These Truths | Jill Lepore

Summary of: These Truths: A History of the United States
By: Jill Lepore


Get ready to embark on a journey through the political history of the United States with Jill Lepore’s ‘These Truths.’ As a historian and Harvard professor, Lepore deftly weaves together an insightful guide that examines the principles underlying US history in an approachable way. In this summary, you will encounter key themes such as internal debate, electoral procedures, the role of religion, racial and gender inequality, political party dynamics, news and ‘fake news,’ and the ever-evolving challenges the nation faces. Through Lepore’s critical, inquiring lens, we will explore questions that Alexander Hamilton posed on whether Americans can establish and maintain good government through thoughtful choices or if their nation would succumb to misfortune, violence, biases, and lies.

Principles of American Politics

Harvard historian Jill Lepore uses her storytelling abilities to delve into the fundamental principles of the American political system. In her book, Lepore revisits Alexander Hamilton’s “Federalist No. 1” and asks the question of whether Americans can maintain a free democracy once they have obtained it. Her easy-to-understand and engaging “civics primer” is a must-read for those who want to critically examine history and for all American voters. Lepore emphasizes the importance of understanding one’s inheritance, the past, which cannot be avoided.

Examining US History through Hamilton’s Questions

In her book, Jill Lepore uses Alexander Hamilton’s questions to explore whether Americans can establish and maintain a good government or succumb to misfortune, violence, biases, and lies. The United States, born of revolution, will always face chaos according to Lepore, who examines challenges and themes resonating throughout American history. From internal debates to the history of news and fake news, Lepore finds lessons and connective themes in every corner of the nation’s narrative and provides a lens through which to view US history.

The Development of American Notions of Race

In “These Truths,” Jill Lepore explains that the Spanish and English colonizers had differing approaches to race. The Spanish used a system of skin color gradations, while the English saw people as either Black or white. Both approaches contributed to American notions of race. Lepore also reveals that the first factory workers in the United States were actually enslaved people who worked in outdoor factories. Additionally, proslavery southerners, pro-labor northerners, and abolitionists all had different ideas about freedom and how it related to their respective causes. Overall, Lepore illustrates how race and labor were intertwined in the early development of the United States.

The Evolution of Political Parties

The two-party system in the US was established by the colonial Federalists and Anti-Federalists in the 1780s. Ideological thoughts on liberalism and conservatism had little meaning for ordinary voters. In the late 1800s, the Republican Party stood for reform, while the Democratic Party favored slavery. William Jennings Bryan in 1896 identified the Republican goal as making the well-off more prosperous, while the Democratic Party aimed to legislate prosperity for the masses. Today, it is unclear what it means to be a Republican or a Democrat, as highlighted by Lepore.

Government by and for the people – a math problem

In her book, Jill Lepore views government by and for the people as a math problem, detailing the history of voting restrictions in the United States. Lepore explains how the Electoral College came into existence in 1787, with each enslaved person counting as three-fifths of a person. Before the 15th Amendment of 1870, only taxpayers or property owners could vote in most states, and black men had a difficult time voting even after the amendment. Immigration had no federal regulations until the 1880s when new laws established the Border Patrol, a quota system, and the deportation of “illegal aliens”.

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