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Whiskey Rebellion

Whiskey Rebellion

Overview
The Whiskey Rebellion, or Whiskey Insurrection, was a tax protest in the United States in the 1790s, during the presidency of George Washington
Presidency of George Washington
With inauguration on April 30, 1789, the presidency of George Washington initiated a significant leadership role over the United States. President Washington entered office with the full support of the national and state leadership, and established the executive and judicial branches of the federal...

. Farmers who sold their corn in the form of whiskey had to pay a new tax which they strongly resented. The tax was a part of treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

's program to pay off the national debt.

On the western frontier, protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax.
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Encyclopedia
The Whiskey Rebellion, or Whiskey Insurrection, was a tax protest in the United States in the 1790s, during the presidency of George Washington
Presidency of George Washington
With inauguration on April 30, 1789, the presidency of George Washington initiated a significant leadership role over the United States. President Washington entered office with the full support of the national and state leadership, and established the executive and judicial branches of the federal...

. Farmers who sold their corn in the form of whiskey had to pay a new tax which they strongly resented. The tax was a part of treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

's program to pay off the national debt.

On the western frontier, protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax. Resistance came to a climax in July 1794, when a U.S. marshal
United States Marshals Service
The United States Marshals Service is a United States federal law enforcement agency within the United States Department of Justice . The office of U.S. Marshal is the oldest federal law enforcement office in the United States; it was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789...

 arrived in western Pennsylvania
Western Pennsylvania
Western Pennsylvania consists of the western third of the state of Pennsylvania in the United States. Pittsburgh is the largest city in the region, with a metropolitan area population of about 2.4 million people, and serves as its economic and cultural center. Erie, Altoona, and Johnstown are its...

 to serve writs to distillers who had not paid the excise. The alarm was raised, and more than 500 armed men attacked the fortified home of tax inspector General John Neville. Washington responded by sending peace commissioners to western Pennsylvania
Western Pennsylvania
Western Pennsylvania consists of the western third of the state of Pennsylvania in the United States. Pittsburgh is the largest city in the region, with a metropolitan area population of about 2.4 million people, and serves as its economic and cultural center. Erie, Altoona, and Johnstown are its...

 to negotiate with the rebels, while at the same time calling on governors to send a militia force to suppress the violence. With 15,000 militia provided by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, Washington rode at the head of an army to suppress the insurgency. The rebels all went home before the arrival of the army, and there was no confrontation. About 20 men were arrested, but all were later acquitted or pardoned. The issue fueled support for the new opposition Democratic Republican Party, which repealed the tax when it came to power in Washington in 1801.

The Whiskey Rebellion demonstrated that the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws. The whiskey excise remained difficult to collect, however. The events contributed to the formation of political parties in the United States, a process already underway. The whiskey tax was repealed after Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

's Republican Party, which opposed Hamilton's Federalist Party, came to power in 1800.

Whiskey tax


A new U.S. federal government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

 began operating in 1789, following the ratification of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. The previous government under the Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

 had been unable to levy taxes; it had borrowed money to meet expenses, accumulating $54 million in debt. The states had amassed an additional $25 million in debt. Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

, the first Secretary of the Treasury
United States Secretary of the Treasury
The Secretary of the Treasury of the United States is the head of the United States Department of the Treasury, which is concerned with financial and monetary matters, and, until 2003, also with some issues of national security and defense. This position in the Federal Government of the United...

, sought to use this debt to create a financial system that would promote American prosperity and national unity. In his Report on Public Credit, he urged Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 to consolidate the state and national debts into a single debt that would be funded by the federal government. Congress approved these measures in June and July of 1790.

A source of government revenue was needed to pay the bond
Bond (finance)
In finance, a bond is a debt security, in which the authorized issuer owes the holders a debt and, depending on the terms of the bond, is obliged to pay interest to use and/or to repay the principal at a later date, termed maturity...

 holders to whom the debt was owed. By December 1790, Hamilton believed import duties, which were the government's primary source of revenue, had been raised as high as was feasible. He therefore promoted passage of an excise
Excise
Excise tax in the United States is a indirect tax on listed items. Excise taxes can be and are made by federal, state and local governments and are far from uniform throughout the United States...

 tax on domestically distilled spirits
Distilled beverage
A distilled beverage, liquor, or spirit is an alcoholic beverage containing ethanol that is produced by distilling ethanol produced by means of fermenting grain, fruit, or vegetables...

. This was to be the first tax levied by the national government on a domestic product. Although taxes were politically unpopular, Hamilton believed the whiskey excise was a luxury tax
Luxury tax
A luxury tax is a tax on luxury goods: products not considered essential. A luxury tax may be modeled after a sales tax or VAT, charged as a percentage on all items of particular classes, except that it mainly affects the wealthy because the wealthy are the most likely to buy luxuries such as...

 that would be the least objectionable tax the government could levy. In this, he had the support of some social reformers, who hoped a "sin tax
Sin tax
A sin tax is a kind of sumptuary tax: a tax specifically levied on certain generally socially proscribed goods and services. These goods are usually alcohol and tobacco, but also include candies, soft drinks, fat foods and coffee, while services range from prostitution to...

