A People’s History of the United States


Howard Zinn

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A People’s History of the United States Characters

Minor Characters
Abigail Adams
Wife of John Adams and an important figure in the American Revolution.
President John Adams
Founding Father and second American president.
Samuel Adams
18th-century figure in the American Revolution who, Zinn argues, encouraged moderation and order in his working-class allies, perhaps because he wanted to avoid true, radical change in the American colonies.
Madeline Albright
Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton.
Nathaniel Bacon
Wealthy late 17th-century colonist who instigated “Bacon’s Rebellion,” an uprising against colonial leadership that was notable for uniting black slaves and working-class whites.
Joan Baez
Beloved American folk singer whose songs of the 1960s often had a strong anti-Establishment flavor.
Fulgencio Batista
Dictatorial, U.S.-backed leader of Cuba in the years leading up to the rise of Fidel Castro.
Charles Beard
20th-century American historian who argued that the Founding Fathers supported the creation of a strong national state largely to protect their own property and business interests.
William Bennett
Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan.
Osama Bin Laden
Leader of the anti-U.S. terrorist organization al-Qaeda, believed to have masterminded the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Randolph Bourne
Early 20th-century radical writer who wrote, “War is the health of the state.”
Stephen Breyer
Leftist, but relatively moderate Supreme Court justice appointed by President Bill Clinton.
John Brown
19th century radical who led a raid on a military arsenal with the intention of arming slaves. He was later executed.
William Jennings Bryan
Democratic presidential candidate in 1896.
President George H.W. Bush
41st American president, whose four years in the White House saw the continuation of many of President Ronald Reagan’s policies, as well as a brief war in Kuwait.
President George W. Bush
43rd American president, who presided over the country during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He later declared a “war on terror” and deployed troops to the Middle East.
Albert Camus
20th century French-Algerian writer whom Zinn cites when laying out his philosophy of history.
Andrew Carnegie
19th-century steel industrialist.
President Jimmy Carter
39th American president who was elected on the promise that he would honor the people’s needs, but remained mostly loyal to the business and military Establishment.
Fidel Castro
Leader of Cuba for most of the second half of the 20th century.
Winston Churchill
Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War Two.
President Grover Cleveland
22nd and 24th president of the United States. Like many powerful politicians of the era, he was an ally of businesses interests and a firm opponent of unions.
President Bill Clinton
42nd American president, whose eight years in the White House were characterized by an active, militaristic foreign policy, a widening gap between rich and poor, and embarrassing sex scandals.
Christopher Columbus
European explorer who, in 1492, sailed to the Americas, beginning an age of European imperialism.
Hernando Cortés
16th century Spanish explorer who conquered the Aztec empire.
Davy Crockett
Beloved American frontier figure of the early 1800s, notable for his friendships with Native American tribes.
Bartolomé de las Casas
A priest who became one of Christopher Columbus’s most influential critics.
Eugene Debs
19th and early 20th century Socialist leader who organized a series of influential railway strikes and was later imprisoned for speaking out against America’s involvement in World War One.
Thomas Dorr
19th-century Rhode Island lawyer who led a rebellion in support of white male suffrage in Rhode Island.
John Dos Passos
Famous American writer whose early novels, especially Three Soldiers, painted a bleak picture of World War One.
Frederick Douglass
19th century black activist who played a critical role in growing the abolitionist movement and later in convincing Abraham Lincoln to support legislation freeing slaves.
W. E. B. Du Bois
Early 20th century black academic and activist who linked racism and segregation in America to an overall moral bankruptcy stemming from capitalist expansion.
Bob Dylan
Beloved American musician and songwriter who, for much of the 1960s, wrote music criticizing the American Establishment.
Ralph Easley
Founder of the National Civic Federation during the early 20th century.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
34th American president.
Daniel Ellsberg
U.S. government insider who leaked thousands of documents exposing the government’s lies and deceptions regarding the Vietnam War.
President Gerald Ford
38th American president and successor to President Richard Nixon, who continued virtually all of Nixon’s policies.
Henry Clay Frick
19th-century industrialist who played an important role in brutally ending the 1892 Homestead Strike.
Betty Freidan
20th-century feminist writer whose book The Feminine Mystique is still a feminist classic.
John Galbraith
20th-century economist who linked the stock market crash of 1929 with the growing inequality of American society.
William Lloyd Garrison
19th century white abolitionist.
Henry George
Late 19th-century economist who criticized the principles of land ownership and unsuccessfully ran for mayor of New York City.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Leftist Supreme Court justice appointed by President Bill Clinton.
Albert Gore
Vice president to President Bill Clinton, and later an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2000.
Sarah Grimké
Early 19th-century feminist who challenged the domestic role of women.
