Social groups, regardless of their similarities in either cultural, ethnic, religious, or economic backgrounds, were often divisive on the topic of the American Revolution. Despite this, distinct loyalties to and against the revolution were noticeable within socio-economic levels of the U.S. at the time. Though the revolution was opposed and supported by wealthy families and individuals, the proportions of the upper to lower class participants varied between ideologies. While many rich families were threatened by the British, who actively supported the revolution, their cause was largely supported by the lower or middle classes. While groups that were loyal to the British could not be identified by any single characteristic, they were also more commonly seen in wealthier and upper-class circles.
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Loyalists, or Tories, referred to groups that did not directly cooperate in their efforts to stop the revolution but were united by their beliefs and would be more often found in the upper-class in socio-economic terms. Frequently, they would be found among officeholders that had work relations with the British, clergymen and their parishioners, large landholders, and other wealthy merchant groups, especially in cities that were deeply affected by the war (Greenwalt, n.d.). Though the opposition, which was in favor of the revolution, would also host a number of figures that were wealthy and focused on business growth, the loyalists were very conservative in nature. Essentially, their economic goals aligned and were not in detrimental conflict with the rule of the British. Such conservatism paired with nationalistic loyalty to either Britain or its loyalty created a divide not only between ideologies within the upper-class but also among the social classes themselves. The tension and ideological divisions were solidified after a conflict between the two groups of thought became violent. The wealth of loyalists that participated in the opposition of the revolutionaries was lost over time, which also caused the collapse of their movement and belief.
On the other side of the loyalists, individuals and groups that supported the American revolution were often referred to as patriots. The revolution was instigated and promoted by wealthy families, largely to preserve their economic interests, commercial enterprises, and political leadership that was threatened by British reform. Despite this, the revolution was supported by a majority that was predominantly constructed of groups from lower classes. Most of these individuals had no serious stakes in the high politics of conflicts between wealthier Americans and the British, they did not select representatives or participated in any assemblies (Locke & Wright, 2019). Essentially, whether the revolution was successful or did not interfere with the lives of the lower classes in terms of politics and law. Despite this, they had the motivation to oppose the rule of the British, largely due to the interactions between British customs agents, soldiers, and officers and the relatives, colleagues, neighbors of the supporters of the revolution. Prior to the 1770s, the presence of imperial officers was low and American towns often relied on self-governance (Nash, 2006). However, as their presence and power increased, this created a need for the supporters of the revolution to oppose the British.
As such, while both groups, the upper and lower classes, were present on sides that supported and opposed the revolution, there is a categorical distinction between loyalties to the movement and a group’s socio-economic background. Though the revolution may have been promoted for the purpose of the more liberal wealthy Americans, the lower classes were required for it to be a success in order to retain their power of self-governance.
Greenwalt, P. S. (n.d.). British Perspective American Revolution. American Battlefield Trust. Web.
Locke, J. L., & Wright, B. (2019). The American Yawp. Stanford University Press.
Nash, G. B. (2006). The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America. Penguin Books.
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