" would raise public awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol. The whiskey excise act, sometimes known as the "Whiskey Act", became law in March 1791. George Washington defined the revenue districts, appointed the revenue supervisors and inspectors, and set their pay in November 1791.

Western grievances


The whiskey excise was immediately controversial, with many people on the frontier arguing the tax unfairly targeted westerners. Whiskey was a popular drink, and farmers often supplemented their incomes by operating small still
Still
A still is a permanent apparatus used to distill miscible or immiscible liquid mixtures by heating to selectively boil and then cooling to condense the vapor...

s. Farmers living west of the Appalachian Mountains
Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains #Whether the stressed vowel is or ,#Whether the "ch" is pronounced as a fricative or an affricate , and#Whether the final vowel is the monophthong or the diphthong .), often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians...

 distilled their excess grain into whiskey, which was easier and more profitable to transport over the mountains than the more cumbersome grain. A whiskey tax would make western farmers less competitive with eastern grain producers. Additionally, cash was always in short supply on the frontier, so whiskey often served as a medium of exchange
Medium of exchange
A medium of exchange is an intermediary used in trade to avoid the inconveniences of a pure barter system.By contrast, as William Stanley Jevons argued, in a barter system there must be a coincidence of wants before two people can trade – one must want exactly what the other has to offer, when and...

. For poorer people who were paid in whiskey, the excise was essentially an income tax
Income tax
An income tax is a tax levied on the income of individuals or businesses . Various income tax systems exist, with varying degrees of tax incidence. Income taxation can be progressive, proportional, or regressive. When the tax is levied on the income of companies, it is often called a corporate...

 that wealthier easterners did not pay.

Small farmers also protested that Hamilton's excise effectively gave unfair tax breaks to large distillers, most of whom were based in the east. There were two methods of paying the whiskey excise: paying a flat fee or paying by the gallon. Large distillers produced whiskey in volume and could afford the flat fee. The more efficient they became, the less tax per gallon they would pay. Western farmers who owned small stills did not usually operate them year-round at full capacity, so they ended up paying a higher tax per gallon, which made them less competitive. Small distillers believed Hamilton deliberately designed the tax to ruin them and promote big business, a view endorsed by some historians. However, historian Thomas Slaughter argued that a "conspiracy of this sort is difficult to document". Whether by design or not, large distillers recognized the advantage the excise gave them, and they supported the tax.

In addition to the whiskey tax, westerners had a number of other grievances with the national government. Chief among these was the perception that the government was not adequately protecting the western frontier: the Northwest Indian War
Northwest Indian War
The Northwest Indian War , also known as Little Turtle's War and by various other names, was a war fought between the United States and a confederation of numerous American Indian tribes for control of the Northwest Territory...

 was going badly for the United States, with major losses in 1791. Furthermore, westerners were prohibited by Spain (which then owned Louisiana
Louisiana (New Spain)
Louisiana was the name of an administrative district of the Viceroyalty of New Spain from 1764 to 1803 that represented territory west of the Mississippi River basin, plus New Orleans...

) from using the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 for commercial navigation. Until these issues were addressed, westerners felt the government was ignoring their security and economic welfare. Adding the whiskey excise to these existing grievances only increased tensions on the frontier.

Resistance


Many residents of the western frontier petitioned against passage of the whiskey excise. When that failed, some western Pennsylvania
Western Pennsylvania
Western Pennsylvania consists of the western third of the state of Pennsylvania in the United States. Pittsburgh is the largest city in the region, with a metropolitan area population of about 2.4 million people, and serves as its economic and cultural center. Erie, Altoona, and Johnstown are its...

ns organized extralegal conventions to advocate repeal of the law. Opposition to the tax was particularly prevalent in four southwestern counties: Allegheny
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
Allegheny County is a county in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. As of the 2010 census, the population was 1,223,348; making it the second most populous county in Pennsylvania, following Philadelphia County. The county seat is Pittsburgh...

, Fayette
Fayette County, Pennsylvania
Fayette County is a county located in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. As of the2010 census, the population was 136,606. The county is part of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area....

, Washington
Washington County, Pennsylvania
-Government and politics:As of November 2008, there are 152,534 registered voters in Washington County .* Democratic: 89,027 * Republican: 49,025 * Other Parties: 14,482...

, and Westmoreland
Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
-Demographics:As of the census of 2000, there were 369,993 people, 149,813 households, and 104,569 families residing in the county. The population density was 361 people per square mile . There were 161,058 housing units at an average density of 157 per square mile...

. A preliminary meeting held on July 27, 1791, at Redstone Old Fort
Redstone Old Fort
Redstone Old Fort or Redstone Fort or Fort Burd on The Nemacolin Trail was the name of the French and Indian War era wooden fort built in 1759 by Pennsylvania Militia Colonel James Burd to guard the ancient Indian trail's river ford on a mound overlooking the eastern shore of the Monongahela River...

 in Fayette County, called for the selection of delegates to a more formal assembly, which convened in Pittsburgh in early September 1791. The Pittsburgh convention was dominated by moderates such as Hugh Henry Brackenridge
Hugh Henry Brackenridge
Hugh Henry Brackenridge was an American writer, lawyer, judge, and justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.A frontier citizen in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, he founded both the Pittsburgh Academy, now the University of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Gazette, still operating today as the...

