Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Analysis of Raunchway’s “Reflation and Relief”

Despite some of the challenges that Franklin Delano Roosevelts faced when drafting a plan to allow the United States economy to rebound from recession that plagued much of the 1930’s, he was successful in terms of his drafting the New Deal which was implemented in order to “make sure the Depression could not happen again.” This was the central argument that was presented in Raunchway’s Chapter 4, “Reflation and Relief,” which gave much credit to Roosevelt for lifting the United States out of the depression. A statistic that is presented that essentially gives credit to Roosevelt is that the “economy grew at averaged rates of around 8 to 10 percent a year” from 1933 to 1940 which was due to the obvious success of the New Deal. Raunchway presents some of the legislation that allotted success like the banking reforms and other legislation in order to aid the unemployed population that plagued the United States at the time. The empowerment of the Federal Reserve was a key example of this because with much of the blame being pointed at the banks, it was important for the government to step in and begin to stabilize and reopen the banks that had closed due to the depression. Roosevelt and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporations (FDIC) did this by decreasing the reliance of gold in the United States’ economy along with decreasing the amount of money in regulation. This undoubtedly aided the economy in terms of decreasing the value of a dollar which made it “easier for indebted farmers to pay their creditors” or in more universal terms it allowed for the people of the United States to be able to make a liveable income once again. While some of the didn’t become permanent, it was evident that the United States had begun to take a turn from a laissez-faire economic strategy to a larger government controlled economy as seen by the New Deal “had more than doubled federal spending” marking one of the most significant moments in the United States’ economic history.

Foner’s The Making of Radical Reconstruction

When analyzing Foner’s chapter from A Short History of Reconstruction named “The Making of Radical Reconstruction,” the beginning is what was very intriguing. Especially in the differences between radical leaders like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner, it demonstrates the differing opinions between the nation, and even more focused on the congressman within the Radical Republicans. The controversy stemmed from how congress should approach reconstruction. Thaddeus Stevens was considered “a master of Congressional infighting, parliamentary tactics, and blunt speaking,” while on the other hand Sumner was disliked by other congressmen for “egotism, self-righteousness, and stubborn refusal to compromise, acted as the voice, the embodiment, of the New England conscience” (105). Both characters demonstrate ideologies that are often coexistent with the opinions of W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington because it was the ever-growing debate whether black people should compromise and assimilate into a predominately white culture, or should they go through political action in order to ensure equality of all. Even though Foner implied that all “Abolitionists considered him their politician,” this was not always the case. It was never a question whether Republicans were fighting for equal rights, but rather the party’s internal controversy on how they were to approach it (105). The easiest way to look at the differences between the two ideologies was the economic questions that reconstruction faced. Still focusing on Charles Sumner, he believed in a laissez-faire, or free market capitalism, which involved minimal involvement in the economy. Considering his perception on how reconstruction should be approached, his opinion on laissez-faire is very interesting considering how he is pushing for maximum involvement from the government during reconstruction. Besides the use of “free labor” there was very little intervention from the government that allowed for black people to advance withing society (106). Republicans believed that if they took these approaches, they would be able to provide equal economic opportunity. While some proposed taking land from white southerners, the idea never go enough support to ever be seriously considered. Looking at reconstructions impact on the present, it seems as if Republicans failed because over 100 years after reconstruction there is no sign of equal “economic opportunity” as seen by the massive wealth and income gap (106).

Nikole Hannah-Jones/Gordon Wood on how Slavery Impacted the American Revolution

In Nikole Hannah-Jones’s essay from the 1619 project “America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black People Made it One,” Jones claims that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery,” and in defending that claim she brought up how there were “growing calls” in London for the abolishment of slavery which. If that was true that would have been very detrimental to the economy of the colonies, but Gordon Wood rejects this claim. He does not necessarily claim that there is anything wrong with the factual claims that were presented like the ideas of the United States being founded on a “slavocracy” rather than a democracy, but he does disprove one of her main points on the basis of how the American Revolution had started. He disproves her point by one talking about the chronological order in which the American Revolution had started. Of course the Declaration of Independence is usually looked at as the “start” of the war, but there was talks about independence much before starting with the Stamp Act in 1765. The Dunmore proclamation may have been a tipping point for the war, but in fact the idea of war had already partaken.

It was not of Wood’s intent to disprove the entire essay as seen by his introduction where he wants to help the authors because with false information being provided it might unintentionally bring more damage than harm. This is very true especially today because acts of changing how history is interpreted, it must be entirely factual. In order to teach how slavery had an impact especially before the American Revolution, one must provide information that is not often looked at in todays schools. The 1619 Project continues to be a very large stepping stone for how America looks at race at a historical level. I thought it was very interesting on how Wood provided the information because of this point. He did not want to invalidate the entirety of the 1619 project rather he wanted it to be historically correct in order for it to have maximum impact.

Fulcher’s “Capitalism a Very Short Introduction”

In James Fultcher’s “Capitalism a Very Short Introduction,” the text illuminates the fact that capitalism was part of the founding ideas that ended up being one of the founding principles that the Americas were built on. No matter the ethics of the situation capitalism will always end up working against the means of the worker instead of for the worker. By definition capitalism is “essentially the investment of money in expectation of making a profit.” In the case of Fulcher’s writing this is exactly how the colonization and capitalistic ideals were spread through the United States. Both capitalism and imperialism can be compared based on the rising ideals of the companies and countries in order to make large profits. As in the case of The East India Company it was evident that the traveling was based entirely on the confidence of the investors that they were going to be able to make the voyage and make it back. First, nobody really cared about the working conditions of these people because in the investors mind their only problem was growing their money. Secondly, disregarding the ethics of the situation and only looking at the financial risks, this expedition was very risky for the investors. Even if they sent out multiple ships in order to minimize the risk of losing one of them it still was an increasing amount of risk. 

Touching on the situation of labour in the New World it shows how unethical the process of Capitalism was during this era. Between slavery, indentured servants, and child labour, companies were for anyway to produce “cotton” because it was such a profitable process they were looking passed the ethics in order to produce the money possible. Again if the head man is making money, ethics are often looked over. Kids “as young as 7… worked from 6:00 in the morning until 7:30 at night” and even though there are now new regulations it shows how unethical capitalism can be. Still today there are arguments about “keeping the wage bill down” in order to expose the worker and increase profits. In my mind it is amazing how people can still consider the ethics of the situation where people are working for under a reasonable living wage and disregarding it. While capitalism obviously does have its benefits like the creation of leisure, there obviously are relationships to 1600/1700’s capitalism to today’s capitalism like the exploitation of the worker, but the ethics of it has began to increase with the gradual elimination of slavery and child labor.