The Critical Period
|Digital History ID 3229|
In 1786, nearly 2,000 debtor farmers in western Massachusetts were threatened with foreclosure of their mortgaged property. The state legislature had voted to pay off the state's Revolutionary War debt in three years; between 1783 and 1786, taxes on land rose more than 60 percent. Desperate farmers demanded a cut in property taxes and adoption of state laws to postpone farm foreclosures. The lower house of the state legislature passed relief measures in 1786, but creditors persuaded the upper house to reject the package.
When lower courts started to seize the property of farmers such as Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran, western Massachusetts farmers temporarily closed the courts and threatened a federal arsenal. Although the rebels were defeated by the state militia, they were victorious at the polls. A new legislature elected early in 1787 enacted debt relief.
By the spring of 1787, many national leaders believed that the new republic's survival was at risk. The threat of national bankruptcy, commercial conflicts among the states, Britain's refusal to evacuate military posts, Spanish intrigues on the western frontier, and armed rebellion in western Massachusetts underscored the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. The only solution, many prominent figures were convinced, was to create an effective central government led by a strong chief executive.