Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #4- Rauchway’s Reflation and Relief

The reading Reflation and Relief by Rauchway describes how the United States managed to come back from the Great Depression using economic policies. Frank Delano Roosevelt took an approach that “was indeed to some degree part of American political tradition” (Isaiah Berlin, 1997) as he isolated the U.S. from the rest of the world. He didn’t pay much attention to overseas trade but focused on the “repair (of) finance, agriculture, and manufacturing” (Rauchway, Ch. 4). I was quite surprised to learn that Roosevelt managed to pull America out of the mud through policies that didn’t involve foreign affairs and wasn’t the only one as Berlin considered this approach as a “great social experiment.” 

The velocity of the economic change after the great depression shocked me. I was aware that the period after the great depression was one where the economy thrived, but I wasn’t aware that after the New Deal, the economy grew at rates of 8 to 10 percent a year and the unemployment rate drastically fell from its peak in 1932. All of this was completed in a matter of years. 

Overall the most interesting thing from this piece was the confidence that Americans had for Roosevelt. Nowadays we are used to a separation between the people and the President. Even if some may support the president, many do not. Due to this, seeing Roosevelt speaking on the radio, describing what he had done step by step and explaining the Emergency Bank Act surprised me because it showed the nation as one instead of as separate. Additionally, Roosevelt’s boldness in his policies allowed for such a rapid change. This also added to my knowledge about American history as Roosevelt’s decision to take the US Dollar off the gold standard was one that seemed unfathomable at the time. However, through his decision and other global issues with the gold standard, many countries began to get rid of this, changing the way currency was backed for a long time.

Overall Roosevelt helped take the United States out of the great depression through his bold policies and due to the support he received from the citizens of the United States. He helped boost the economy and backed out of the gold standard which subsequently caused many other countries to follow.


James McPherson- The Revolution of 1860

Blog Post #3: McPherson


The book The Revolution of 1860 by James McPherson gave me a more knowledgeable perspective on what it meant to go from being a slave to a free person. He writes about Frederick Douglass who initially believed: “The only well grounded hope of the slave for emancipation is the operation of moral force,” proving that he wouldn’t want the freedom of slaves if it meant “the shedding of one single drop of blood.” However, this was before 1850. A month after the fugitive slave law was enacted, he changed his view on how emancipation would be achieved. After this had occurred, Douglass claims: “who would be free must himself strike the blow” which is a direct implication on how abolitionists realized that in order for them to actually make strides in becoming free then they needed to act in the same way that the slave owners did. 

This book also gave me a different view on how the emancipation of slavery came to be because it helped characterize the importance of white people in this cause. John Brown was a mysterious white man who spent a lot of time, effort, and money to help free the slaves. He was fascinated by small groups of people being able to fend off huge forces. In fact, he studied guerilla warfare and slave revolts vigorously to the point where he felt ready to take action. After already traveling east to raise money for these causes, he finally went to convene with a community of free slaves. The thing that surprised me was that out of the 34 black people and 11 white people that were part of this secret group, John Brown was elected as commander in chief. Why would they elect someone who wasn’t impacted by the cause nearly as much as the rest of them? Why did he choose to put his life in danger for something that might not directly benefit him? In fact, it was interesting to learn that unlike many other abolitionists, Brown believed: “Without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin,” claiming that violence is necessary for the emancipation of slavery. 

In conclusion the book The Revolution of 1860 by James McPherson taught me about the ideals and backgrounds of the different types of abolitionists by comparing and contrasting white and black people who believed in the emancipation of slavery.

Blog Post #2- Gordon Wood

Historian Gordon Wood to the Editor of the New York Times Magazine


The letter that was sent by decorated historian Gordon Wood to the editor of the New York Times Magazine is an important letter that claims that the information in the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project on slavery is inaccurate. Gordon Wood begins by saying that if misinformation continues to be spread within this media outlet, then it will start to lose its credibility in the long run. (Wood, p.1) Wood’s main concern with the piece has to do with a claim that the 1619 Project had made. They stated: “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” Wood believed that this claim was preposterous and responded by saying that he didn’t know of any colonists who wanted independence to keep their slaves. (Wood, p.1) 

I knew that the British didn’t care about abolishing slavery in the United States, but I did learn that as much as the slaves helped the U.S. become what it became, colonists were still ready and willing to give up slavery. Wood also gives a direct example for this stating that John Adams, a key part of the Declaration of Independence hated slavery and owned no slaves, so why would he ever be so concerned about preserving slavery? (Wood, p.2)

Additionally this text adds to my knowledge of American history as I learned that not only were the colonists not trying to preserve the institution of slavery, but the North actually saw the Revolution as an opportunity to abolish it. In fact, the first anti-slave movements in history were supported by both white and black people and took place in the northern states directly after 1776. (Wood, p.2)

Lastly, the 1619 Project claims that there was a “rising movement” to abolish the Atlantic Slave Trade after 1776 but Wood firmly refutes it by stating that there was no evidence that this was the case or that the British government had any intention of doing so. (Wood, p.2) He then says that even if it was the case, Virginian planters would have welcomed the ending of the slave trade as they already had more slaves than necessary. (Wood, p.2) 

I had no idea that some states had so many slaves to the point where they didn’t need anymore, which made me think deeper about the true magnitude of slavery in the United States as they were so common that you didn’t have to be a particularly rich family to own one.

In conclusion, Gordon Wood brings up some great points that refute the inaccuracies of the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, showing that while slavery had a great impact America’s search for independence it was not the reason why they wanted to separate themselves from the British.


Capitalism, A Very Short Introduction- Fulcher

In the text Capitalism, A Very Short Introduction by James Fulcher, he defines capitalism as “the investment of money in the expectation of making profits”. He starts off the text by describing one of the early examples of a capitalistic venture, sending people out to sea to gather resources which were uncommon back at the mainland. When I first learned of capitalism I pictured people adjusting prices or using new technologies in order to get customers and stimulate competition. However after reading this text I understand that capitalism can be as simple as buying low and selling high. Fulcher explains how people from Europe who didn’t have access to certain spices and goods found in foreign countries would have to pay a lot to utilize them. With this being the case, people realized they can make a lot of profit if they go abroad and find these goods. They purchase the goods at a very low price or steal them and then go back to their hometown and sell them. In the East India Company’s first expedition to the East Indies, the shareholders of the voyage racked up an impressive 95% profit using this strategy. However, this was only the beginning as everything started to expand to the point where companies are now publicly traded allowing anyone to get a piece of the pie. 

When anyone thinks of America, they think of how it’s capitalism creates economic freedom and allows the country to prosper. Some may even think that the idea was first practiced there. However, it is clear that many other nations were doing this and brought the economic system over to the United States. Additionally, when you look at the current stock market you must ask yourself, how did something so big become so widespread throughout the world? Reading this piece made me understand that the stock market can be dumbed down to something as simple as buying something that you think will increase in price and then selling it. You’re paying for the risk of losing your money to potentially make a profit. Capitalism is a very complex system, however it is so present in the world today that it is seen in our lives everyday.