events, documents, and people. Raphael throughout his book will teach the reader about the American Revolution as he corrects the common errors that one might see in films, learn in school, and see in textbooks within units of studies in early education. Raphael's book is written much differently than Zinn's linear history over the centuries. It first focuses on the myths and stories that were created about hero's like Samuel Adams, Molly Pitcher, and Paul Revere. These people became heroes because of stories written about them, and people needing to reflect on the past and needing a figure to symbolize their thoughts to. The book then continues to describe the stories of Lexington and Concord, and how the patriots believed the British fired first representing "The Shot Heard Round The World," and the start of the American Revolution. Raphael is quick to explain that, "the American revolution did not begin with 'the shot heard round the world.' It started more than a half a year earlier, when tens of thousands of angry patriot militiamen ganged up on a few unarmed officials and overthrew British authorities throughout all of Massachusetts outside Boston. This powerful revolutionary saga, which features Americans as Goliath instead of David, has been by-passed by the standard telling of history. By treating American patriots as innocent victims, we have suppressed their revolutionary might," (Raphael, p. 69).

Raphael then continues the David and Goliath examples when describing the myth at Winter at Valley Forge, how patriots (David) withstood a cruel winter and the British (Goliath). That it was the "because the patriots believed so strongly in their country. The rebels, although out sized and outclassed, had character. They would do anything for the cause of freedom." (Raphael, p. 86). Raphael is quick to explain that the myth is "disrespectful  to the soldiers who endured years of hardships, endangered their lives, and in many cases actually died so that the United States could gain and retain its independence. To give these patriots the respect that is their due, we have to cease creating idealized fantasies about how well they behaved themselves. Continental soldiers demanded food, clothing, and pay that had been promised to them- and for good reason. Had they not tended to their own concerns and needs, they would not have been able to stay in the field and face the enemy," (Raphael, p. 86-7). What is true is that the continental soldiers were outnumbered, had limited supplies, were struggling to get the financial support from the Continental Congress, and the soldiers were "young boys eager for adventure and men without property or jobs,"(Raphael, p. 87).

signing the declaration
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Raphael then begins a new section in describing the "Wise Men," as in the chapters Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, and Founding Fathers: The Greatest Generation. In reference to Jefferson's writing of the Declaration of Independence, Raphael explains that "the document contained no 'new principles or new arguments,' Jefferson admitted. Instead, it was 'intended to be an expression to the American mind,'" (Raphael, p. 107). The question people must ask is that how many people actually live by the American mentality that Jefferson intended. It is clear today as it was back then, that Jefferson's phrase "all men are created equal," did not apply to woman, blacks, Indians (Natives), and certainly did not apply to the more opportunities that the wealthy had over the poor. Jefferson as did many of the founding fathers owned many slaves during their lifetime. Raphael explains that "Lincoln argued that Jefferson had included the phrase "all men are created equal" for no immediate and practical purpose, but as a 'promise' for the future. The sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence' was to give 'hope to all the world...that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.'was too embedded at the time to permit practical opposition, Jefferson could do no more than issue this blanket pronouncement in favor of equality---'the father of all moral principles,' Lincoln called it---for the use of future generations."(Raphael, p. 119). In the chapter the Founding Fathers: The Greatest Generation, Raphael explains that the founding fathers were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John and Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and James Madison. Raphael explains within the chapter, that although they were all working towards the same long-term goal (a free self governing American nation), all had their own personal goals, agendas, and did great things with or without the majority of the people's approval. 

