Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Fulcher’s Capitalism

In his text about Capitalism, James Fulcher provides both historical and current events that demonstrate the effects of capitalism, and the characteristics a capitalistic society portrays. Fulcher dwelled upon the competitive cotton industry that James M’Connel and John Kennedy took over. The idea of creating a profit and searching for ways to maximize a profit was and still is an idea of great importance. However, “Profit depended ultimately on the workers who turned raw cotton into yarn” (Fulcher, 5). Because of this, many workers were put into long hours of labor. Many conflicts, including wages, arose because of the greed and hunger that many people sought in order to reach this level of maximizing a profit.


This idea has not changed much today. In fact, the desire for profit and wealth is even stronger and can cause individuals to act out in a way where it negatively affects themselves and others around them. This is shown in Nick Leeson’s case, where he found ways to cover up any shortcomings from the money that he was accumulating in order to receive the most amount of money possible. However, this also demonstrates how errors in capitalism derive from an upper level power. M’Connel and Kennedy were able to extend the hours of the workers, as entrepreneurs, by resetting the clock. Leeson was able to swindle his way around money because he was one of the best at what he did.


Ultimately, capitalism is essentially making a profit from the investment of money. However the investing is done or where the money to invest came from, as long as a profit exists for an individual, there is a representation of how capitalism works. Capitalism is found almost everywhere in the United States of America and is something that occurs every single day, whether we notice it right away or not.

The Difficulties and Dilemmas of Democracy

One of the big news stories today was the victory of California Governor Gavin Newsom over Larry Elder, in what is known in California as a “recall” election.

As we begin to move towards an exploration of our class theme of Democracy, it seems like an appropriate time to draw on current events to enhance our understanding of what this contested term means, and how that meaning has changed over time and been used (and abused) in different places around the world, including within the United States.

Under California’s unique system, voters can vote an elected governor out of office before the end of his or her term (4 years) by collecting enough signatures to hold a referendum—a special election in which a question is put directly to voters. In this case, many people were angry at Gov. Newsom’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, which included relatively strict mask mandates and forced business closures (not unlike Gov. Cuomo’s approach in New York). Newsom inadvertently added fuel to the fire when pictures were leaked of him attending a 2020 dinner at an expensive San Francisco restaurant, unmasked. The incident added to perceptions of Newsom as a hypocritical elitist who is out of touch with ordinary Californians.

In theory, California’s recall system represents a form of direct democracy—in which questions of great import are put directly before the people, can use the democratic process to unseat the most powerful political figure in the state. But as this New York Times article points out, certain aspects of the process seem fundamentally undemocratic. Under the terms of the recall, only a simple majority—greater than 50 percent—is needed to unseat the governor. But once that threshold is reached, the candidate with the next largest number of votes is automatically elected governor. In practice, that means that, if Newsom had received only 49 percent of the votes, Elder could have replaced him by winning only 25 percent—or only a little more than half the number of voters who voted for Newsom.

The article goes on to cover some of the history of California’s recall system, which dates back to 1911, when voters approved a series of reforms meant to curb the power of railroad corporations, which then dominated the state. But ironically, as the article points out, in recent years referendums and ballot initiatives have been used by corporate interests, such as Uber and Lyft, who can promote their agendas simply by collecting signatures and using the power of the internet and social media.

Opponents also argue that such special elections are also extremely costly—the current recall effort cost the state $276 million—and distract from important issues at critical times, in this case as California confronts the ongoing pandemic as well as a series of wildfires and other environmental issues related to climate change.

In the past, recall elections and other ballot initiatives have had a tremendous impact on California. In 2003, then-Governor Davis was replaced by actor Arnold Schwartzenegger after a recall effort. Proposition 13, a referendum aimed at reducing property taxes, has been blamed for the declining quality of California’s public schools since the 1970s, and in the 1990s, a majority voted to deny certain benefits to undocumented immigrants under Proposition 187.

In this case, Gov. Newsom defeated the recall effort by something like a 64 to 36% margin. The lopsided result was blamed on the extreme ideas of his Republican opponent. Elder, a conservative radio talk-show host, has a history of making disparaging comments about women, opposes the minimum wage and abortion, and said that the descendants of slave owners, rather than the descendants of slaves themselves, should receive reparations (Elder himself is African American). These views are out of step with the majority of Californians, but the terms of the recall election made it possible that Elder could have won—before today’s result, many were predicting a close election.

What do you think? Is California’s recall system truly democratic? If not, what reforms could be taken to make the process more representative? What is democracy anyway, and why does it seem to be such a hot topic in 2021, after a century or more in which America’s system of government appeared to many to be among the most stable and democratic in the world?

Edmund Morgan, “American Slavery American Freedom”

    The argument that the author shows why and how Virginians had started to turn toward a slave-labor economy in addition to this how it had imported workers to England as well as Virginians imported workers from England to ensure their profits.  

