A review of a point in history—the Shays Rebellion

The next few years and perhaps longer, will become a critical period in our republic. The actions of Obama and the democrat party has placed this nation on a path toward fiscal collapse. The bailouts, TARP, Obamacare, Cap ‘n Tax (if it’s passed) will continue adding debt upon debt without the ability to cover that debt. If I remember correctly, the national debt at the end of Bush’s presidency in 2009 was approximately $3 Trillion. Fourteen months later that debt has grown to $13 Trillion and is in the neighborhood of half our GNP. Perhaps even higher.

There was another time of extreme debt, high taxes, high-handed courts and officials oppressing the nation. It was just ten years after the start of the Revolutionary War. The country was governed by the Articles of Confederation. The government at that time was in a shambles and the new U. S. Constitution was still being created.

The high debt, foreclosures and seizures with threats of imprisonment in debtor’s court was rampant. The debt of the revolution had caused taxes to sky-rocket and everyone felt the pinch. Finally in western Massachusetts a group of veterans had enough and resisted.

It was called the Shays Rebellion. The article below to too large to include it completely in this post. I urge you to follow the link and read the document in it’s entirety. I think we are close to another time when ordinary people will finally say, “Enough!”

Many Americans don’t know the story about the Shays Rebellion. Many have never heard about it or mistake it for the later Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania and the western territories. The Shays, or Shay’s, Rebellion was about taxes, governmental injustice and the arrogance of a political elite one of whom was Samuel Adams.

Shays’ Rebellion (1786-87) and the Constitution

What was Shays’ Rebellion and why was it important?

Shays’ Rebellion, the post-Revolutionary clash between New England farmers and merchants that tested the precarious institutions of the new republic, threatened to plunge the “disunited states” into a civil war. The rebellion arose in Massachusetts in 1786, spread to other states, and culminated in an abortive attack on a federal arsenal. It wound down in 1787 with the election of a more popular governor, an economic upswing, and the creation of the Constitution of the United States in Philadelphia.

Shays’ Rebellion “had a great influence on public opinion,” as Samuel Eliot Morison notes; it was the fiercest outbreak of discontent in the early republic, and public feeling ran high on both sides. After the rebellion was defeated, the trial of the insurgents in 1787 was closely watched and hotly debated.

  • For a long time, traditional historians were content to portray the rebels as wrongheaded villains in an unfolding drama of patriotism.
  • Recent historians have revolutionized our understanding of early American family and community life, and improved our comprehension of post-Revolutionary political and social struggles.
  • To follow Shays’ Rebellion is to witness an escalating crisis in which the men who fought or financed the American Revolution were obliged to reconsider that revolution and its principles only ten years later.

Following the advertisement below, we invite you to read our historical synopsis for a better understanding of the tumultuous events of 1786-87.

Shays’ Rebellion. A Historical Synopsis.

By the year 1786, the “disunited states” (as the Tories liked to call them) had achieved political independence — but the eastern states seemed on the verge of collapse as the flames of civil war menaced New England.

The American revolution, it seemed, had almost gone too far. General George Washington wrote:

“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.”

Others in the political elite held the same opinion — even Massachusetts‘ onetime Revolutionary agitator, Samuel Adams:

“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.”

Only the young Thomas Jefferson — reflecting more philosophically and from a safe distance in Europe — disagreed:

“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.”

All eyes were on Massachusetts, where the insurgents who called themselves “Regulators” or “Shays men” had brought about riots, raids, and the closing of courts.

New England‘s agrarian way of life, which furnished a subsistence and social structure for the rural majority, was independent-minded, community-oriented and traditional in its economy and cultural values.

New England‘s merchants and shippers, in contrast, had wide-ranging, dynamic mercantile interests and more cosmopolitan social relations.

Following the hardships of the Revolutionary War, this merchant class worked to put trans-Atlantic trade on a firm footing and also provided political leadership. Massachusetts‘ two leading traders, James Bowdoin and John Hancock, held the Governor’s office for the entire decade 1780-1791.