Lani Guinier
Controversial prospective appointee to the Justice Department under President Bill Clinton, whom Clinton abandoned after she faced conservative criticism.
Alexander Hamilton
Founding Father and author of some of the Federalist Papers. As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton engineered the creation of America’s national banking system.
Fred Hampton
Activist and local leader in the Black Panther Party who was shot in his sleep by Chicago police officers.
Katherine Harris
Florida secretary of state during the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election.
President Rutherford Hayes
Nineteenth American president, whose election was hotly contested by both political parties and resulted in the end of Reconstruction in the South, as well as a new alliance between Northern and Southern elites.
Big Bill Haywood
Early 20th-century union organizer, who later fled to the Soviet Union rather than face prosecution for organizing protests against America’s involvement in World War Two.
Ernest Hemingway
Famous American writer whose early novels, especially A Farewell to Arms, painted a bleak picture of World War One.
Patrick Henry
18th-century American statesman whose famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech established the paradigm for Establishment rule: unite the people using patriotism and lofty rhetoric.
Anita Hill
Law professor who, in the midst of Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, accused Thomas of having sexually harassed her.
Adolf Hitler
Genocidal dictator of Germany during World War Two.
Ho Chi Minh
Communist leader of North Vietnam from the 1940s to 1969, during which time he led his people against American troops.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Supreme Court justice who, during World War One, accepted the federal government’s limitations on free speech by proposing the famous “clear and present danger” standard.
Langston Hughes
Black poet often associated with the Harlem Renaissance.
Saddam Hussein
Dictator of Iraq from the 1980s to the 2000s.
Anne Hutchinson
17th-century Puritan thinker who antagonized the Puritan Establishment and later went to live in Rhode Island.
President Andrew Jackson
Seventh American president whom Zinn discusses largely for his role in expelling Native Americans from their ancestral homes.
George Jackson
Californian prisoner who, during his incarceration, penned a series of books attacking the injustices of American society. He was later murdered by a prison guard, which spawned the Attica prison riots.
William James
Late 19th- and early 20th-century philosopher and political activist who criticized America’s militarism and imperialism.
John Jay
Founding Father and one of the authors of the Federalists Papers.
Thomas Jefferson
Founding Father and president at the beginning of the 19th century, whose words in the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” masked the fundamental inequality in American society.
President Lyndon Johnson
36th American president, responsible for signing the Voting Rights Act, among other pieces of legislation that gave institutional protection to African-Americans. He also presided over the country during some of the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War.
Irving Kaufman
The judge who sentenced the Rosenbergs to death.
Robert Kennedy
Attorney General during the administration of President John F. Kennedy, his brother.
President John F. Kennedy
35th American president.
Helen Keller
Early 20th-century feminist and Socialist activist.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Black civil rights activist during the fifties and sixties who preached a doctrine of nonviolent resistance to white racism and intolerance. Later in his life, King alienated the federal government of the U.S. by criticizing the Vietnam War and calling for radical redistributions of wealth.
Henry Kissinger
Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon and President Gerald Ford.
Ron Kovic
Veteran of the Vietnam War who later became a key activist against the American military.
Monica Lewinsky
Young government worker with whom President Bill Clinton had sexual relations.
Abraham Lincoln
Sixteenth American president, who presided over the country during the Civil War while greatly expanding the power of the American state.
John Locke
17th-century British philosopher who stressed the importance of property and ownership in state administration.
General Douglas MacArthur
World War Two hero who began his career by leading federal troops to break up a crowd of World War One veterans camped outside the White House.
President James Madison
Founding Father, author of some of the Federalist Papers, and fourth American president, who argued that the role of the state should be to arbitrate and referee conflicts between different factions of the population.
Thurgood Marshall
Highly respected Supreme Court justice who played a crucial role in many of the Court’s landmark decisions of the 1960s.
Karl Marx
European philosopher, economist, and founder of the doctrine of Communism, who criticized capitalism on the basis that it wrongly deprived workers of the fruits of their own labor, concentrating wealth in the hands of the few.
Senator Joseph McCarthy
Senator who, during the 1950s, was instrumental in leading a series of “witch hunts” against suspected Communists in government and other institutions of American society.
President William McKinley
25th American president, often credited with greatly expanding the role of business interests in the federal government, and a firm supporter of America’s aggressive, militaristic foreign policy.
J. P. Morgan
19th-century and early 20th century banker who bailed out the federal government in the 1890s.
Lucretia Mott
19th-century feminist leader who helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention, a milestone in American feminism.
Ralph Nader
Third-party candidate for president in the year 2000.
Huey Newton
Leader of the Black Panther party during the late 1960s.
Ngo Dinh Diem
The U.S.-backed leader of South Vietnam.
