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The Whiskey Rebellion
Digital History ID 249



Political polarization was further intensified by the outbreak of popular protests in western Pennsylvania against Hamilton's financial program. To help fund the nation's debt, Hamilton in 1791 adopted an excise tax on whiskey. On the frontier, because of high transportation costs, the only practical way to sell surplus corn was to distill it into whiskey. Frontier farmers regarded a tax on whiskey the same way that the colonists had regarded Britain's stamp tax.

By 1794, western Pennsylvanians had enough. Like the Shays rebels of 1786, they rose up in defense of their property and the right to earn a decent living. Some 7000 frontier settlers marched on Pittsburgh to stop collection of the tax. Determined to set a precedent for the federal government's authority to enforce laws enacted by Congress, Washington gathered an army of 15,000 militiamen to disperse the rebels. In the face of this overwhelming force, the uprising collapsed. Two men were convicted of treason, but later pardoned by the president.



The Governor having received information that a daring and cruel outrage has been committed in the county of Allegheny by a lawless body of armed men, who, among other enormities, attacked and destroyed the house of Gen. Neville on the 17th instant, request, in the most earnest manner, that you will exert all your influence and authority to suppress, within your jurisdiction, so pernicious and unwarrantable a spirit; that you will ascertain, with all possible dispatch, the circumstances of the offence; and that you will pursue, with the utmost vigilance, the lawful steps for bringing the offenders to justice. Every honest Citizen must feel himself personally mortified at the conduct of the rioters, which, particular if it passes with impunity, is calculated to fix an indelible stigma on the honor and reputation of the state....

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: A Message to the U.S. Congress

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