Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #4 – Great Depression and New Deal


Eric Rauchway’s “Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction” touches on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s agenda to rebuild the American economy due to the Great Depression and the previous president Herbert Hoover’s failure to take a better stance on the economic recession.  Rauchway essentially expresses how this incident made Americans realize that the system in place did not work, and did not fully take into account all Americans. 


I thought this reading was pretty interesting and it raised my interest in how past events in some way, reoccur again.  I related the Great Depression, Hoover, Roosevelt, and the New Deal to the previous election with Trump and Biden.  At the beginning of the COVID – 19 pandemic Trump did not really put much concern or emphasis on how bad COVID – 19 actually was.  This is similar to Herbert Hoover’s downfall in which he followed laissez-faire and thought that the economy would improve on its own.  We see how in both cases, not taking on the problem directly and either ignoring or disregarding it inevitably made the problem worse.  Once Roosevelt and Biden took office their main goals were to take action immediately on the things that weren’t done.  This is why I think both Roosevelt and Biden won their elections.


From the reading, what really caught my interest was the Works Progress Administration.  Despite what the “A1939 Institute of Public Opinion poll” that Rauchway mentions, about “the worst thing the Roosevelt Administration has done,” (Rauchway, 2008).  I felt that the Works Progress Administration (WPA), was the most useful if it had been implemented correctly.  From the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act in 1935, the PWA was created. With the unemployment rate being close to 25% when Roosevelt stepped into office, creating jobs I think, was very important.  Without jobs, people were not spending money or using credit and this affected the banks. With no income, people couldn’t afford to keep their houses which brought the homeless rate up, and things like Hooverville were created, and ultimately deflation occurred.  As Rauchway states, “With WPA, Hopkins once more hired millions, and put them to work building hospitals, schools, playgrounds, and airports.” (Rauchway, 2008).  This led to a large number of buildings and facilities be created that we still use today.  The WPA was created as a quick method to reduce the unemployment rate, despite hiring mainly unskilled workers and “mild political corruption” (Rauchway, 2008), which led to overpriced projects. I think that this was a great idea.  I wonder if the WPA had been correctly implemented, and political corruption did not occur, what would be the outcome, and would that 23% of Americans have a change in opinion about the WPA?


Blog Post #3 Eric Foner | The Making of Radical Reconstruction – Fourteenth Amendment

Eric Foner analyzes the influences of “The Making of Radical Reconstruction” that Radical Republicans had which contoured Congressional policy. In this reading, he has a section that talks about the Fourteenth Amendment. Initially, I felt that the Fourteenth Amendment was nothing more than an amendment that made all people born in the U.S., citizens, as well as have equal protection from the law. The Fourteenth Amendment to me was made to protect the rights of freed African Americans and established the Due Process Clause that gave the right to privacy for women and abortion rights because of Roe vs. Wade. But I never understood why the amendment mashed both these things together.  After reading Foner’s interpretation on Reconstruction, and how the amendment relates to Radical Reconstruction I learned a couple of new things and realized I was wrong in my understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Foner mentions how the Republicans tried to put into the constitution their interpretation of the Civil War. As Foner states, “assembled in December 1865 to confront the crucial issues of Reconstruction: Who would control the South? Who would rule the nation?  What was the status of the emancipated slave?” (Foner. Pg. 104).  These questions mentioned by Foner show us concerns going on during the Civil War.  He mentions how Republicans outnumbered Democrats in both houses which we see later on how Republicans use this to make a more permanent law for free slaves with the Fourteenth Amendment.  Many issues were brought up during this Radical Reconstruction, questions such as if Southern states should be entitled to representation, status on the African American Suffrage, the protection of Civil Rights for newly freed slaves, and how to keep ex-confederates out of political power.  

After doing a little more research on the Fourteenth Amendment I found out that John Bingham was the lead author of writing the rights that the freed slaves would have similar to how the Civil Rights Act is written.  But Bingham felt that it was important to create something that would also take into consideration future problems and problems that weren’t as critical now but could potentially be a problem later on.  This is why the Fourteenth Amendment has statements of general principles that would need to be interpreted instead of written rights like the Civil Rights Act. This connects to what Foner said in the reading, “For more than a century, politicians, judges, lawyers, and scholars have debated the meaning of this elusive language.” (Foner, pg. 115). It is crazy to think how thought out the Fourteenth Amendment was before it was put into place. Foner mentions the three-fifths compromise that totally slipped my mind when realizing what changes occurred once slaves were emancipated.  Now that slaves were free, instead of only three-fifths of African Americans being counted now all would be counted. 