Economic Crisis: High taxes, mounting debt

In the first years of peacetime, the future of both the agrarian and commercial society appeared threatened by a strangling chain of debt which aggravated the depressed economy of the postwar years. Many of the farmers were veterans who had trudged home from the Revolution “with not a single month’s pay” in their pockets, but only government certificates they had long since sold away to speculators.

Adding to the farmers’ postwar frustrations, heavy land taxes undermined the fragile financial structure of the hill towns. Farmers grew indignant as they watched the furniture, grain and livestock of their relatives and neighbors sold off for much less than their value. As they saw a brother, father or cousin haled to debtors’ court, charged high legal fees, and threatened with prison, the free farmers of western and central Massachusetts feared they would be reduced to the status of tenant farmers.

At first the farmers attempted to work within the framework of government, seeking only to modify it and (from their viewpoint) improve it. But by the autumn of 1786 state lawmakers had issued only small or token reforms, and these came too late to pacify the farmers, who needed immediate relief. With debtors’ court still a reality, it now seemed to the farmers that redress lay only in open rebellion.

Two typical rebels — Daniel Shays and Jason Parmenter

The nominal leader of the movement was Daniel Shays, 39, a farmer who had served at the Battle of Lexington, been distinguished for his gallantry at the Battle of Bunker Hill and seen action at the crucial Battle of Saratoga in 1770 and at Stony Point. Now, somewhat reluctantly, he was commanding insurgent actions at Springfield, and before long the name of Captain Shays became a battlecry for as many as nine thousand rebellious farmers throughout the disaffected areas of New England.

A typical soldier in Shays’ army was Jason Parmenter, 51. In the Revolution, Parmenter had participated in the defense of Ticonderoga and was present at Burgoyne’s surrender. When peace returned, Parmenter was elected constable and tax collector of his town. In this office, he witnessed the economic distress that was driving him and his townsmen to rally under Shays.

Forcing debtors’ courts to close, 1786

During the autumn of 1786, veterans like Shays and Parmenter organized groups of farmers into squads and companies in order to march upon the hated debtors’ courts and force them to postpone their business. To read about one African American who joined the court-stoppers, click here.

Shays and his men block the Springfield courthouse, 1786
From “A Little Rebellion Now and Then”

Boston merchants and legislators viewed these court closings with rising fear for the very foundations of their society. In response to this alarm, the Congress of the Confederation authorized the raising of troops to combat the rebels, but the national government proved powerless to raise the financing.

Finally, Massachusetts‘ governor James Bowdoin and other merchant leaders in Massachusetts used their own funds to field an army.

The basic conflict

The Shays insurgents never imagined that their actions would lead to charges of treason against the republic. In fact, they naturally appealed to the republican principles they had fought for in 1776. “I earnestly stepped forth in defense of this country, and liberty is still the object I have in view,” an insurgent leader wrote to the public.

Eastern political leaders, on the other hand, believed that the gains of the Revolution were being undone by “knaves and thieves” who “intended tyranny.” Governor Bowdoin warned that any interference with the legal system would “frustrate the great end of government — the security of life, liberty and property.”

In a new and precarious republic, the danger of anarchy — bringing a regression to a Hobbesian state of nature — appeared all too real. From the commercial viewpoint, the farmers’ demands for a circulating paper currency would bring depreciation and fiscal chaos, while non-payment of state taxes meant that men of wealth who had lent large sums to the war effort would be “drained of cash” and would face bankruptcy instead of the economic expansion they had hoped for. As the year 1787 dawned in this atmosphere, it seemed Massachusetts was divided into two armed camps.


Read the entire article here. Miscommunication is often the cause of conflict. The failure to heed attempts to communicate as it did with the Shays and as it does with today’s Congress WILL lead to conflict. We all hope that conflict will be resolved come next November and that the democrat elites lose their vise-like grip on our federal government. Unfortunately, those same, unlistening elites also control a number of states—California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois and others. We must break their socialist control of the states as well as the central government. We only have to look towards Europe to see our fate if we fail.

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