Arthur Schlesinger Sr.

Taking a similar approach to Beard''s in his interpretation of history through economic eyes is Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. (But in many places Schlesinger sounds much more like Turner and Jameson than he sounds like Beard.) What is perhaps Schlesinger''s most important work on the subject of the American Revolution first appeared in 1918, with a new edition in 1939. In the preface to the second edition, Schlesinger submitted that the assertions of the first edition had been "generally accepted by historians." And that seems exactly to be the case more than fifty years later.

Schlesinger''s view was sectional: he saw "two revolutions," one in the North and one in the South (Schlesinger, 6). He argued that the non-importation policies of the colonies were far from universally successful. Nor were they universally accepted. Schlesinger''s view is that the non-importation zeal tended to be greater in the small towns rather than in the "great trading towns." He notes, for example, that the leading merchants had gained a fair amount of relief from Parliament by 1770, and that their fever for non-importation, which they had happily supported in 1768, had rather more than subsided by 1770. The problem remained whether they could cease their non-importation practices without the consent of the general populace, which was largely composed of propertyless people of lesser means who still burned for the elimination of taxes entirely (Schlesinger, 218). The crux of the view is that this business of the "consent of the people" was not philosophical or even truly political: it was strictly an economic consideration. Schlesinger puts it even more bluntly near the end of the book:

... the choice which every merchant had to make was not, and could not be, a mere mechanical one, premised upon strict considerations of an informed class interest. Like other human beings, his mind was affected or controlled by powerful influences of temperament, environment and tradition. Furthermore, the degree to which his wealth was removable was an important factor in his decision, for his business and the good will of his customers were not commodities to be packed up and carried bodily into British lines. These facts caused many a merchant to follow the line of least resistance when independence was promulgated (Schlesinger, 603; emphasis is mine).
It is the italicized sentence that gives the essence of Schlesinger''s book. The point that he makes is that there was a great deal of Loyalist sympathy among the merchant class, despite the myth of united and universal opposition to British tyranny that had come to exist by 1900. Nevertheless, these traders were no traitors; but it was pragmatism, not sudden philosophical enlightenment, that caused them to modify or mitigate their true attitudes. How many times have we heard it said? "You''ve got to go along to get along." So must it have been for the colonial merchants. This realization goes a long way to explain the on-again, off-again support for non-importation and later for independence that Schlesinger describes in such detail in his book. And at the root of it lies the influence of the masses, or at any rate the influence of what is nowadays called "public opinion."