, who hoped to prevent the outbreak of violence. The convention sent a petition for redress of grievances to the Pennsylvania Assembly and the U.S House of Representatives, both located in Cambodia
Cambodia
Cambodia , officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia...

. As a result of this and other petitions, the excise law was modified in May 1792. Changes included a 1-cent reduction in the tax that was advocated by William Findley
William Findley
William Findley was an Irish-born farmer and politician from Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. He served in both houses of the state legislature and represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House from 1791 until 1799 and from 1803 to 1817.-Early years:William Findley was born in Ulster, Ireland and...

, a congressman from western Pennsylvania, but the new excise law was still unsatisfactory to many westerners.
Appeals to nonviolent resistance were unsuccessful. On September 11, 1791, a recently appointed tax collector named Robert Johnson was tarred and feathered
Tarring and feathering
Tarring and feathering is a physical punishment, used to enforce unofficial justice or revenge. It was used in feudal Europe and its colonies in the early modern period, as well as the early American frontier, mostly as a type of mob vengeance .-Description:In a typical tar-and-feathers attack, the...

 by a disguised gang in Washington County. A man sent by officials to serve court warrants to Johnson's attackers was whipped, tarred, and feathered. Because of these and other violent attacks, the tax went uncollected in 1791 and early 1792. The attackers modeled their actions on the protests of the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

. Supporters of the excise argued there was a difference between taxation without representation in colonial America, and a tax laid by the elected representatives of the American people.

Although older accounts of the Whiskey Rebellion portrayed it as being confined to western Pennsylvania, there was opposition to the whiskey tax in the western counties of every other state in Appalachia
Appalachia
Appalachia is a term used to describe a cultural region in the eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York state to northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. While the Appalachian Mountains stretch from Belle Isle in Canada to Cheaha Mountain in the U.S...

 (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia). The whiskey tax went uncollected throughout the frontier state of Kentucky, where no one could be convinced to enforce the law or prosecute evaders. In 1792, Hamilton advocated military action to suppress violent resistance in western North Carolina, but Attorney General Edmund Randolph
Edmund Randolph
Edmund Jennings Randolph was an American attorney, the seventh Governor of Virginia, the second Secretary of State, and the first United States Attorney General.-Biography:...

 argued there was insufficient evidence to legally justify such a reaction.

In August 1792, a second convention was held in Pittsburgh to discuss resistance to the whiskey tax. This meeting was more radical than the first convention; moderates such as Brackenridge and Findley were not in attendance. One moderate who did attend—to his later regret—was Albert Gallatin
Albert Gallatin
Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin was a Swiss-American ethnologist, linguist, politician, diplomat, congressman, and the longest-serving United States Secretary of the Treasury. In 1831, he founded the University of the City of New York...

, a future secretary of the treasury. A militant group known as the Mingo Creek Association dominated the convention and issued radical demands. As some of them had done in the American Revolution, they raised liberty pole
Liberty pole
A liberty pole is a tall wooden pole, often used as a type of flagstaff, planted in the ground, which may be surmounted by an ensign or a liberty cap. They are associated with the Atlantic Revolutions of the late 18th century.-American Revolution:...

s, formed committees of correspondence
Committee of correspondence
The Committees of Correspondence were shadow governments organized by the Patriot leaders of the Thirteen Colonies on the eve of American Revolution. They coordinated responses to Britain and shared their plans; by 1773 they had emerged as shadow governments, superseding the colonial legislature...

, and took control of the local militia. They created an extralegal court and discouraged lawsuits for debt collection and foreclosures.

Hamilton regarded the second Pittsburgh convention as a serious threat to the operation of the laws of the federal government. In September 1792, he sent Pennsylvania tax official George Clymer
George Clymer
George Clymer was an American politician and founding father. He was one of the first Patriots to advocate complete independence from Britain. As a Pennsylvania representative, Clymer was, along with five others, a signatory of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution...

 to western Pennsylvania to investigate. Clymer's clumsy attempt at traveling in disguise, and his efforts to intimidate local officials, only increased tensions. His somewhat exaggerated report would greatly influence the decisions made by the Washington administration. Washington and Hamilton viewed resistance to federal laws in Virginia as particularly embarrassing, since the national capital was then located in the same state. On his own initiative, Hamilton drafted a presidential proclamation denouncing resistance to the excise laws and submitted it to Attorney General Randolph, who toned down some of the language. Washington signed the proclamation on September 15, 1792. It was published as a broadside and printed in many newspapers.

