Shays's Rebellion - The People VS. The Government

Shays's Rebellion - The People VS. The Government.

 by Hugh Akston

Shays's Rebellion, 1786–87, armed insurrection by farmers in W Massachusetts against the state government. Debt-ridden farmers, struck by the economic depression that followed the American Revolution, petitioned the state senate to issue paper money and to halt foreclosure of mortgages on their property and their own imprisonment for debt as a result of high land taxes.

 When the state senate failed to undertake reform, armed insurgents in the Berkshire Hills and the Connecticut valley, under the leadership of Daniel Shays and others, began (Aug., 1786) forcibly to prevent the county courts from sitting to make judgments for debt. In September they forced the state supreme court at Springfield to adjourn. Early in 1787, Gov. James Bowdoin appointed Gen. Benjamin Lincoln to command 4,400 men against the rebels.

 The rebellion influenced Massachusetts's ratification of the U.S. Constitution; it also swept Bowdoin out of office and achieved some of its legislative goals

It caused great concern amongst the government officials. The Federalist had been arguing for a standing army and for some federal control of Militia troops, while the Anti-Federalist argued that Militia troops under the command of federal control could be used to suppress honest dissent with federal policy. See Anti federalist papers 24 to 29 and the federalist papers NO. 29

"I am mortified beyond expression when I view the clouds that have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned in any country... What a triumph for the advocates of despotism, to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious." - George Washington

"Rebellion against a king may be pardoned, or lightly punished, but the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death."  - Samuel Adams

"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government. God forbid that we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion."  - Thomas Jefferson

This brought about the Militia Act of 1792,

Passed May 2, 1792,  second part was passed May 8 1792

providing for the authority of the President to call out the Militia

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion, and to issue his orders for that purpose, to such officer or officers of the militia as he shall think proper; and in case of an insurrection in any state, against the government thereof, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, on application of the legislature of such state, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) to call forth such number of the militia of any other state or states, as may be applied for, or as he may judge sufficient to suppress such insurrection.

The Militia act is covered more fully in my Blog “Right to bear arms, the Militia, and the Second Amendment.  It was a critical part of history, regulating and defining the Militia and defining the right to bear arms to the People. As the people had a fear of the consolidated government and its ability to tax, this led to the next major crisis in the federal government the whiskey rebellion.

The Whiskey Rebellion

The Militia To Occupy the Western Counties of Pennsylvania

Angered by an excise tax imposed on whiskey in 1791 by the federal government, farmers in the western counties of Pennsylvania engaged in a series of attacks on excise agents.

The tariff effectively eliminated any profit by the farmers from the sale or barter of an important cash crop, and became the lightning rod for a wide variety of grievances by the settlers of the region against the federal government.

The rebel farmers continued their attacks, rioting in river towns and roughing up tax collectors until the so-called "insurrection" flared into the open in July of 1794 when a federal marshal was attacked in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Almost at the same time several hundred men attacked the residence of the regional inspector, burning his home, barn and several outbuildings.

On August 7, 1794, President Washington issued a proclamation, calling out the militia and ordering the disaffected westerners to return to their homes. Washington's order mobilized an army of approximately 13,000. Washington himself, in a show of presidential authority, set out at the head of the troops to suppress the uprising. The first and only time a sitting president led troops into combat.

This was the first use of the Militia Law of 1792 setting a precedent for the use of the militia to "execute the laws of the union, (and) suppress insurrections," asserting the right of the national government to enforce order in one state with troops raised in other states. Even more importantly, it was the first test of power of the new federal government, establishing its primacy in disputes with individual states.

When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.  - Thomas Jefferson


God Bless.

Just my thoughts for today.



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Comment by Hugh Akston on September 4, 2012 at 11:24am


No problem, I need someone to check me just to keep me honest.As they say trust but verify.

Thanks and God Bless.

Comment by John Tripp on September 2, 2012 at 4:33pm

Good God Man !  Don't let Obama hear about this last sitting President leading troops into battle story.  Very soon we will see him in the War room in the White House,  pushing a button controlling an air strike from a drone,  and he will claim all glory forthwith.  History will be changed forever in his own progressive library of revisionist history.

Comment by Hugh Akston on September 2, 2012 at 1:38pm

While I would not normally argue with a Marine about Marine Corps history; it was Secretary of State James Monroe who played with the artillery during the Battle not President Madison.

Battle of Bladensburg

President James Madison sent Secretary of State James Monroe out to reconnoiter and on August 23rd, Madison received a frightening dispatch from Monroe…”The enemy are in full march to Washington, Have the materials prepared to destroy the bridges, PS – You had better remove the records.

In Bladensburg, American troops began to be assembled by Winder, Armstrong, as well as the Secretary of State. General Smith, another American commander, used his aide – Francis Scott Key – to assemble his troops.

Military History

When it became clear that Bladensburg was the British target, they moved to the scene. Riding ahead, Monroe arrived at Bladensburg, and though he had no authority to do so, tinkered with the American deployment weakening the overall position.

Thank you and God Bless.


Comment by John Tripp on September 1, 2012 at 5:13pm

Good article Hugh - there was so much going on after the Declaration of Independence was signed,  it is akin to putting on your shoes before the pants.  We declare ourselves absolved of any and all constraints from mother England,  but in reality,  as everyone in that time states firmly,  we did not really want to leave the empire.  The States were not close to unity on so many issues.  The reasoning behind the secrecy of the Convention in Philly is made more clear with each of these examples of splintering unions.   Thank God for the complete and utter knowledge and conviction by the Framers that this must get done as they did,  and imagine - keeping something this huge a complete secret for so long,  from even the state legislatures and governors.

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