Thursday, April 14, 2016

Shays' Rebellion‏

Debt-ridden farmers, struck by the economic depression that followed the American Revolution, petitioned the Massachusetts state senate to halt foreclosure of mortgages on their property and imprisonment for debt. When the senate failed to undertake these reforms, armed rebels, led by Daniel Shays and other local leaders, forcibly closed a number of debtors' courts. many of these were war veterns. One farmer, Plough Jogger, said:

"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."

A militia made short work of them.

Four thousand people signed confessions acknowledging participation in the events of the rebellion (in exchange for amnesty); several hundred participants were eventually indicted on charges relating to the rebellion. Most of these were pardoned under a general amnesty that only excluded a few ringleaders. Eighteen men were convicted and sentenced to death, but most of these were either overturned on appeal, pardoned, or had their sentences commuted. Two of the condemned men, John Bly and Charles Rose, were hanged on December 6, 1787. Shays himself was pardoned in 1788 and he returned to Massachusetts from hiding in the Vermont woods.

Jefferson's horrific line, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure," was written about Shays' Rebellion (while he was in France.)

It is said that the Rebellion influenced the Constitution when, at the time, the debate over the strength over the Federal government was the sticking point. The Confederation was weak centrally and the Federalists wanted it stronger, the anti-Federalists weaker. This flared after John Adam's presidency and was to some extent solved by the election--and success--of the anti-Federalist and surprisingly compromising Jefferson. While the anxiety over the rebellion seemed mild at the time, opponents of the new constitution were called "Shaysites" and the Federalists "Washingtonians".

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