In the section Doing Battle, Raphael's explains the myths about the famous words "give me liberty or give me death." He explains how people are lead to believe that Patrick Henry gave a famous speech in Henrico Church, March 23, 1775, Richmond Virginia to advocate for the militia, and prepare the colony for the defense it needs including these famous words. In Raphael's chapter "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," it is explained that Patrick Henry did give a speech, it was moving to those who witnessed, but in reference to the speech (Raphael, p. 145-7) as "these words are stirring indeed, but Patrick Henry never uttered them. The speech was invented many years later, based on distant recollections of those who were present at the time. Although we know people are moved by Patrick Henry's oratory on March 23, 1775, we have no text of what he actually said," (Raphael, p. 147). There are those who do battle with words, and those who do battle with war. Raphael's chapter "Do Not Fire Till You See The Whites Of Their Eyes" describes a more physical violence approach, along with powerful words to promote violence. Raphael explains the story of the Battle of Bunker Hill, that a disputed command by either Israel Putnam or William Prescott: "Do not fire till you see the whites of their eyes!" was followed by the patriots as they fired against the Redcoats. Raphael asks why this phrase is so memorable, why it "dominates the story of Bunker Hill, and been included among the classic tales of the American Revolution. Soldiers who see the whites of the eyes of their adversaries must be fighting a very personalized, intimate sort of war. In Revolutionary times, we prefer to believe, the glory of war was not diminished by impersonal slaughter. Man to man and honorably, a soldier could prove his valor by facing off against his adversary," (Raphael, p. 157).

Our stories have to have some catch phrase to be kept in minds of those who wish to remember. The myth of the phrase is that the phrase was original, and to the Battle of Bunker Hill. Raphael explains that "Prince Charles of Prussia supposedly issued it in 1745, as did Frederick the Great in 1757. The command was never meant to be taken literally. The whites of a person's eyes, under the best conditions, cannot be deciphered at more than ten yards. When officers issued this order, as many did, they were telling their soldiers to focus hard on the enemy and hold their fire until further command. Most men who died never saw their slayers," (Raphael, p 159-60). It is fair to say that the phrase has done its purpose, despite who said it, to link it to The Battle of Bunker Hill, has made it even more famous along with the brutal battle itself.

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Patriotic Slaves

In Raphael's Section Good VS. Evil he dedicates a chapter on Patriotic Slaves. This section fits right into the Slavery in the American Colonies discussed below, with the section in my Founding Myths Page, and in comparison with Zinn's sections on slavery. In the chapter Patriot Slaves, Raphael describes how slaves were in the stuck in the middle somewhere between the American Patriots fighting against the British. The Natives or African American immigrants were affected by the war, but the result of the war's end would have no immediate affect on their freedom, or oppression from "white men." Blacks if not in slavery, had little or no rights, and were treated very poorly by those around them. The Natives, were treated just as bad if not worse by the white colonists, who attempted to expand westward, steal their land, enslave their people, and take any valuable resources that they saw fit. Those in slavery during the American Revolution had been offered the choice by Lord Dunmore, the royal govenor of Virginia to join the British side, for the potential chance to be free. With much resistance, it was shortly after that the American Continental army had to offer a similar promise to slaves to increase numbers, and to keep the slaves views of the British diminished. General Washington was especially resistant to having slaves serve in his army. He being a large slave owner did not want his slaves abandoning their posts at his estate, and speaking on behalf of other Founding Fathers like Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, who were also large slave owners. It is Raphael's intention within the chapter to take inconsistancies from textbooks, and movies (Ex: The Patriot) that reference slavery during the American Revolution, and correct the myth and stories. Raphael explains in reference to the myth that slaves would be free after one year of service. "Had Washington and the Continental Congress truely offered freedom for a single year of service, when the standard term for everyone else was 'three years or the duration of the war,' slaves by the tens of thousands would have rushed to sign up. This would have seriously disrupted Southern society, already reeling from the mass exodus of slaves fleeing to the British. George Washington, who lost at least twenty of his own slaves when they escaped to the British, was not likely to weaken his command over his remaining 300 bondsmen by offering freedom to those enlisting in the Continental Army. Besides, had Washington and the Continental Congress offered to free the slaves, who would compensate their masters? Already broke, Congress would not be able to afford the expense--but to free slaves without compensating their masters would surely have provoked an outright rebellion among Southern whites," (Raphael, p. 177). Raphael describes slavery as "American's original sin," (p. 185) and that freedom for the slaves was never going to come easy for them during the war. "In Northern States during the American Revolution, slaves earned their freedom by fighting side by side with white patriots, and in Southern states during the American Revolution, slaves earned their freedom with the British," (Raphael p. 185). Raphael seems to summerize the chapter well by saying it is difficult to think of our Founding Fathers as hero's and great men, but as slave owners as who abused the Natives and blacks for gain in wealth. Unfortunatly it is difficult to express this lightly in a textbook to children who are first learning about the Founding Fathers and what they did for the American colonies. We want to call these men hero's, and we want children to believe that heroes are good people, who do good things. One must then ask these most important questions: What is more important, teaching kids the truth, and having them learn that even great men can do bad things? Or, should we teach children about our American heroes, omit all the bad things they did, and leave the kids happy in their ignorance later finding the truth (when basically relearning their American history)? The past cannot be changed, but not to teach the next generation of what really happened would be disrespectful to all those slaves who suffered during this time. By not teaching the next generation of these cruelties that occured to thousands of blacks, and Natives is relaying the message that these people died for a cause that was not theirs to share, and should be forgotton because the people today regret what previous generations had done.

