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Shay's Rebellion Essay

1645 words - 7 pages

“I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing” (Jefferson). Thomas Jefferson wrote these words in a letter to James Madison after hearing about Shay’s Rebellion while he was a foreign diplomat in Paris. After the rebellion happened, the “Shaysites” as they were called, were labeled as traitors to their country and the democratic form of government. But were they really? Many of the men fighting in the rebellion felt that they were being oppressed just as they had been under British rule.
After the Revolutionary War the United States had a massive debt to deal with, but because of the Articles of Confederation the federal government could not raise taxes to pay off the debt (Blake). States were responsible for helping to pay off the federal government’s debt along with any of their own debt, so Massachusetts decided to institute heavy taxes that had to be paid in cash. According to historian Leonard Richards, “Taxes levied by the state [Massachusetts] were now much more oppressive—indeed many times more oppressive—than those that had been levied by the British on the eve of the American Revolution” (Richards 88).Ninety percent of all taxes collected were for property or poll taxes (Smith). Each family had to pay a tax for every male that was older than sixteen in the household under the poll tax, leaving the farmer who had grown sons very venerable. Many were unable to pay taxes and were thrown into prison. The farmers who could pay the taxes were left with very little cash to pay for necessities like food or clothing, to be able to acquire these items farmers had to trade their agricultural products. After British investors stopped giving credit to American merchants and demanded cash, the merchants turned on the farmers demanding they immediately pay any loans they had in cash. When the farmers could not pay, they were faced with foreclosure on their land or imprisonment. In Hampshire County “32.4% of men over sixteen” appeared in court over a period of two years (Livergood).
Many farmers were angered, but had faith in their new government. According to William Manning, who lived during the Rebellion, “…the people were driven to the greatest extremity. Many counties took to conventions remonstrances, and petitions to a court where they were not half represented” (Manning). For four years, counties from all over the state sent polite petitions to the government stating that the rural economy was in atrocious shape and asking for the government to give them some relief, all of which the government ignored (Smith). As the Massachusetts government continued to ignore their petitions, many farmers started to see similarities between how they were being treated by their new government and how the had been treated by Great Britain. Finally after four years in 1786, when the legislature ignored the petitions once again people in communities like Pelham had been patient long enough. They felt it was time for...

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