Critique of Zinn’s Essay “A Kind of Revolution”
Howard Zinn in his article “A Kind of Revolution” found in the book “A People’s History of the United States” details the manner in which the Constitution was a contributing factor to the failure of the Union due to the various unresolved issues and the controversy leading up to the start of the Civil War. According to Zinn (2015), the Constitution sought only to address how slaves were to be counted in terms of their numbers and population and did not lead to the settlement of the issue of slavery. The resultant effects of the failure of the Constitution to address slavery were the issue becoming one of the major ones which led to the Civil War. Zinn’s claims imply that the failure of the Constitution to pay much attention to slavery as well as its fate was responsible for the start of the War. However, the criticisms towards Zinn’s claims is that they are not only dogmatic but also closed-minded due to the manner in which he talks about the controversial issue of US history with certainty.
I disagree with Zinn (2015) that before the Revolutionary War, a significant number of the colonists did not support the War and thus it was the role of the Founding Fathers to woo the write armed population. One of the reasons as to why I disagree with such a statement is the contrary reports which argue that although 40-45 percent of the white people at the time were with the colonists, 15-20 percent supporting the loyalists and the remainder of the population only being neutral (Kazin, 2010). Although many of the colonists remained loyal to the British during the Revolutionary War, some of them joined the loyalists because they did not want the colonists to continue with the allocation of their land. However, Zinn (2015) argues with certainty that colonists did not support the War which is not the case based on the accounts of several colonists who were willing to see that slavery was eliminated and that the slaves gained their freedom and rights.
The use of “A Kind of Revolution” by Zinn (2015) to describe the Revolution was an understatement of what was going on, which is something that I disagree with. Notably, Zinn (2015) was of the view that what was going on could not be described as a revolution because it is only a majority of the slaves and other minority communities who were taking part in the event. However, I disagree with Zinn because he failed to appreciate the impact that the Revolution had not only on those who started it but also between the parties who took part in the Civil War. If the Civil War could not be described as a complete revolution, then it is hard to give a better example of what a revolution would have looked like. Zinn (2015)’s failure to acknowledge the Civil War as a revolution is not only a misguided and misinformed decision but also a misrepresentation of the events which took place (Kazin, 2010). The Civil War for all purposes and intents a revolution as opposed to “A Kind of Revolution.”
Zinn (2015)’s description of the events which took place and the support he offers for the description of the war as “A Kind of Revolution” is filled with certainty and extinguishes some of the terms which should be used to signal the soft and uncertain underbelly of history. Notably, most of the historians have used words such as “might,” “maybe,” and “perhaps” in the quest to describe history (Detmer, 2018). However, based on the arguments made by Zinn (2015), it is clear that he makes no effort to qualify his assertions. As a result, Zinn (2015) is not only dogmatic but also closed-minded and thus cannot be taken seriously in terms of his account of history. Saying that a quest to assert the rights of slaves was not a revolution means that he failed to appreciate the diverse aspects which the term revolution refers to (Witham, 2014). Although it is true that a revolution occurred during the struggle for the independence of the US, Zinn (2015) should have appreciated where the Revolution actually started.
In conclusion, Zinn’s arguments can be critiqued on the basis that they are not only dogmatic but also filled with uncharacteristic certainty not used by other historians. I disagree with Zinn that the founding fathers had to woo the white soldiers since the United States did not have professionally trained soldiers to fight with the British. Zinn fails to understand and appreciate that the War was not just fought with guns as women played essential roles in providing morale and motivation to their men to fight. Additionally, the use of “A Kind of Revolution” to describe the War is misguided as it qualified to be termed as a revolution for all purposes and intents. Moreover, the use of specific terms makes Zinn’s account of events questionable considering that history is described with less certainty.
Detmer, D. (2018). History Distorted: Sam Wineburg’s Critique of Howard Zinn. Counter Punch. Retrieved from https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/09/26/history-distorted-sam-wineburgs-critique-of-howard-zinn/
Kazin M. (2010). Howard Zinn’s biggest failing. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/jan/30/howard-zinn-america
Witham, N. (2014). Book Review: Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left. Journal of American Studies, 48(1).
Zinn, H. (2015). A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present. Routledge.