Slavery In The American Colonies:

In April, 1775 slavery was beginning to be an overwhelming issue in the southern colonies. With a large population of slaves, in some places a larger population than the white colonists, there was fear of an uprising. Raphael explains that less than one month after Henry delivered his 'liberty or death' speech, fear of slave uprisings helped trigger the onset of the Revolution in the South. In the spring of 1775, white citizens of Virginia believed that African Americans held in bondage were planning to rise up, rebel, and go on a murderous rampage against them. Fearful whites panicked and prepared for the worst---and Patrick Henry, one of the largest slaveholders of his country, was among them," (Raphael, p. 151). In an attempt to protect the slaves and to keep the colonists from defending themselves or killing the slaves, the "royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, dispatched a party of marines to seize gunpowder stored in the magazine at Williamsburg. Patriots gathered to protest, and Dunmore first claimed he had seized the powder so the slaves couldn't get to it. Shortly after he changed his stance: if the patriots harmed a single British official, he would declare Freedom to the Slaves, and reduce the City of Williamsburg to Ashes," (Raphael, p. 151). It is clear from Raphael's summary that there was definitely a correlation between the beginnings of the American Revolution, slavery, and the rule of the British over the American colonies. Raphael continues to explain: "later that year, when Lord Dunmore formally offered to free any slaves who joined the British army, Colonel Patrick Henry of the First Virginia Regiment took it upon himself to publicize Dunmore's action far and wide. Henry's words were set in writing, and there can be no doubt he used fear as a rallying cry:

As the Committee of Safety is not sitting, I take the Liberty to enclose to you a Copy of the Proclamation issued by Lord Dunmore; the Design and Tendency of which, you will observe, is fatal to the public Safety. An early and unremitting Attention to the Government of the SLAVES may, I hope, counteract this dangerous Attempt. Constant, and well directed Patrols, seem indispensably necessary," (Raphael, p. 152).

Slavery and the Constitution:

During the time of the American Revolution, Raphael explains that "the two largest slave holding states were Virginia and South Carolina. In Virginia, principal Revolutionary players- Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and James Wilson- featured the notion of equality in their writings, even though they each enslaved a multitude of other human beings. It is implausible that such proponents of the institution would issue any 'promise' of equality for blacks. Nor would such equality be acceptable in South Carolina. When the grand jury of the Cheraws District declared itself in favor of independence on May, 20, 1776, it praised the new Constitution because it was 'founded on the strictest principles of justice and humanity, where the rights and happiness of the whole, the poor and the rich, are equally part of that "whole," even though they constituted approximately half the population. The grand jury of Georgetown, South Carolina, also praised the new Constitution as 'the most equitable and desirable that human imagination could invent:' The present Constitution of Government, formed by the late Congress of this Colony, promises to its inhabitants every happy effect which can arise from society. Equal and just in its principles, wise and virtuous in its ends; we now see every hope of future liberty, safety, and happiness confirmed to ourselves and our posterity. Not even Lincoln would have dared to suggest that back in 1776 the white citizens of Georgetown, South Carolina, intended that 'promise' to extend to their slaves," (Raphael, p 120).

