Reading Notes: A People's History of the United States: Chapter 5 (Final)

  • All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well-born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government…. Can a democratic assembly who annually revolve in the mass of the people be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy…. pg 96.1 Emphasis mine - attributed to Alexander Hamilton. It’s a good thing he didn’t actually hold an office of any importance, like that of a cabinet member of anything. Oh wait! He did…
  • …Federalist Paper #63 argued the necessity of a “well-constructed Senate” as “sometimes necessary as a defence to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions” because “there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn.” And: “In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind?” pg 98.2 - sounds an awful lot like a beneficient Big Brother. Bare in mind that these words were penned when the Senate was not elected, but rather appointed by state legislatures.

Zinn closes out this chapter with an interesting take on the Bill of Rights. As is the case with the entire book, he takes a contrarian point-of-view: the Bill of Rights isn’t there to necessarily gaurantee rights, but rather to give the appearance of them. He points to the Sedition Act of 1798, enacted by now President John Adams and one in the same with the defender of British troops in the Boston Massacre, as a prime example of this. This restriction on the First Ammendment, and others that followed, weren’t challenged until the first part of the 20th century. As recently as 1951, the Supreme Court upheld Congress’ right to infringe upon our First Ammendment right if it presented a “clear and present danger”. Note: Wikipedia was used in addition to the A People’s History as the base basis for these comments.