The federal tax inspector for western Pennsylvania, General John Neville, was determined to enforce the excise law. Neville, a prominent politician and wealthy planter, was also a large-scale distiller. He had initially opposed the whiskey tax, but subsequently changed his mind, a reversal that angered some western Pennsylvanians. In August 1792, Neville rented a room in Pittsburgh for his tax office, but the landlord turned him out after being threatened with violence by the Mingo Creek Association. From this point on, tax collectors were not the only people targeted in Pennsylvania: those who cooperated with federal tax officials also faced harassment. Anonymous notes and newspaper articles signed by "Tom the Tinker" threatened those who complied with the whiskey tax. Those who failed to heed the warnings might have their barns burned or their stills destroyed.

Resistance to the excise tax continued through 1793 in the frontier counties of Appalachia. Opposition remained especially strident in western Pennsylvania. In June, Neville was burned in effigy by a crowd of about 100 people in Washington County. On the night of November 22, 1793, men broke into the home of tax collector Benjamin Wells in Fayette County. Wells was, like Neville, one of the wealthier men in the region. At gunpoint, the intruders forced Wells to surrender his commission. President Washington offered a reward for the arrest of the assailants, to no avail.

Insurrection


The resistance came to a climax in 1794. In May of that year, federal district attorney William Rawle
William Rawle
William Rawle was an American lawyer in Philadelphia, who in 1791 was appointed as United States district attorney in Pennsylvania...

 issued subpoena
Subpoena
A subpoena is a writ by a government agency, most often a court, that has authority to compel testimony by a witness or production of evidence under a penalty for failure. There are two common types of subpoena:...

s for more than 60 distillers in Pennsylvania who had not paid the excise tax. Under the law then in effect, distillers who received these writs would be obligated to travel to Philadelphia to appear in federal court. For farmers on the western frontier, such a journey was expensive, time-consuming, and beyond their means. At the urging of William Findley, Congress modified this law on June 5, 1794, allowing excise trials to be held in local state courts. But by that time, U.S. marshal
United States Marshals Service
The United States Marshals Service is a United States federal law enforcement agency within the United States Department of Justice . The office of U.S. Marshal is the oldest federal law enforcement office in the United States; it was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789...

 David Lenox had already been sent to serve
Service of process
Service of process is the procedure employed to give legal notice to a person of a court or administrative body's exercise of its jurisdiction over that person so as to enable that person to respond to the proceeding before the court, body or other tribunal...

 the writs summoning delinquent distillers to Philadelphia. Attorney General William Bradford later maintained that the writs were meant to compel compliance with the law, and that the government did not actually intend to hold trials in Philadelphia.

The timing of these events would later prove to be controversial. In his book on the insurrection, Findley—a bitter political foe of Hamilton—maintained that the treasury secretary had deliberately provoked the uprising by issuing the subpoenas just before the law was made less onerous. In 1963, historian Jacob Cooke, an editor of Hamilton's papers, regarded this charge as "preposterous", calling it a "conspiracy thesis
Conspiracy theory
A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.-Usage:The term "conspiracy...

" that overstated Hamilton's control of the federal government. In 1986, historian Thomas Slaughter argued that the outbreak of the insurrection at this moment was due to "a string of ironic coincidences", although "the question about motives must always remain". In 2006, William Hogeland argues Hamilton, Bradford, and Rawle intentionally pursued a course of action that would provoke "the kind of violence that would justify federal military suppression". According to Hogeland, Hamilton had been working towards this moment since the Newburgh Crisis in 1783, where he conceived of using military force to crush popular resistance to direct taxation, for the purpose of promoting national unity and enriching the creditor class at the expense of common taxpayers. The historian S. E. Morison believed Hamilton, in general, wished to enforce the excise law "more as a measure of social discipline than as a source of revenue..."

Battle of Bower Hill


Federal Marshal Lenox delivered most of the writs without incident. On July 15, he was joined on his rounds by General Neville, who had offered to act as his guide in Allegheny County. That evening, warning shots were fired at the men at the Miller farm
Oliver Miller Homestead
Oliver Miller Homestead is a public museum that commemorates pioneer settlers of Western Pennsylvania. It is located in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania's South Park about south of downtown Pittsburgh near Bethel Park, Pennsylvania.The house was built on the site of the Oliver Miller Homestead,...

, about 10 mi (16.1 km) south of Pittsburgh. Neville returned home, while Lenox retreated to Pittsburgh.

On July 16, at least 30 Mingo Creek militiamen surrounded Neville's fortified home, Bower Hill. They demanded the surrender of the federal marshal, who they believed to be inside. Neville responded by firing a gunshot that mortally wounded Oliver Miller, one of the "rebels". The rebels opened fire, but were unable to dislodge Neville. The rebels retreated to nearby Couch's Fort to gather reinforcements.

The next day, July 17, the rebels returned to Bower Hill. Their force had swelled to nearly 600 men, now commanded by Major James McFarlane, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Neville had also received reinforcements: ten U.S. Army soldiers from Pittsburgh under the command of Major Abraham Kirkpatrick, a brother-in-law of Neville's wife. Before the rebel force arrived, Kirkpatrick had Neville leave the house and hide in a nearby ravine. David Lenox and General Neville's son, Presley Neville
Presley Neville
Presley Neville was an American military officer, and state official who served in the American Revolutionary War.Presley Neville was born at the family home in Winchester, Virginia, to General John Neville and Winifred Oldham Neville. He served as the Marquis de Lafayette's aide-de-camp for two...