      Edmund Morgan suggests that as soon as Virginians found tobacco, that the colony was on the road for slavery. The forcing servants into slavery might have led to massive rebellion, that the enslave Virginians, that on chapter 15 it states that “Virginians had only men who were already enslaved after the initial risks of the transformation had been sustained by other elsewhere”. (297) This quote illustrates that the people that were already a servant will become enslaved. Therefore in 1660, with a decline in immigration due to an end to England’s. population problems, it became more advantageous for Virginia planters to buy slaves. Edmund Morgan further explains that the Virginia planters had advantages over other plantation economies. They could have replaced the slaves at a lower rate than sugar planters, giving a greater return to the investment of a rise in the price of tobacco meant they could have pay from them, as well as tobacco required, that in chapter 15 it states that, “And man small amount of capital, insufficient for the outlay of sugar plantation.”  (303) This actively illustrates the quote that the small production equipment was not enough for the capital. Therefore, the men who wanted to get into plantation production went to Virginia. Another reason that the author would argue with is that the men who arrived had garnered more of the prestige in England that they brought slavery to Virginia by buying where it states that, “These were the man who brought slavery to Virginian, simply by buying slaves instead of servants.” (304) This actively illustrates that people that are servants are no longer servants but slaves. Therefore, by the end of the century, more than half of Virginia’s labor force was enslaved. 

The 20th Anniversary of September 11th


Today is the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001—an event which took place before many of you, the students in this class, were born, but which continues to shape our experience in ways both acknowledged and unseen.

Whether you are aware of it or not, many of you are among the first generations of college students who were born after Sept. 11, 2001—a milestone of sorts for those of us who remember that day vividly as something that shaped us in the prime of our lives, and have struggled to convey the meaning and significance ever since as witnesses and teachers.

For those of us who are able to remember that day in detail, it brings back a plethora of conflicting emotions: shock, horror, rage, disbelief, and, for far too many of us here in the New York City area, the unfathomable grief that attends the loss of a friend, family member, or loved one, even many years later.

At the same time, it is worth trying to consider 9/11 as an historic event—meaning that, among other things, we try to understand and evaluate it more or less objectively. How does our understanding of the events of 9/11 change if we view them as part of a continuum with the past and/or as an indicator of change over time, rather than as a seemingly random event with no history or context, as the sudden appearance of passenger planes headed towards the Twin Towers seemed to so many of us that day?

Another question we might ask is, “how has the United States changed in the twenty years since 9/11?,” Posing such a question almost unavoidably asks us to confront the deeper question of whether those changes have been for the better or the worse. Coming on the heels of a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan—the longest war in our country’s history, with failures spanning two decades and multiple presidencies, from President Biden’s responsibility for the withdrawal to President Trump’s signing of the terms of the agreement with the Taliban, to George W. Bush’s fateful decision to go to war in the days and weeks after 9/11—it feels like an especially appropriate time to contemplate that question.

In the twenty years since 9/11, there have been many excellent books, essays, documentaries, and think-pieces written about the events of that day and what has transpired since. Unfortunately, there has also been a tremendous amount of misinformation, disinformation, racially- and religiously-motivated hatred, and conspiracy theories. One of the questions we will try to address in this class, is how to distinguish between valid, less valid, and implausible or deceptive interpretations of historical events. With an event like 9/11, where there is still much that remains  unknown (and will probably always remain so), and where emotions are particularly raw, it can be particularly hard to separate fact from fiction. One place to start is the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, which has an ongoing and ever-changing series of exhibitions and events. If you have the time for a longer series, and feel you can handle a more unstinting look at what has transpired in our country in the years since 2001, I also recommend the Frontline documentary “America After 9/11.”

I invite you to weigh in on this blog post with your thoughts and comments, with a gentle reminder to keep your comments respectful and to avoid repeating unfounded facts or conspiracy theories. Although we will not return to this subject until the end of the semester (and probably only briefly then), I hope that by that time, we will have filled in enough of the gaps in our knowledge of American history as to begin to put the events of Sept. 11th, 2001, in perspective. Only then can we address the bigger question, which falls to all of us, but particularly to you as members of the coming generation: Where do we go from here?

Fulcher’s Capitalism

Quick Summary Of Fulcher’s Capitalism

Throughout history, we can see repeatedly that dominance is what keeps a nation alive and thriving but not everybody contributes to that. People that are not middle class or poor prefer the term free market to show their dominance. Fulcher’s perspective on capitalism includes dominance in the economy. Fulcher looks at capitalism as a way to invest money and make profits from that investment. The very short story written by Fulcher explores the origin of capitalism in Europe which was a powerhouse and a lucrative asset. Fulcher talks about industrial capitalism which was the center of attention because the economy can be evaluated on how well the industries are doing. But this example can also be looked at in this modern era where the stock market has so much power and there are people who can manipulate it. That just shows how capitalism and Fulcher’s perspective in gaining wealth has not died as people are making a ton of money.

Throughout the text, Fulcher talks about international trade-in and capital raise which shows capitalism at its best as it includes taking money from people then investing it. But at the same, you are also making a lot of money. Capitalism can be seen in many other historical times than Fulcher’s like when the British took over India. They wanted private ownership and all the resources but in return, they gave nothing instead they kept on gaining wealth. So that should tell you how big the concept of capitalism is something very which everybody wants but it does not benefit everybody especially in an economy where the nation relies on the labor force and taxes to maintain order.

But that is where capitalism shines because the economy people around have found loopholes that help them cheat the county people. This can be summarized in Fulcher’s saying as he expressed how you need to invest money to make money.