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Who Built America?

Working People and the Nation’s History

Table of Contents

Part One: Colonization and Revolution, 1492-1815
1. A Meeting of Three Worlds: Europe, Africa, and American Colonization, 1492-1680
2. Servitude, Slavery and the Growth of the Southern Colonies, 1640-1760
3. Family Labor and the Growth of the Northern Colonies, 1640-1760
4. Towards Revolution, 1750-1776
5. Revolution, Constitution, and the People, 1776-1815

Part Two: Free Labor and Slavery, 1790-1860
6. The Consolidation of Slavery in the South, 1790-1836
7. Northern Society and the Growth of Wage Labor, 1790-1837
8. Immigration, Urban Life, and Social Reform in the Free-Labor North, 1838-1860
9. The Spread of Slavery and the Crisis of Southern Society, 1836-1848

Part Three: War, Reconstruction,and Labor, 1848-1877
10. The Settlement of the West and the Conflict over Slave Labor, 1848-1860
11. The Civil War: America’s Second Revolution, 1861-1865
12. Reconstructing the Nation, 1865-1877
13. New Frontiers: Westward Expansion and Industrial Growth, 1865-1877

Excerpt from the Introduction, Part One, “Colonization and Revolution, 1607-1790,” page 3:

“Modern America had its beginnings in a crisis-ridden Feudal Europe. In the fifteenth century, rulers and men of commerce began a frantic worldwide search for new sources of wealth. They created a vast new Atlantic system of expropriation and exchange which, over the next three centuries, linked together and dramatically transformed Africa, America, and even Europe itself. The violent seizure of New World land from its Indian inhabitants, the settlement and growth of Europe’s New World societies, and the transportation of millions of enslaved Africans made possible a massive accumulation of wealth in Europe. In the process, capitalism – a new economic system with accompanying social values and political ideologies – emerged in Europe and subsequently in North America.”

Excerpt from Chapter Two, “Slavery and the Growth of the Southern Colonies,” page 69:

“Slaves’ resistance took many forms. In South Carolina, slaves involved in rice production often burned down the barns where the harvested rice was stored. This October 14, 1732, letter, printed in the South Carolina Gazette, reveals how common the slave ‘custom’ of barn-burning had become in one part of the colony.”

I HAVE TAKEN Notice for Several Years past, that there has not one Winter elapsed, without one or more Barns being burnt, and two Winters since, there was no less than five. Whether it is owing to Accident, Carelessness, or Severity, I will not pretend to determine; but am afraid, chiefly to the [latter two causes]. I desire therefore, as a Friend to the Planters, that you’ll insert the following Account from Pon Pon, which, I hope, will forewarn the Planters of their Danger, and make them for the future, more careful and human:

About 3 weeks since, Mr. James Gray worked his Negroes late in his Barn at Night, and the next Morning before Day, hurried them out again, and when they came to it, found it burnt down to the Ground, and all that was in it.

From Chapter Four, “The Greatness of this Revolution,” page 177:

“In a broader sense, the [American] Revolution also revealed the capacity of ordinary people to alter the very process of history. As Tom Paine cautioned in Common Sense, ‘Kings are not taken away by miracles, neither are changes in governments brought about by any other means than such as are common and human; and such as we are using now.’ As the opening act in the cataclysmic “Age of Revolution” that would quickly spread to France and beyond, the American Revolution – the first successful colonial war for liberation – demonstrated for subsequent generations the growing power of popular movements literally to make history.”