Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #4: Rauchway’s “Reflation and Relief”

The reading titled “Reflation and Relief” by Rauchway explores the importance and impact of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency. Specifically in Chapter 4 of the reading, it scrutinizes the benefits of what FDR’s presidency brought, yet it also features the downfalls that came along with it. Between 3-4 years prior to FDR’s presidency was the start of the Great Depression, an occurrence beginning in October 1929 following the crash of the stock market, later coming to an end in 1939. ( Editors, 2009) As supported in the reading, the Great Depression ultimately led to a downfall in the US economy: “When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office as president for the first time on March 4, 1933, every moving part of the American economy had evidently broken. Banks, farms, factories, and trade had all failed.” The results being: a lack of employment, overproduction due to stocks and demands being unmet, housing prices facing a downward slope and more. With the concern and panic rising in society, Roosevelt taking office in 1933 took matters into his own hands. (page 1) 

While running for office, Roosevelt sparked the phrase “New Deal,” which did not guarantee any promises but the phrase was liked by a majority so he kept it as is. Overall, a method of how Roosevelt ran his presidency. “The Roosevelt agenda grew by experiment: the parts that worked, stuck, no matter their origin.” One act in association to the New Deal was the banking holiday which took place just two days after Roosevelt took office. Roosevelt requested approval for what is known as the Emergency Banking Act. He kept in mind the goal to resolve the banking failure at the time. The act resulted in closing of banks for four days to reorganize the system, some banks remained closed while others reopened in hopes of improving the economy. In addition to the banking issues at the time, Roosevelt used the Trading with the Enemy Act to further assist the bank failures by enforcing more banking laws. (page 1 & 2) One in particular method mentioned by Rauchway, “To inflate the currency, Roosevelt would have to cut the dollar loose from gold…” (page 3)

Other than resolving the banking failures during the Great Depression, Roosevelt made an attempt to resolve unemployment rates that were at an all time low. Roosevelt made it a priority to help America back on its feet, assisting men in the age range of 18-35 to find work. Roosevelt used funding towards housing to help bring back up the housing prices that were facing a downward slope. His message from assisting with Americans’ employment and fundings being that he didn’t want the Americans to rely on the government, especially if the results were that the government were giving more than they received. (page 5 & 7) 

In conclusion, Rauchway’s reading “Reflation and Relief” was a great refresher on what I’ve learned before regarding the Great Depression and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency. Overall, the reading summarized the highlights of what Roosevelt did but also included the not so successful plans he enforced. FDR ran office to help solve the issues arising and was mainly successful through it all. I mainly focused on Rauchway’s highlights of FDR’s presidency and successful plans because they were more impactful towards the economy but the ones that didn’t go as plan were still important because it showed great efforts in what FDR did for America. 


Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction

Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction, pp. 104–123 (on Blackboard)

Throughout the Eric Foner reading A Short History of Reconstruction, it focuses on the radical reconstruction time period. A time period in the late 1800s, where black minorities and enslaved African-Americans needed the assistance of other party leaders and abolitionists to help fight for their civil rights. During this time, African-Americans were still enslaved and working overtime due to a white man governed land or “white man’s government” (105). The south did not have representation, especially since freedmen and enslaved African-Americans could not vote, since they weren’t seen as equal. However, changes were made during the Radical Reconstruction era. 

Radical Republicans played a key role in helping the minority gain their civil rights during the Radical Reconstruction era. The Radical Republicans had one main goal, rather a commitment to help slaves live a free life with the same rights granted towards white Americans as the civil war was occurring and afterwards when it was over.  This can be supported by the reading as it  states, “On the party’s left side stood the Radical Republicans, a self-conscious political generation with shared experiences, and commitments, a grass-roots constituency, a moral sensibility, and a program for Reconstruction.” (104) Foner focuses on two radical leaders throughout the reading: Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. Foner describes both in the phrase: “differed in personality and political styles.” (105) To further explain their differences, Stevens was painted as “a master of Congressional infighting, parliamentary tactics, and blunt speaking” (105) while Sumner was painted as a dislikable character, “disliked by Senate colleagues for egotism, self-righteousness, and stubborn refusal to compromise, acted as the voice, the embodiment, of the New England conscience.” (105) 

As the reading continues, it discusses the changes that radicals managed to fight for. One major change being the 14th Amendment which granted all citizens equal protection/citizenship. The 14th Amendment is also widely known as it was one of the three amendments (including the other two: the thirteenth amendment – abolished slaves and the fifteenth amendment – the right to vote) passed during the Reconstruction period to a changed future for African-Americans. During this time, freedmen and slaves were granted the right to vote which granted the south representation. “… did the Fourteenth Amendment, the most important ever added to the Constitution, receive the approval of Congress. Its first clause prohibited the states from abridging quality before the law… Before the war, three-thirds of the slaves had been included in calculating Congressional representation.” (114) 

Overall, this reading strengthened my understanding of the Reconstruction time period. The descriptive details taught me the overall obstacles and achievements that Radical Republicans achieved/attempted like the fight for the plantation land as homesteads for former slaves, the fourteenth amendment, southern representation and more. The Reconstruction time period was a turning point for African Americans, especially with the assistance of radical leaders.