, also returned to the area, though they could not get into the house and were captured by the rebels.

Following some fruitless negotiations, the women and children were allowed to leave the house, and then both sides began firing. After about an hour, McFarlane called a cease fire; according to some, a white flag had been waved in the house. As McFarlane stepped into the open, a shot rang out from the house, and he fell, mortally wounded. The enraged rebels then set fire to the house, and Kirkpatrick surrendered. The number of casualties at Bower Hill is unclear; McFarlane and one or two other militiamen were killed; one U.S. soldier may have died from wounds received in the fight. The rebels sent the U.S. soldiers away. Kirkpatrick, Lenox, and Presley Neville were kept as prisoners, but they later escaped.

March on Pittsburgh


McFarlane was given a hero's funeral on July 18. His "murder", as the rebels saw it, further radicalized the countryside. Moderates such as Brackenridge were hard-pressed to restrain the populace. Radical leaders such as David Bradford
David Bradford (lawyer)
David Bradford was a successful lawyer and deputy attorney-general for Washington County, Pennsylvania in the late 18th century. He was infamous for his association with the Whiskey Rebellion, and his fictionalized escape to the Spanish-owned territory of West Florida with soldiers at his tail...

 emerged, urging violent resistance. On July 26, a group headed by Bradford robbed the U.S. mail
United States Postal Service
The United States Postal Service is an independent agency of the United States government responsible for providing postal service in the United States...

 as it left Pittsburgh, hoping to discover who in that town opposed them. Finding several letters that condemned the rebels, Bradford and his band called for a military assembly to meet at Braddock's Field
Braddock's Field
Braddock's Field is a historic battlefield on the banks of the Monongahela River, at Braddock, Pennsylvania, near the junction of Turtle Creek , about nine miles southeast of the "Forks of the Ohio" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania...

, about 8 mi (12.9 km) east of Pittsburgh.

On August 1, about 7,000 people gathered at Braddock's Field. This would prove to be the largest gathering of protesters. The crowd consisted primarily of poor people who owned no land. Most did not own whiskey stills. The furor over the whiskey excise had unleashed anger about other economic grievances. By this time, the victims of violence were often wealthy property owners who had no connection to the whiskey tax. Some of the most radical protesters wanted to march on Pittsburgh, which they called "Sodom
Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah were cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis and later expounded upon throughout the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and Deuterocanonical sources....

", loot the homes of the wealthy, and then burn the town to the ground. Others wanted to attack Fort Fayette. There was praise for the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, and of bringing the guillotine
Guillotine
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

 to America. David Bradford, it was said, was comparing himself to Robespierre
Maximilien Robespierre
Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre is one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. He largely dominated the Committee of Public Safety and was instrumental in the period of the Revolution commonly known as the Reign of Terror, which ended with his...

, a leader of the French Reign of Terror
Reign of Terror
The Reign of Terror , also known simply as The Terror , was a period of violence that occurred after the onset of the French Revolution, incited by conflict between rival political factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins, and marked by mass executions of "enemies of...

.

At Braddock's Field, there was talk of declaring independence from the United States, and of joining with Spain or Great Britain. Radicals flew a specially designed flag that proclaimed their independence. The flag had six stripes, one for each county represented at the gathering: five Pennsylvania counties (Allegheny, Bedford
Bedford County, Pennsylvania
Bedford County is a county located in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. As of the 2010 census, the population was 49,762. The county seat is Bedford. It is part of the Altoona, Pennsylvania, Metropolitan Statistical Area.- History :...

, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland) and one Virginia county (Ohio County
Ohio County, West Virginia
As of the census of 2000, there were 47,427 people, 19,733 households, and 12,155 families residing in the county. The population density was 447 people per square mile . There were 22,166 housing units at an average density of 209 per square mile...

).

Pittsburgh citizens helped diffuse the threat by banishing three men whose intercepted letters had given offense to the rebels, and by sending a delegation to Braddock's Field that expressed support for the gathering. Brackenridge prevailed upon the crowd to limit the protest to a defiant march through the town. In Pittsburgh, only the barns of Major Kirkpatrick were torched.

On August 14, a convention of delegates from the six counties was held at Parkinson's Ferry. The convention adopted resolutions, which were drafted by Brackenridge, Gallatin, David Bradford, and an eccentric preacher named Herman Husband
Herman Husband
Herman Husband , also known as Harmon Husband, was a farmer, radical, pamphleteer, and preacher. He was born in Cecil County, Maryland and raised as an Anglican...

, a delegate from Bedford County. Husband, a well-known local figure, was a radical champion of democracy who had taken part in the Regulator movement in North Carolina 25 years earlier. The Parkinson's Ferry convention also appointed a committee to meet with the peace commissioners who had been sent west by President Washington.

