However, after the war Congress was not only broke but deeply in debt. In fact they couldn't even pay the soldiers the money they had promised, let alone pay back the states the money they had contributed for the war effort. Without that reimbursement from Congress, Massachusetts had no money to pay back on the bonds they had sold. That meant that the soldiers returning to their homes after the war were penniless because they had not received any salary for four years of fighting and the bonds they held were worthless.
Bankers in the state of Massachusetts, seeing the desperate financial situations of these citizens, offered to buy the bonds for pennies on the dollar. Frantic for money, the citizens of Massachusetts readily agreed to the deal because it was better than nothing, which is what they would get if they didn't accept the offer.
However, after buying back all the bonds, the bankers pressured the Massachusetts legislature into making good on the bonds. To do this the legislature passed high tax laws and, as the tax money came into the state's treasury, it went to the bankers to pay off the war bonds they held. In this way the bankers got rich.
Understandably, many of the citizens of Massachusetts, especially those struggling to make ends meet, were highly irritated about all of this. For one reason, they had been duped into giving up their bonds for next to nothing, and secondly, now they were having to pay high taxes in order to pay for the bonds they had given to the bankers. Since many citizens felt this was an unfair tax they refused to pay it. However, since it was a law passed by a duly elected state legislature, those who refused to pay the tax were subject to the penalties of the law which, in some cases, for those who didn't have the money, meant that the state came in and confiscated their property.
It didn't take long before resentment and bitterness began to take root among the citizens of Massachusetts, especially those who had settled in the underdeveloped western part of the state. There, a man by the name of Daniel Shays, who had once been a captain in the Continental army, soon became the leader of the resistance to this law and so, when the tax collectors came, they would be run out of town by a mob. When the sheriff came to arrest those who weren't paying their taxes, the citizens of the county packed the courtroom and made such a racket that court could not be held.
The governor of the state then passed an order that those who did not pay their taxes were to be arrested and brought to Boston to stand trial, but Shay's mob decided that they too would go to Boston and continue to obstruct the courts. On one particular day, Shays men blocked the courthouse with their armed presence to prevent the judge from entering the building but their success was short lived when a large contingent of the state militia showed up with cannons along with heavily armed soldiers.
Shay's men chose to let the judge into the courthouse rather than fight but when witnesses were called, no one showed up, either because they were sympathetic to the rebels or because they were intimidated and frightened of reprisals. As a result the tax evader was let go.
The Governor realized that if something wasn't done to stop this rebellion it would not only spread but grow stronger. Even Samuel Adams was appalled by this rebellious behavior and expressed his opinion that when such treasonous acts are committed in a republican form of government that the punishment for such a crime should be execution by hanging. In November 1786 the State Supreme Court found the leaders of this rebellion guilty of sedition against the government and Governor Bodoin issued a warrant for the arrest of the rebel leaders.
On November 28, a posse of 300 men rode out of Boston and did manage to arrest one of the leaders but when Daniel Shays heard of this he decided to fight fire with fire and called his men to arms. His aim was to go to Boston and depose the governor and the legislature where he planned on "smashing the tyrannical government of Massachusetts."
When this news reached the governor's ears, he ordered the state militia to crush the rebellion and Shays knew that, in their current condition, his men were no match for General Benjamin Lincoln's force of 3,000 men. If they had any hope of their plan succeeding they needed more men and weapons so Shays plan was to attract more recruits as he marched towards the state's armory in Springfield where 7,000 guns along with its vast store of ammunitions were stored.
However that was where General Lincoln and his state militiamen were also heading so it was imperative to Shays small army that he and his men get there first. Having fought in the Revolutionary War, Shays no doubt felt that he and his men would be just as victorious against the Massachusetts militia as General Washington had been against the British army.
On January 25, 1787 Shays army of 1,500 men made their attack on the Springfield armory which was guarded by 1,200 militia men. Although slightly outnumbered, the militia had something the rebels did not have - two cannons. As Shays men approached, General Shepherd order cannonballs fired over the heads of the rebels to warn them off. At first Shays men stopped but when they continued their attack General Shepherd ordered two more cannonballs be fired directly into the advancing army. As a result of that order, four rebels were instantly killed and one was wounded so badly that he later died from his injuries.
Shocked by the actual sight of death, the rebels ran from the fight. A few days later, General Lincoln arrived with his 3,000 man militia army and, upon hearing of the attack on the Springfield armory, he chased after the rebels who, while fleeing northward, picked up the supplies they needed by raiding and looting stores and shops.
On the morning of February 4, General Lincoln made a surprise attack on the rebel's camp in Petersham, near the northern border of Massachusetts. Although many of the rebel leaders were able to escape into Vermont and New Hampshire, eventually they were all captured and brought to trial.
From his home in Mt. Vernon, retired General George Washington followed this uprising with intense interest even though it was happening more than 600 miles from his home. His greatest fear was that if this rebellion succeeded it would inspire similar uprisings throughout the country, which would then plunge America into a state of lawlessness and anarchy and destroy forever the idea that free men can govern themselves according to the rule of law.
This rebellion troubled Washington so much that it was one of the major motivating factors that led him to support the writing of a new Constitution which lead to the creation of a stronger central government. It also influence Washington's decision was President of the United to taking action to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.
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