GRE Reading Comprehension

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Some recent historians have argued that life in the British colonies in America from approximately 1763 to 1789 was marked by internal conflicts among colonists. Inheritors of some of the viewpoints of early twentieth-century Progressive historians such as Beard and Becker, these recent historians have put forward arguments that deserve evaluation.

The kind of conflict most emphasized by these historians is class conflict. Yet with the Revolutionary War dominating these years, how does one distinguish class conflict within that larger conflict? Certainly not by the side a person supported. Although many of these historians have accepted the earlier assumption that Loyalists represented an upper class, new evidence indicates that Loyalists, like rebels, were drawn from all socioeconomic classes. (It is nonetheless probably true that a larger percentage of the well-to-do joined the Loyalists than joined the rebels.) Looking at the rebel side, we find little evidence for the contention that lower-class rebels were in conflict with upper-class rebels. Indeed, the war effort against Britain tended to suppress class conflicts. Where it did not, the disputing rebels of one or another class usually became Loyalists. Loyalists thus operated as a safety valve to remove socioeconomic discontent that existed among the rebels. Disputes occurred, of course, among those who remained on the rebel side, but the extraordinary social mobility of eighteenth-century American society (with the obvious exception of slaves) usually prevented such disputes from hardening along class lines. Social structure was in fact so fluid --- though recent statistics suggest a narrowing of economic opportunity as the latter half of the century progressed --- that to talk about social classes at all requires the use of loose economic categories such as rich, poor, and middle class, or eighteenth-century designations like "the better sort." Despite these vague categories, one should not claim unequivocally that hostility between recognizable classes cannot be legitimately observed. Outside of New York, however, there were very few instances of openly expressed class antagonism.

Having said this, however, one must add that there is much evidence to support the further claim of recent historians that sectional conflicts were common between 1763 and 1789. The "Paxton Boys" incident and the Regulator movement are representative examples of the widespread, and justified, discontent of western settlers against colonial or state governments dominated by eastern interests. Although undertones of class conflict existed beneath such hostility, the opposition was primarily geographical. Sectional conflict ---which also existed between North and South ---deserves further investigation.

In summary, historians must be careful about the kind of conflict they emphasize in eighteenth-century America. Yet those who stress the achievement of a general consensus among the colonists cannot fully understand that consensus without understanding the conflicts that had to be overcome or repressed in order to reach it.

Question List: 1 2 3 4

The author most likely refers to "historians such as Beard and Becker" in the first paragraph in order to

  • A isolate the two historians whose work is most representative of the viewpoints of Progressive historians
  • B emphasize the need to find connections between recent historical writing and the work of earlier historians
  • C make a case for the importance of the views of the Progressive historians concerning eighteenth-century American life
  • D suggest that Progressive historians were the first to discover the particular internal conflicts in eighteenth-century American life mentioned in the passage
  • E point out historians whose views of history anticipated some of the views of the recent historians mentioned in the passage

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