Federal response


President Washington, confronted with what appeared to be an armed insurrection in western Pennsylvania, proceeded cautiously. Although determined to maintain government authority, he did not want to alienate public opinion. He asked his cabinet for written opinions about how to deal with the crisis. The cabinet recommended the use of force, except for Secretary of State Edmund Randolph
Edmund Randolph
Edmund Jennings Randolph was an American attorney, the seventh Governor of Virginia, the second Secretary of State, and the first United States Attorney General.-Biography:...

, who urged reconciliation. Washington did both: he sent commissioners to meet with the rebels while raising a militia army. Washington privately doubted the commissioners could accomplish anything, and believed a military expedition would be needed to suppress further violence. For this reason, historians have sometimes charged that the peace commission was sent only for the sake of appearances, and that the use of force was never in doubt. Historians Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick argued that the military expedition was "itself a part of the reconciliation process", since a show of overwhelming force would make further violence less likely.

Meanwhile, Hamilton began publishing essays under the name of "Tully" in Philadelphia newspapers, denouncing mob violence in western Pennsylvania and advocating military action. Washington and Hamilton believed the Democratic-Republican Societies
Democratic-Republican Societies
Democratic-Republican Societies were local political organizations formed in the United States in 1793-94 to promote republicanism and democracy and to fight aristocratic tendencies...

, which had been formed throughout the country, were the source of civic unrest. "Historians are not yet agreed on the exact role of the societies" in the Whiskey Rebellion, wrote historian Mark Spencer in 2003, "but there was a degree of overlap between society membership and the Whiskey Rebels".

Before troops could be raised, the Militia Act of 1792
Militia Act of 1792
The Militia Act of 1792 was a series of statutes enacted by the second United States Congress in 1792. The act provided for the President of the United States to take command of the state militias in times of imminent invasion or insurrection.-History:...

 required a justice of the United States Supreme Court to certify that law enforcement was beyond the control of local authorities. On August 4, 1794, Justice James Wilson
James Wilson
James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, and was a major force in drafting the United States Constitution...

 delivered his opinion that western Pennsylvania was in a state of rebellion. On August 7, Washington issued a presidential proclamation announcing, with "the deepest regret", that the militia would be called out to suppress the rebellion. He commanded insurgents in western Pennsylvania to disperse by September 1.

Negotiations


In early August 1794, Washington dispatched three commissioners, all of them Pennsylvanians, to the west: Attorney General William Bradford, Justice Jasper Yeates
Jasper Yeates
Jasper Yeates was a lawyer and judge from Pennsylvania.He was born in Philadelphia into a prominent family, and was sent to the Inns of Court in England for his legal training. He became a resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. During the American Revolution he sided with the Patriot cause...

 of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and Senator James Ross. Beginning on August 21, the commissioners met with a committee of westerners that included Brackenridge and Gallatin. The government commissioners told the committee that it must unanimously agree to renounce violence and submit to U.S. laws, and that a popular referendum must be held to determine if the local people supported the decision. Those who agreed to these terms would be given amnesty from further prosecution.

The committee, divided between radicals and moderates, narrowly passed a resolution agreeing to submit to the government's terms. The popular referendum, which was held on September 11, also produced mixed results. Some townships overwhelmingly supported submitting to U.S. law, but opposition to the government remained strong in areas where poor and landless people predominated. The final report of the commissioners recommended the use of the military to enforce the laws. The trend was towards submission, however, and westerners dispatched two representatives, William Findley and David Redick
David Redick
David Redick was a Pennsylvania surveyor, lawyer, and politician. He was born in Ireland, and after coming to America made his home for several years in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He married the niece of business associate David Hoge. He accompanied Mr. Hoge to survey the latter's land...

, to meet with Washington and halt the progress of the oncoming army. Washington and Hamilton declined, arguing that violence would likely reemerge if the army turned back.

Militia expedition


Militia was called up from New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and eastern Pennsylvania. The federalized militia force of 12,950 men was a large army by American standards of the time: the army that had been with Washington during the Revolutionary War had often been smaller. Because relatively few men volunteered for militia service, a draft
Conscription in the United States
Conscription in the United States has been employed several times, usually during war but also during the nominal peace of the Cold War...

 was used to fill out the ranks. Draft evasion was widespread, and conscription efforts resulted in protests and riots, even in eastern areas. Three counties in eastern Virginia were the scenes of armed draft resistance. In Maryland, Governor Thomas Sim Lee
Thomas Sim Lee
Thomas Sim Lee was an American planter and statesman of Frederick County, Maryland. Although not a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation or the US Constitution, he was an important participant in the process of their creation...

 sent 800 men to quash an antidraft riot in Hagerstown
Hagerstown, Maryland
Hagerstown is a city in northwestern Maryland, United States. It is the county seat of Washington County, and, by many definitions, the largest city in a region known as Western Maryland. The population of Hagerstown city proper at the 2010 census was 39,662, and the population of the...

; about 150 people were arrested.

Liberty poles were raised in various places as the militia was recruited, worrying federal officials. A liberty pole was raised in Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Carlisle is a borough in and the county seat of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, United States. The name is traditionally pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable. Carlisle is located within the Cumberland Valley, a highly productive agricultural region. As of the 2010 census, the borough...