Final Reflection

I want to first begin by recommending Howard's Zinn's A People's History of The United States 1492-Present and Ray Raphael's Founding Myths Stories That Hide Our Patriots Past to who ever reads this webpage, and enjoys learning the truth about American history. I have learned more about American history from these two books, than I learned in any of my history classes in high school, college, or textbooks. Ray Raphael's Fouding Myths displays American history through the stories and myths we have grown to learn and love, and teaches the truth through a fun, interesting, and accurately researched historical way. I really enjoyed learning American history over the past five centuries from Howard Zinn's book. Zinn's book not only displays some of the most accurate American history I have ever read, but teaches history through a linear approach through the perspective of a diversity of people.

These two books have taught me that there are many ways to teach history. Because history is subjective, there is no right or wrong way to do so. By providing multiple perspectives to events, and stories, a person can learn that there is no absolute historical description of an time, place, and event in history that is the same for all. I learned in the Founding Myths book that history can sometimes be best remembered by a majority of people if it is recorded with some fictitious pizzazz. With heroines like Molly Pitcher discussed in Raphaels Founding Myths and my Founding Myths Website, people are much happier believing that a person did exist, and played the hero role in an American battle, and acted as a true patriot despite social restrictions during the time (woman serving in the war). People are happy believing that their Founding Fathers were great people who did many great things (advocated for many great principles), and choose to disregard the fact that they owned and oppressed slaves to benefit their own financial status and class.

When reading Howard Zinn's book, I was able to recognize that much of the American history repeats itself. It seems that there will always be battles to be faught. There will always be a group of people who are wealthier than another, and will try to implement new ways to benefit their sustainable wealth and power. While we as an American Nation, have grown as a nation over the centuries, we have oppressed many to get to we are presently. We have been absolutely cruel to the Natives by destroying their homes, taking the resources of their land, removing them from the land, pushing them westward, breaking treaties with them, making completely unfair trades, and all after we faught the British oppression for, we became some of what we hated the most.

When teaching the new generations about history, I am of the opinion to teach students in the style of how Ray Raphael and Howard Zinn have written their books. In reference to Raphael's book, it is important that students learn the history in the most accurate way possible, but it is ok that they learn it through stories as well. The stories are a part of American history. As long as the American history is presented in some way that is understandable and accurate due to empirical research, then it justifiable that history history be taught through stories, or myths. It is fair to say that when history is just about rote memorization of dates, and names, then it becomes unexciting task to many learn history. By providing as more personal connection to the history through a diversity of people as seen in Zinn's book, then history becomes a interesting and reflective peice of information to learn from. 

These two books are very different from each other, but made me think of two different key dilemmas in teaching history. If history is best remembered through stories, not through rote memorization of dates and names, but the stories are not accurate description of what actually happened, is it still justifiable to present history in this matter within an academic setting? I would say yes, if you teach both the myth and the empirical truth is in the same unit of study. For someone first learning the history it is unfair for them to decide for themselves what is fact and what is fiction. If one is to teach history through the rote memorization of dates and names (which I am not in favor of), it is important that the events that coincide with these dates and names be accurate. If the stories, dates and names are not accurate, then how can history be taught to the next generation? In most cases, history is likely to remain a subjective peice of information to base the future on. One must be willing to accept that when you learn history through text, or a book like Zinn's, it is one man's opinion and summary of a plethora of research done over many years. These books are an awesome attempt and success to provide "an accurate" description of an American nation's past through the perspectives of the people for which the nation developed for.


Raphael, R. (2004) Founding Myths. The New Press, New York. 1-354

Zinn, H. (2003) A People's History of The United States. HaperCollins Publishers, New York 50-633

Links to Howard Zinn and Other Written Works:
Amazon Books: A People's History of the United States
Wikipedia-Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn's Online Works

Links to Ray Raphael and Other Written Works:
Ray Raphael Home Page
Ray Raphael's Founding Myths Stories That Hide Our Patriots Past
Are U.S. History Textbooks Still Full of Lies and Half Truths?
Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and "The Body of The People" (click on mp3)

Founding Myths Website Link:

David Weinman's Website Link:

Website Created and Last Modified 12/2006-01/2007