Nikole Hannah – Jones – Slavery and American Democracy

     In the reading from the 1619 project, America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black People Made it One written by Nikole Hannah – Jones highlights key ideas significant to American history. These key ideas being: white leaders created a nation of inequality where colored individuals were inferior and slavery was the causation(build-up) of democracy. Written in a previous blog post focused on capitalism, slaves were used for the benefits of expanding land, picking cotton and more. Colored people were exploited as slaves helped America expand and grow to become the place it is today. While slaves were used for the idea of capitalism, they were also the reason America became a democracy. As mentioned, white leaders created a nation of inequality which contradicts what the rights promised were. Jones pushes this claim in the reading by arguing that colored individuals didn’t have these rights, also being the reason more and more people fought against it over history. This was what led to democracy, a nation where the people get to decide. After slaves were freed, their rights were still limited, meaning what was promised wasn’t granted. Freed slaves weren’t allowed to vote, own property, get married and more. The fight continued through history until their rights were granted, leading to a democratic land. 

     From this reading, I grasped a better understanding of the time period of slavery and how it led to a democratic nation. I also notice not much of a change in present day America because as of recently, there has been a movement for BLM (Black Lives Matter) meaning there is still inequality upon us today. There’s also statuses to climb in America or any nation to differentiate the leaders at the top and the poor. The fact that America claimed its independence from the British due to the Declaration of Independence but still chose to maintain the rights to own slaves makes me question if the founding fathers saw a correlation to their actions with slaves. As slaves were still humans but the founding fathers allowed Americans to use them as properties, not completely alike but the British were holding America as land. 


Blog Post #1

     The reading “Capitalism, A Very Short Introduction” by James Fulcher goes in-depth into the history of capitalism. Fulcher regards capitalism as “essentially the investment of money in the expectation of making a profit.” (Fulcher 2) The scarcity and distance fundamentally determine the outcome of an expedition. This reading also introduced three forms of capitalism. The three forms being: merchant capitalism, capitalist production, and financial capitalism. 

     Merchant capitalism being the earliest form of capitalism (started in the seventeenth century), was the term given to the idea of traveling to source undersupplied goods to make a profit. This journey was accompanied by a lot of risk and distance brought along more profit, along with the increased risk factor already present regardless. Usually, these trips would be made with multiple ships to avoid losses, especially under unknown circumstances. Through this method, there is a higher chance of bringing back goods and making a profit. 

     Capitalist production was coined to the idea of private ownership of businesses in hopes of gaining a profit. Fulcher introduced capitalist production by telling the story of James M’Connel and John Kennedy, who have made an earning in the manufacture of cotton machinery. This portion of the reading continues as it informs the readers of their success. Often, leaders involved in capitalist production would profit off their employees from their work and pay low wages. This caused conflict in the workforce as workers would constantly be working to help produce profit for the employers and the number of time workers had split between working and leisure time was up for debate. 

     The most modern term regarding capitalism is financial capitalism. This form of capitalism concerns financial enterprises. An example in the modern world can include the stock market. If an individual manages to play their cards right in this market, one can gain a considerable profit. If you are unlucky like Nick Leeson, you can miss out on a massive profit to the point of being in the negative digits. Leeson’s losses resulted in the bankruptcy of Barings Bank. 

     As Fulcher points out in the reading, each form of capitalism is very different, but all are subject to the same goal of investing money to gain a profit in return. “The various business activities involved are about as different as they could be, but all involve the investment of money in order to make a profit, the essential feature of capitalism.” (Fulcher 14) The question arises as to why leaders follow the acts of capitalism, knowing its unethical practices. One can hypothesize that it is for one’s values to dominate in society. This can be seen in how leaders supported the idea of slavery and stripped African Americans of their rights, especially when stated in the constitution (changed after ratifying the 13th amendment). I also find it interesting how in history, many sought rare goods. However, in the modern-day fashion industry or overall, teens tend to follow trends to the point of ignoring ethical practices. Teens today shop from SheIn, namely, one of the most unethical and unsustainable brands. This topic catches my eye as I am heavily invested in the sustainable fashion industry. It would be intriguing to look into the history of fashion and textiles to see what drew this change.