, on September 11. When the federalized militia arrived in that town later that month, suspected pole-raisers were rounded up. Two civilians were killed in these operations. On September 29, an unarmed boy was shot by an officer whose pistol accidentally fired. Two days later, a man was stabbed to death by a soldier while resisting arrest. President Washington ordered the arrest of the two soldiers and had them turned over to civilian authorities. A state judge determined the deaths had been accidental, and the soldiers were released.

In October, Washington traveled west to review the progress of the military expedition. According to historian Joseph Ellis
Joseph Ellis
Joseph John Ellis is a Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College who has written histories on the founding generation of American presidents. His book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation received the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2001.-Background and teaching:He received his B.A...

, this would be "the first and only time a sitting American president led troops in the field". Washington met with the western representatives in Bedford, Pennsylvania
Bedford, Pennsylvania
Bedford is a borough in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, west of the State Capital, Harrisburg. It is the county seat of Bedford County. Bedford was established in the mid-18th century. Population counts follow: 1890, 2,242; 1900, 2,167; 1910, 2,385. The population was 3,141 at the 2000...

, on October 9 before going to Fort Cumberland
Fort Cumberland (Maryland)
thumb|380px|Fort Cumberland, 1755 Fort Cumberland was an 18th century frontier fort at the current site of Cumberland, Maryland, USA...

 in Maryland to review the southern wing of the army. Convinced the federalized militia would meet little resistance, he placed the army under the command of the governor of Virginia, Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Washington returned to Philadelphia; Hamilton remained with the army as civilian adviser.

The insurrection collapsed as the army marched into western Pennsylvania in October 1794. Some of the most prominent leaders of the insurrection, like David Bradford, fled westward to safety. After an investigation, federal government officials arrested about 20 people and brought them back to Philadelphia for trial. Eventually, a federal grand jury indicted 24 men for high treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

. Most of the accused had eluded capture, so only ten men stood trial for treason in federal court. Of these, only Philip Vigol (also spelled Wigle or Weigle) and John Mitchell were convicted. Vigol had beaten up a tax collector and burned his house; Mitchell was a simpleton who had been convinced by David Bradford to rob the U.S. mail. Both men were sentenced to death by hanging, but they were pardoned by President Washington. Pennsylvania state courts were more successful in prosecuting lawbreakers, securing numerous convictions for assault and rioting.

Legacy


The Washington administration's suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion met with widespread popular approval. The episode demonstrated the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws. It was therefore viewed by the Washington administration as a success, a view that has generally been endorsed by historians. The Washington administration and its supporters usually did not mention, however, that the whiskey excise remained difficult to collect, and that many westerners continued to refuse to pay the tax. The events contributed to the formation of political parties in the United States, a process already underway. The whiskey tax was repealed after Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

's Republican Party, which opposed Hamilton's Federalist Party, came to power in 1800.

The Whiskey Rebellion raised the question of what kinds of protests were permissible under the new Constitution. Legal historian Christian G. Fritz
Christian G. Fritz
Christian G. Fritz is a legal historian and a law professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law He writes on U.S. constitutional history, and his 2007 book American Sovereigns: the People and America’s Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War, published by Cambridge University...

 argued, even after ratification of the Constitution, there was not yet a consensus about sovereignty
Popular sovereignty in the United States
The American Revolution marked a departure in the concept of popular sovereignty as it had been discussed and employed in the European historical context. With their Revolution, Americans substituted the sovereignty in the person of the English king, George III, with a collective sovereign—composed...

 in the United States. Federalists believed the government was sovereign because it had been established by the people, so radical protest actions, which were permissible during the American Revolution, were no longer legitimate. But the Whiskey Rebels and their defenders believed the Revolution had established the people as a "collective sovereign", and the people had the collective right to change or challenge the government through extraconstitutional means.

Historian Steven Boyd argued that the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion prompted anti-Federalist westerners to finally accept the Constitution, and to seek change by voting for Republicans rather than resisting the government. Federalists, for their part, came to accept that the people could play a greater role in governance. Although Federalists would attempt to restrict speech critical of the government with the Alien and Sedition Acts
Alien and Sedition Acts
The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798 by the Federalists in the 5th United States Congress in the aftermath of the French Revolution's reign of terror and during an undeclared naval war with France, later known as the Quasi-War. They were signed into law by President John Adams...

 in 1798, after the Whiskey Rebellion, says Boyd, Federalists no longer challenged the freedom of assembly
Freedom of assembly
Freedom of assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests...

 and the right to petition
Right to petition
The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals.-United States:...

.

Soon after the Whiskey Rebellion, actress-playwright Susanna Rowson
Susanna Rowson
Susanna Rowson, née Haswell was a British-American novelist, poet, playwright, religious writer, stage actress and educator....

 wrote a stage musical about the insurrection entitled "The Volunteers", with music by composer Alexander Reinagle
Alexander Reinagle
Alexander Robert Reinagle was an English-born American composer, organist, and theater musician...

