Shays Rebellion

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Shays Rebellion

1) Shays' Rebellion, the post-Revolutionary clash between New England farmers and merchants that tested the precarious institutions of the new republic, threatened to plunge the "disunited states" into a civil war. The rebellion arose in Massachusetts in 1786, spread to other states, and culminated in an abortive attack on a federal arsenal.

It wound down in 1787 with the election of a more popular governor, an economic upswing, and the creation of the Constitution of the United States in Philadelphia.

Shay's Rebellion was the first armed uprising of the new nation. It was caused by the absence of debt relief legislation in Massachusetts. When the Revolution ended, merchants and creditors lobbied for high taxes and against paper money. They were successful. These procreditor polices underminded farmers' finances. The legislation, including foreclosure laws, were extremely taxing to farmers and caused many to go into great debt. Many farmers were dragged to court where they faced high legal fees and threats of imprisonment because of their debt. In 1786, farmers in Massachusetts attended extralegal meetings where they protested against high taxes and aggressive eastern creditors. Bands of angry farmers joined together to close law courts with force and freed debtors and fellow protesters from jail. Resistance to the legislation climbed to a full-scale revolt. John Adams, president at the time, answered with the Riot Act, which outlawed illegal assemblies. The rebellion was suppressed by military force. The rebellion prompted leaders with national perspective to redouble their efforts and create a stronger central government.

2) Economic crisis: high taxes, mounting debt

A series of tax revolts by Massachusetts farmers against the Massachusetts legislature in 1786-1787.

After the Revolutionary War, the Massachusetts legislature imposed high taxes to pay war debts. Rural farmers could not pay their taxes and faced forfeiture of their farms. Resentment of the taxes increased to the point that the farmers began to break up court sessions to prevent judges from ruling that specific farms should be sold to pay tax bills.

These minor acts of rebellion turned violent in January 1787 when Daniel Shays, a farmer and Revolutionary War veteran, led 1200 people into Springfield to seize weapons from a national government arsenal. Massachusetts State military troops quickly put down the rebellion, but the event shocked the nation at the time. Shays' Rebellion hinted that law and order were seriously breaking down across the new United States to the extent that the national government, under the Articles of Confederation, could not even protect its own arsenal.
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