Chapter 4 is titled ‘Tyranny is Tyranny’. This is a clever play of words that lends itself to numerous interpretations. The chapter is about the causes and conditions that led to the seeking of a separate nationhood – away from the shackles of the British command. This milieu gave rise to a group of politicians and intellectuals whom we retrospectively call the Founding Fathers. But as Howard Zinn astutely notes, their intentions were far from noble. They devised “the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantage of combining paternalism with command”. (Chapter 4, page 151) Hence what Zinn is alluding to in the title is that the creation of the nation-state the United States of America is just a transfer of power from one tyrannical institution to another. By manipulating in people feelings of patriotism and national unity, the newly created ruling class of the independent state was able to suppress uprisings and revolts that were frequent during the colonial era. For example, “Starting with Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia, by 1760, there had been eighteen up risings aimed at over throwing colonial governments. There had also been six black rebellions, from South Carolina to New York, and forty riots of various origins.” (Chapter 4, page 151) This trend was effectively curbed under the powerful centralized command instituted in the Constitution, which created and favored a new ruling elite to the vast majority of the population.
The fifth chapter titled ‘A Kind of Revolution’ hints at a lack of wholesomeness in the event. This is so because while white upper class men benefited from the defeat of the British army, the status and prospects of slaves and Indians remained the same. For example, “the Revolutionary leadership distrusted the mobs of poor. But they knew the Revolution had no appeal to slaves and Indians. They would have to woo the armed white population.” (Chapter 5, page 193)
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present, revised edition published by HarperCollins in 2009, ISBN-10: 0-06-083865-5