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What was Shays’ Rebellion?

January 25th

600px-Daniel_Shays_and_Job_ShattuckJanuary 25, 1787 — Shays’ Rebellion suffered a setback today when debt-ridden farmers, led by Capt Daniel Shays, failed to capture an arsenal at Springfield, Mass.

Did you know: Shays ’​ Rebellion was an armed uprising in Massachusetts (mostly in and around Springfield) during 1786 and 1787. Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays led four thousand rebels (called Shaysites) in rising up against perceived economic injustices and suspension of civil rights by Massachusetts, and in a later attempt to capture the United States’ national weapons arsenal at the U.S. Armory at Springfield.

Although Shays’ Rebellion met with defeat militarily against a privately-raised militia, it prompted numerous national leaders (including George Washington, who came out of retirement to deal with issues raised by Shays’ Rebellion) to call for a stronger national government to suppress future rebellions, resulting in the U.S. Constitutional Convention and according to historian Leonard L. Richards, “fundamentally altering the course of U.S. history.”

The events of the rebellion are believed to have affected the debates on the shape of the new government. In fact, the shock of Shays’ Rebellion is said to have drawn retired General George Washington back into public life, leading to his terms as the United States’ first President. The exact nature and consequence of the rebellion’s influence on the content of the Constitution and the ratification debates continues to be a subject of historical discussion and debate.

Words of Wisdom

I have been greatly abused, have been obliged to do more than my part in the war, been loaded with class rates, town rates, province rates, Continental rates and all rates ... been pulled and hauled by sheriffs, constables and collectors, and had my cattle sold for less than they were worth ... The great men are going to get all we have and I think it is time for us to rise and put a stop to it, and have no more courts, nor sheriffs, nor collectors nor lawyers.

— Farmer Plough Jogger, at a meeting convened by aggrieved commoners, who explained that when the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the European business partners of Massachusetts merchants refused to extend lines of credit to them and insisted that they pay for goods with hard currency. Despite the continent-wide shortage of such currency, merchants began to demand the same from their local business partners, including those merchants operating in the market towns in the state's interior. Many of these merchants passed on this demand to their customers, although the popular governor, John Hancock (pictured above), did not impose hard currency demands on poorer borrowers and refused to actively prosecute the collection of delinquent taxes. The rural farming population was generally unable to meet the demands being made of them by merchants or the civil authorities, and individuals began to lose their land and other possessions when they were unable to fulfill their debt and tax obligations. This led to strong resentments against tax collectors and the courts, where creditors obtained and enforced judgments against debtors, and where tax collectors obtained judgments authorizing property seizures.

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