President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton stepped right into a carriage on Market Avenue on September 30, 1794, to start a journey west of Philadelphia, then the brand new nation’s seat of presidency. They weren’t launched into a sightseeing tour of the countryside, nor have been they on a mere political fence-mending mission. Certainly, in President Washington’s eyes and people of Hamilton, his most trusted aide, this journey was as very important to the brand new nation’s survival as their journey to Yorktown, VA, 13 years earlier. The American military defeated Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown—thus guaranteeing independence. This time Washington would assume command of a big militia pressure from New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia ready for his arrival in Carlisle, PA. His purpose was to defeat the gravest home rebel in america previous to the Civil Battle.
Generally known as the Whiskey Riot, the rebel started in western Pennsylvania but unfold into different states in the summertime of 1794. The rebels have been farmers angered by a federal excise tax on distilled liquors—the primary direct tax on a home product within the nation’s historical past. Treasury Secretary Hamilton proposed the tax to lift the income wanted to pay the curiosity on authorities bonds bought by rich buyers. Hamilton believed that tying elite assist to the brand new authorities would stabilize United States credit score and earn the loyalty of those that purchased the bonds. In Hamilton’s view the tax—which turned the second highest income for the brand new republic—was a essential part of his plan.
Farmers within the backcountry noticed the tax as an assault on their livelihood as a result of it was simpler and extra worthwhile for farmers to transform their grain to whiskey earlier than transporting it on the market to thirsty patrons in japanese markets. There was excessive demand for whiskey in early America. Within the 1790s, Individuals consumed practically 6 gallons of alcohol per yr, in comparison with simply over 2 gallons as we speak. Whiskey was virtually the one supply of prepared money within the nation’s western areas and was an alternative to foreign money in lots of instances.
Some Individuals see the American founding as inevitable. This view holds that British colonists in North America have been destined for independence; that after they rebelled in opposition to the King and Parliament’s tyrannical rule and wrote a structure enshrining liberty and equality for all, they received the unwavering gratitude and allegiance of all residents of the brand new republic, together with the residents in what’s as we speak western Pennsylvania and Ohio—areas thought of backcountry within the 1790s. The Whiskey Riot of 1794 contradicts this fantasy.
The Pennsylvania farmers supplying the rebellion’s power didn’t possess a excessive diploma of allegiance to the brand new American authorities. In an age of poor roads and gradual communication, Philadelphia appeared distant to the Ohio River Valley settlers, simply as London did to Philadelphians 20 years earlier. To these on the frontier, America’s governing class appeared as unfamiliar with their wants as Parliament had been within the 1760s. The frontiersmen in contrast the brand new tax to these Parliament imposed on the British colonies in the course of the imperial disaster of the 1760s. How may Philadelphia govern the backcountry any higher than London had Philadelphia? Some argued for alliances with Spain or revolutionary France if the federal authorities didn’t rescind the tax. There was a real likelihood the Union would break up—East vs. West—after solely a half a decade underneath the brand new Structure. Washington feared that “the mere contact of a feather” would push westerners to dissolve the Union.
Hamilton urged President Washington to take the insurrectionists critically. In a prolonged memorandum to Washington, Hamilton acknowledged that the opposition had “first manifested itself within the milder form of the circulation of opinions.” Now, he informed the president, “resistance . . . was extra inclined to apply” violence (Doc B). Hamilton argued that “Each time the federal government seems in arms, it ought to seem like a Hercules and encourage respect by the show of power.” He hoped that by taking part in the militia card, the federal government would keep away from bloodshed whereas implementing the regulation.
The proof helps Hamilton’s considering. Within the phrases of historian Jay Wink, the farmers “did excess of refuse to pay the infernal whiskey tax.” Excisemen discovered themselves targets of musket balls, victims of tarring and feathering, and arson victims when the rebels burned their houses and companies. Insurgents raised liberty poles to rally assist, endorsed aggressive petitions, and established committees of correspondence to unfold the phrase of their discontent. They destroyed the stills of neighbors who paid the tax. In brief, they performed themselves in the identical method that the American colonists did when resisting Parliament’s taxes. The whiskey rebels’ angle is vividly displayed within the political cartoon and poem, An Exciseman (Doc A). The cartoon depicts a tax collector threatened with tarring and feathering earlier than being hung over a barrel of whiskey that’s set ablaze. To the rebels, they have been the soldiers who fought a revolution in opposition to a authorities imposing taxes unjustly. Their revolt was a pure extension of the logic of the American Revolution.