Colonel Oliver North
American Colonel who was tried for his role in the Iran-Contra Scandal, and is often thought to have been a “fall guy” for higher-ranking American politicians involved in the incident.
Thomas Paine
Pamphleteer, thinker, and writer during the American Revolution, best known for his pamphlet, Common Sense.
Rosa Parks
Black activist who played an important role in initiating the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Commodore Matthew Perry
American naval commander who played a key role in using military force to intimidate Japan into opening its doors to trade with the United States.
Francisco Pizarro
16th-century Spanish explorer who conquered the Inca empire in South America.
President James Polk
Eleventh American president, notable for his role in provoking war with Mexico and later annexing Mexico’s territory in the Southwest.
Chief Powhatan
Early 17th century Native American leader who led his people against English settlers.
President Ronald Reagan
40th American president, whose eight years in the White House were characterized by deregulation, cuts to welfare programs, and drastic expansions of the military budget.
Adrienne Rich
20th-century poet and feminist who argued that sexism presupposed a fixed relationship between women and their own bodies, and that women needed to celebrate their bodies in radical new ways.
John Rockefeller
19th century oil industrialist who ran the monopolistic Standard Oil company.
President Theodore Roosevelt
26th American president, interpreted by Zinn as a racist, an enemy of the working-class, and a “secret conservative” who pretended to take up Progressive causes.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
32nd American president who presided over the country during much of the Great Depression, and the entirety of World War Two.
Eleanor Roosevelt
Wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and a supporter of rights for African-Americans.
Archbishop Oscar Romero
Priest in El Salvador who was murdered, probably with the approval of the CIA, for speaking out against the U.S.-backed government in his country.
Julius Rosenberg
Alleged Soviet spy, and husband of Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed for stealing information about nuclear weapons.
Ethel Rosenberg
Alleged Soviet spy, and wife of Julius Rosenberg, who was executed for helping her husband steal information about nuclear weapons.
Nicola Sacco
Early 20th century anarchist who was executed for allegedly detonating a bomb.
Cherokee chief who helped develop a written language for his people.
Arthur Schlesinger
20th century historian whom Zinn regards as exemplary of the hidden alliance between the Academy and the Establishment.
Daniel Shays
Soldier in the American Revolution who later led a rebellion against the new American state, which was suppressed with military force.
Upton Sinclair
Early 20th-century “Muckraker” who criticized the squalid conditions of the meatpacking industry.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
19th-century feminist leader who helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention, a milestone in American feminism.
Lincoln Steffens
Early 20th-century “Muckraker” who criticized the corruption of city planners.
John Steinbeck
20th century writer whose novels, including The Grapes of Wrath, portray the effects of the Great Depression on the working classes.
Ida Tarbell
Early 20th-century “Muckraker” who criticized the Standard Oil company.
Frederick W. Taylor
Early 20th-century pioneer of business management techniques.
President Zachary Taylor
Twelfth American president, and, previously, an important figure in the American military’s war on Native Americans.
Clarence Thomas
Conservative Supreme Court justice and successor to Thurgood Marshall.
Henry David Thoreau
Writer and thinker who, in the 1840s, penned the famous essay, “Civil Disobedience,” to protest America’s involvement in the Mexican American War.
Samuel Tilden
Unsuccessful opponent of Rutherford Hayes in the 1876 presidential election.
President Harry Truman
33rd American president, who made the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending World War Two.
Sojourner Truth
19th century black feminist who delivered the famous, “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech in New York City.
Nat Turner
Black leader who, in 1831, led a rebellion of several dozen slaves and was later executed
Mark Twain
Celebrated 19th-century American author and noted opponent of American intervention in the Philippines.
Martin Van Buren
Eighth American president.
Bartolomeo Vanzetti
Early 20th century anarchist who was executed for allegedly detonating a bomb.
James Wadsworth
New York Senator during World War One.
Booker T. Washington
Early 20th century black activist who urged his followers to be moderate, prioritize economic independence, and accept the terms of segregation.
President Woodrow Wilson
28th American president, who led the country during World War One.
John Winthrop
Governor of the Pilgrim settlements in New England in the mid-17th century.
Samuel Worcester
Georgian missionary who refused to take a loyalty oath against the Native American people.
Richard Wright
20th-century black novelist who briefly joined the Communist party.
Malcolm X
Black activist during the 1960s who advocated a strong policy of self-defense in the black community. He criticized Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for being too passive and accommodating to the white Establishment.
President Richard Nixon
The 37th American president. He campaigned on ending the Vietnam War, and did remove ground troops but maintained bombing, particularly in Cambodia. He was forced to resign in 9174 after the Watergate Scandal exposed criminal behavior among some of Nixon's administration members and touching Nixon himself, as well.