Was the American Revolution Revolutionary or Non-Revolutionary?

From the time after the American Revolution to present day, historians have debated whether the American Revolution was Revolutionary or Non-Revolutionary. Two views formed from this question. Some historians see

the revolution as based on the desire of independence from Britain. Others argue the Revolution happened because of a “violent social upheaval”. These historians say the lower classes during the colonial era wanted a more democratic society. From these views, five schools of though developed.

The nationalist or patriotic school was the first one to develop after the Revolution. The theme of this this school was that “American history was the quest for liberty.” They believe the Revolution was solely to achieve the goal of self-rule. Due to the time period of when this school was developed its probable that the schools views were because of the lingering feelings of patriotism and nationalism. George Brancroft was a historian during the time of the schools development he saw that the American Revolution was a phase in a plan that when completed would bring all of humankind to greater freedom.

In the late 1800’s America and Britain were having good relations. Historians began to look at the past relations (between Britain and the colony’s) and see things differently. This is when the Imperial school developed. The Imperial school believed that political and constitutional issues caused the revolution. The Imperial school included historians George L. Beer, Charles M. Andrews and Lawrence H. Gipson. These historians said that the revolutionary views could not be limited to the history of America alone but “considered as an integral part of the history of the British Empire as a whole” These historians claimed that Britain was more fair than the nationalist and patriotic school had made Britain to be. They believed that under British rule British rule the colonies had actually been prosperous. Andrews stated that the British protected “America’s goods and ships.” Gipson argues that the taxation of the colonies was fair because of the fact the British blood was spilt and British money was spent “defending the North American colonies in the Great War for Empires.” However, Beer, Andrews, and Gipson believe that “constitutional issues” brought the disagreement between Britain and the colonies. They say Britain and the colonies clashed as the colonies pushed for different goals, the colonies moving toward self-government while the British pushed for more control over the colonies. Concluding that despite the Beer, Andrews and Gipson’s softer view of Britain during the colonial milestone the Imperial school still believed that the American Revolution was revolutionary. World War II brought the Neo-Conservative school of historians.

The Progressive school was the first school to see a completely different point of view; they believed that the revolution was a result of economic and social issues. These historians emphasized the conflicts between the lower and upper classes. Historians of this school were devoted to the “reform movement of the early 1900’s” they, themselves wanted to break away from large corporations of “modern America”. Looking back at the time of the colonial America, they saw many similarities between the two timeframes. Progressive historians, Carl L. Becker, Charles A. Beard, Arthur M. Schlesinger and J Franklin Jameson believed “materialistic factors – not ideological- were the major determinists in history.” Progressive historians believed that mostly self-economic interests motivated man. They argued that any political interest was a result of an economic interest. Becker said the American Revolution was actually two revolutions. The first revolution was an “external revolution”. Being when the colonies rebelled because of a “clash of economic interests” between Britain and the colonies. The second Revolution was an “Internal conflict”. This being between the colonies upper and lower classes, to determine which class would rule after gaining independence from the British. In other words two questions. “The question of home rule” and the question of “who should rule at home”. Beard came up with a hypothesis that the events during the era “mirrored a split between American society”, being conflicts between “rich and poor” and the “creditors and debtors”, between the haves and the have-nots. Schlesinger argues that merchants got angry about the British policies enforced after the French and Indian war, though they failed to act against the British for fear the might loser power to the lower classes. After independence, however they became active members in newly developed government and created the constitution to help gain “control of the government”.

World War II brought upon a new school being the neo-conservative school. They, unlike the progressive school believed the American society during the colonial era was democratic and that the Revolution was “conservative act“, initiated in order to preserve the life the colonists had began to live. When the British began to enforce laws in the colonies after the period of governing themselves the colonists rebelled. Historians of this school argue that the freedoms of people were based on principles that should not be changed without there approval. Robert E. Brown and Daniel J. Boortsin saw the harmony and the widespread compromise to keep the government that the colonies had already established, that there was not a class struggle. They said the colonies had no intent to change the government after they gained independence from Britain to “maintain the status quo. Boorstin says that when Britain tried to tax them for the French and Indian war it contradicted the British constitution. When the colonists would not pay taxation without representation, they were protecting a right they already had. Boorstin said the “patriots more true followers of the British Constitution than the British were themselves”. He said that they colonists still recognized their British heritage and carried many British principles over into the new nation. Concluding the Neo- Conservative School also believed that the revolution was revolutionary.

World War II also brought the Intellectual School who held no group of historians but felt that the revolution was not revolutionary; it was solely about bringing the separation of the colonies from British Rule. Neo- Conservative historian Edmund S. Morgan disagreed and said that he believed the colonists were “derived from natural law” higher then the British Constitution and that the resistance was consequential from “ideological” roots and was something the colonists were devoted to.

Hence, the question “Was the American Revolution Revolutionary or Non-Revolutionary?”, brought upon two views one that is was based on the desire of independence from Britain and the other being the Revolution happened because of a “violent social upheaval”. These views stemmed out to five schools of though on the topic being the nationalist or patriotic, the imperial, the progressive the neo-conservative and the intellectual schools. Nationalist or patriotic, the imperial, and the neo-conservative believed the revolution was revolutionary although they had different reasons for believing so while the progressive and intellectual schools believed the revolution was un-revolutionary being for self interests of the upper class.

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