When Hamilton notified the president that Pennsylvania judges have been failing to implement penalties for many who refused to pay, Washington determined it was time to behave. ” Legal guidelines,” he mentioned, couldn’t “be trampled with impunity” for if “a minority … is to dictate to a majority, there may be an finish put at one stroke to republican authorities” (Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, p 718). In a proclamation dated August 7, 1794, Washington accused the insurrectionists of “inflicting merciless and humiliating punishments upon non-public residents for no different trigger than that of showing to be mates of the legal guidelines.” They have been “armed banditti disguised . . . to flee discovery” (Doc C). Washington known as forth the militia to place down the revolt and determined to take command himself—the one time a president as commander-in-chief has performed so. Washington mixed this spectacular present of pressure with a suggestion of amnesty to the rebels in trade for an settlement to undergo the tax—maybe in recognition that lots of the disgruntled farmers had fought with him in the course of the Revolutionary Battle.
The controversies surrounding the revolt didn’t instantly fade away. In truth, the occasions contributed to the beginnings of the primary celebration system in america. Washington blamed the newly fashioned Democratic Societies for fomenting rebel, a cost offensive to Republican leaders Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Jefferson, who had warned Washington that the tax “can be seen as odious”, considered “Hamilton’s Rebel,” as “an inexcusable aggression in opposition to individuals on the ploughs.” James Madison noticed it as a pretense for sustaining a standing military, an final result feared by the founding technology due to its affiliation with the standing armies of kings. Jefferson pledged to repeal the tax when he turned president, little doubt profitable the favor of whiskey drinkers all over the place.
The paperwork in our Core Doc Assortment, Chapter 8: The Whiskey Riot from Quantity I of Paperwork and Debates in American Historical past illustrate elementary variations within the early republic over the federal authorities’s energy to tax its residents, regulate commerce, and train government energy in an emergency. The Whiskey Riot debate foreshadowed related constitutional debates in American historical past, together with the Nullification Disaster of the 1830s and the enlargement of Congressional commerce energy within the twentieth century.
Every chapter within the Paperwork and Debates two-volume assortment contains Research Questions that ask college students to make connections between occasions in United States historical past. This chapter’s Research Questions invite college students to match the financial controversy that culminated within the Whiskey Riot to people who led to the Hartford Conference and the Nullification Disaster. The questions additionally ask college students to match Washington’s use of government energy with Lincoln’s name for peace in his First Inaugural.
Paperwork on this chapter embrace:
Nameless, An Exciseman, c. 1791
Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, “The Unpleasant Disaster within the Western Counties,” August 5, 1794
George Washington, Whiskey Riot Proclamation, August 7, 1794
(Alexander Hamilton), Tully Essays, August 23, 26, 28 and September 2, 1794
William Findley, Protection of the Insurgents, 1796
Washington Reviewing the Western Military at Fort Cumberland, Maryland, oil on canvas, c. 1795, attributed to Frederick Kemmelmeyer
We have now additionally supplied audio recordings of the chapter’s Introduction,
Paperwork, and Research Questions. These recordings assist literacy growth for struggling readers and the comprehension of difficult textual content for all college students.
Educating American Historical past’s We the Academics weblog will characteristic Paperwork and Debates with their accompanying audio recordings every month till recordings of all 29 chapters are full. In as we speak’s submit, we characteristic Quantity I, Chapter 8: The Whiskey Riot. On January 26, we are going to spotlight Quantity II, Chapter 22: The New Deal: Social Safety. We invite you to comply with this weblog intently so it is possible for you to to make the most of this new characteristic because the recordings change into obtainable.