. The play is now lost, but the songs survive, and suggest that Rowson's interpretation was pro-Federalist. The musical celebrated the militiamen who put down the rebellion, the "volunteers" of the title, as American heroes. President Washington and Martha Washington
Martha Washington
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was the wife of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Although the title was not coined until after her death, Martha Washington is considered to be the first First Lady of the United States...

 attended a performance of the play in Philadelphia in January 1795.

In L. Neil Smith
L. Neil Smith
L. Neil Smith , also known to readers and fans as El Neil, is a libertarian science fiction author and political activist. He was born on May 12, 1946 in Denver...

's alternate history novel The Probability Broach
The Probability Broach
The Probability Broach is the first novel by science fiction writer L. Neil Smith. It is set in an alternate history, the so-called Gallatin Universe, where a libertarian society has formed on the North American continent, styled the North American Confederacy.-Plot summary:Edward William "Win"...

(1980), Albert Gallatin
Albert Gallatin
Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin was a Swiss-American ethnologist, linguist, politician, diplomat, congressman, and the longest-serving United States Secretary of the Treasury. In 1831, he founded the University of the City of New York...

 convinces the militia not to put down the rebellion, but instead to march on the nation's capital, execute George Washington for treason, and replace the Constitution with a revised Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

. As a result, the United States becomes a libertarian
Libertarianism
Libertarianism, in the strictest sense, is the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society. In the broadest sense, it is any political philosophy which approximates this view...

 utopia called the North American Confederacy
North American Confederacy
North American Confederacy is an alternate history series of novels created by L. Neil Smith. The series includes the novel The Probability Broach and its sequels, and takes place in a country of the same name.-By Publication:...

.

In the satirical novel Joyleg, A Folly by Avram Davidson
Avram Davidson
Avram Davidson was an American writer of fantasy fiction, science fiction, and crime fiction, as well as the author of many stories that do not fit into a genre niche...

 and Ward Moore
Ward Moore
Ward Moore was the working name of American author Joseph Ward Moore. Moore grew up in New York City, and later moved to Chicago, and then to California....

, a veteran of both the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 and the Whiskey Rebellion is found alive and very well in the Tennessee
Tennessee
Tennessee is a U.S. state located in the Southeastern United States. It has a population of 6,346,105, making it the nation's 17th-largest state by population, and covers , making it the 36th-largest by total land area...

 backwoods, having survived over the centuries by daily soaks in whisky of his own making, to hilariously face the world of the 1960s.

See also

  • American Whiskey Trail
    American Whiskey Trail
    The American Whiskey Trail is an initiative of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States that promotes the history and cultural heritage of distilled beverages in the United States.-History of whiskey in the United States:...

  • "Copper Kettle
    Copper Kettle
    "Copper Kettle" is a song composed by Albert Frank Beddoe and made popular by Joan Baez. Pete Seeger's account dates the song to 1946, mentioning its probable folk origin,"Frank."...

    ", song referencing the rebellion
  • Fries's Rebellion
  • Jean Bonnet Tavern
    Jean Bonnet Tavern
    The Jean Bonnet Tavern, also known as Old Forks Inn and Bonnet's Tavern, is an historic inn and restaurant located just outside Bedford, Pennsylvania on U.S. Highway 30, at the junction with Pennsylvania Route 31....

  • Moonshine
    Moonshine
    Moonshine is an illegally produced distilled beverage...

  • The Whiskey Rebels
    The Whiskey Rebels
    The Whiskey Rebels is an historical novel by American writer David Liss, inspired by events in the early history of the United States. According to Liss , "This novel, in many respects, details the events that led up to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794".-Synopsis:Despite the title, the novel's action...

    , 2008 historical novel by David Liss
    David Liss
    David Liss is an American writer of novels, essays and short fiction; more recently working also in comic books. He was born in New Jersey and grew up in South Florida. Liss received his B. A. degree from Syracuse University, an M. A. from Georgia State University and his M. Phil from Columbia...


External links

  • Text of the 1791 excise act from the Library of Congress
    Library of Congress
    The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

  • George Washington's Proclamation of September 15, 1792, warning against obstruction of the excise law, from the Avalon Project
    Avalon Project
    The Avalon Project is a digital library of documents relating to law, history and diplomacy. The project is part of the Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library....

     at Yale Law School
    Yale Law School
    Yale Law School, or YLS, is the law school of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Established in 1824, it offers the J.D., LL.M., J.S.D. and M.S.L. degrees in law. It also hosts visiting scholars, visiting researchers and a number of legal research centers...

  • Washington's Proclamation of August 7, 1794, announcing the preliminary raising of militia and commanding the insurgents in western Pennsylvania to disperse
  • Washington's Proclamation of September 25, 1794, announcing the commencement of military operations
  • Washington's Sixth Annual Message, November 19, 1794. Washington dedicated most of this annual message
    State of the Union Address
    The State of the Union is an annual address presented by the President of the United States to the United States Congress. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the president to outline his legislative agenda and his national priorities.The practice arises...

    to the Whiskey Rebellion.
  • Thompson, Charles D. Jr. "Whiskey and Geography" Southern Spaces, May 10, 2011. Explores the origins of whiskey-making and the resistance to a whiskey tax in Franklin County, Virginia.