Alcove Activities: First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, History of the Great American Fortunes
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First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, History of the Great American Fortunes
In this set of activities you will be both paraphrasing and explicating the thesis of several classic texts. You will paraphrase each excerpt section by section, followed by explicating the texts by stating your understanding of each one in your own words, then elaborating, exemplifying and illustrating them. In other words, for each of the texts in this section, you will begin by articulating them in your own words, sentence by sentence, or in parts, as we have presented them. Then you will explicate each one at level two.

After writing out your paraphrases in your own words, and explicating them, click on the thinker icon to see our specimen answers. You will first read the text as a whole at the beginning of each section, along with its background information, and then you will find the same text divided into parts for your practice.

History of the Great American Fortunes

Background Understandings:
In 1909, Gustavus Myers wrote a three-volume history of the great American fortunes. At the time Myers was attempting to understand and then explain how the wealthiest people in the country obtained their wealth. In his book, he focuses neither on extraordinary ability or hard work on the part of these people, nor does he directly connect this vast wealth to greed or lack of ethics. Rather he contends that “the great fortunes are the natural, logical outcome of a system.”...[a system producing] “the utter despoilment of the many for the benefit of a few.” The result is a “natural” economic and human result. As he put it, “...our plutocrats rank as nothing more or less than so many unavoidable creations of a set of processes which must imperatively produce a certain set of results.” The following excerpt is from the first chapter of his book, History of the Great American Fortunes:

The noted private fortunes of settlement and colonial times were derived from the ownership of land and the gains of trading. ...Throughout the colonies were scattered lords of the soil who had vast territorial domains over which they exercised an arbitrary and, in some portions of the colonies, a feudal sway... Nearly all the colonies were settled by chartered companies, organized for purely commercial purposes and the success of which largely depended upon the emigration which they were able to promote.

These corporations were vested with enormous powers and privileges which, in effect, constituted them as sovereign rulers...

As the demands of commerce had to be sustained at any price, a system was at once put into operation of gathering in as many of the poorer English class as could be impressed upon some pretext, and shipping them over to be held as bonded laborers. Penniless and lowly Englishmen, arrested and convicted for any one of the multitude of offenses then provided for severely in law, were transported as criminals or sold into the colonies as slaves for a term of years. The English courts were busy grinding out human material for the Virginia Plantation... No voice was raised in protest (pp. 11–12).

Now that you have read the full text above, you will find the same text in sections below. Write out your paraphrase of each section in the box provided. Then see our specimen answers by clicking on the thinker icon.


The noted private fortunes of settlement and colonial times were derived from the ownership of land and the gains of trading.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: During the time of the early American colonies, the wealthy people got their wealth from owning land and engaging in trade.




...Through-out the colonies were scattered lords of the soil who had vast territorial domains over which they exercised an arbitrary and, in some portions of the colonies, a feudal sway...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Everywhere in the colonies there were people with huge estates so large and powerful, so great that these land owners were virtual “lords” who could command almost anything they wanted of the people who lived in their province, as medieval lords could.




Nearly all the colonies were settled by chartered companies, organized for purely commercial purposes and the success of which largely depended upon the emigration which they were able to promote.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Almost all the people who took over these territories from the Native Americans did so through licensed companies. These companies were concerned with nothing but profit. Their success depended on getting people to come from other lands.




These corporations were vested with enormous powers and privileges which, in effect, constituted them as sovereign rulers...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: The companies so formed had stupendous power and rights that rendered them autonomous and virtually self-governing.




As the demands of commerce had to be sustained at any price, a system was at once put into operation of gathering in as many of the poorer English class as could be impressed upon some pretext, and shipping them over to be held as bonded laborers.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Because profit was their only ultimate motive and the system they set up required cheap labor, England began the practice of devising excuses that justified forcing poor people to come to the colonies as near slaves.




Penniless and lowly Englishmen, arrested and convicted for any one of the multitude of offenses then provided for severely in law, were transported as criminals or sold into the colonies as slaves for a term of years. The English courts were busy grinding out human material for the Virginia Plantation...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: The English court-system became the economic vehicle that enabled the wealthy colonial companies and their masters to gather and use masses of poor people for their vested interests. The system was set up so that for any number of reasons the poor could be found guilty of any of a number of offenses and punished severely. This punishment often consisted of sending them off to the colonies as slaves for a specified number of years.




No voice was raised in protest.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Virtually no one objected to this cruel and unethical system.