I also found a fault in my understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment. I had always thought the Fourteenth Amendment was created to make everyone equal and the Due Process Clause was created to protect the rights to privacy for women to choose if they want an abortion or not, but I never took into consideration the date on which the Amendment was created.  I realize now that the Fourteenth Amendment says nothing about abortions, it is just an interpretation of the Amendment.  Additionally, I found out that the Fourteenth Amendment left many feminist leaders feeling betrayed. Women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Staton, and many others spoke up about the Fourteenth Amendment’s second clause which used the word “male”.  As Foner quotes from Staton, “‘must not put her trust in man’ in seeking her rights.” (Foner, pg. 115).  Because of this, feminists criticized Congress on how sex similar to race was not an acceptable reason for “legal distinctions among citizens” (Foner, pg. 115).  After reading what Foner had to say about Radical Reconstruction, I wonder if there were problems when these Radical Republicans were trying to create legislation for these newly freed slaves.  At this time there probably wasn’t any African American politician power so how did they figure out how to rightfully represent the African American community?


Blog Post #2 Thavolia Glymph – Kaylen Su

Thavolia Glymph dives into the roles white mistresses played on a plantation household.  She states that many historians perceive these plantation mistresses as not having social power over the slaves. These mistresses were characterized as calm, women who created a loving household and cared for their slaves. Thavolia Glymph argues against this stating that there are indeed many claims from former slaves proving this false, she questions the traditional portrait that labeled elite southern women as “fragile flowers”.  She points out records of slave accounts where mistresses indeed used violence, stating, “This narrative… has been told for the most part as if there were no other, as if Lulu Wilson’s, Harriet Robinson’s, or Harriette Benton’s did not exist. … Robinson said that her mistress was the ‘meanest woman I ever seen in my whole life,’ ‘a nigger killer.’ Harriette Benton, although a slave for only seven years, remembered her mistress as ‘a debil in her own way.’” (p.20). This just goes to show not only how the narrative on violent plantation mistresses has been manipulated and almost ignored, but also how almost insignificant and invisible women were although the opposite. The violence from these mistresses, if ever talked about, was deemed as being done through the husband’s request showing white women to have no authority.   Thavolia Glymph clearly shows the usage of power the southern white woman had against slaves. We see how narratives from actual slaves were disregarded, for example as stated by Harriet Robinson, “meanest woman I ever seen in my whole life”. This just goes to show that plantation mistresses did not use their power and authority over slaves shyly. These so-called “fragile flowers” that were described to be hardworking, devout, and a mother who tried to live up to the expectations set by men, do not show the fact that these women did indeed have some power over their slaves. Thavolia Glymph also mentions that feminist historians have added on to this portrayal of a hardworking, self-sacrificing southern lady by stating things like, suffering from patriarchal authority to which “slaves were subjected”(p.23), or things like “white woman who tried to live up to responsibilities of her position.” (p.23).  Of course, some of this is true, women in the past were living in a patriarchal society, but Thavolia Glymph helps to reveal that although this may be true, white women, specifically plantation mistresses had power over slaves despite accounts that say this wasn’t the case. Thavolia Glymph then goes on to state how former slave testimonies that show plantation mistresses abusing slaves are simply not the norm and that violence from mistresses was seldom.


This reading definitely added to my knowledge of women’s power, and how manipulated stories can be.  I have always thought women had power over their slaves and never really heard otherwise. Seeing how even feminist historians change the story or put excuses to violent actions done by women is crazy to see.  A question that arose after reading this was that I wonder if other things in history were manipulated to show a better light on certain actions taken. I definitely know it’s not impossible for stories to be manipulated, and Thovia Glymph does a good job defending this.


Blog Post #1 – James Fulcher

From the text by James Fulcher, on capitalism, we can see that he mentions three different types of capitalism.  Merchant capitalism, merchants trading goods for a profit.  Capitalist production, manufacturing goods, and using labor force to create goods for profit.  The last type being financial capitalism, creating banks and accumulating money profits in a financial system. James Fulcher ultimately defines capitalism as a process of investing money in order to make some sort of monetary profit.  He mentions that capital is investing money to make more money.  James Fulcher’s views on capitalism opened my mind to the many different pieces that go into capitalism.  I always defined capitalism as private ownership like a monopoly that made a profit.  What came to my mind was Andrew Carnegie’s Steel Company or Rockefeller’s Standard Oil business.  But what I didn’t realize and even comprehended was the early capitalism methods. 

Thinking about capitalism and creating profits, I tied this back to slavery.  I realize that capitalism helped feud the use of slaves in order to make more profit.  I feel that slaves were part of merchant capitalism.  During the Columbian Exchange, we see trading between Africa, Europe, and the Americas. One of the things being traded was Africans that were then used as slaves. This is like the cycle of what James Fulcher defines as capital.  Money is being invested into buying Africans for slavery, which is then creating more profit with the workforce maintaining plantations in order to trade tobacco, cotton, and other cash crops.  I do have a question about one of James Fulcher’s statements where he mentions that “capitalists existed before capitalism”.  He goes on to give an example of how merchants made money investing in goods which they would later sell for profit.  Is this action not the same principles of capitalism? How can there be capitalists without capitalism following?