The Whiskey Rebellion, which is also referred to as the Whiskey Insurrection, was a tax protest in the U.S. that begun in 1791 when George Washington was president. Under President Washington, whiskey tax was the first tax that was imposed on American domestic product, and subsequently became law in 1791 (Slaughter,105). However, before being passed into law, it received resistance from Anti-Federalists, including Thomas Jefferson. The purpose of the law was a generation of revenue to reduce the U.S. national debt. U.S. in 1791 suffered from debt suffered during war. The idea was proposed by the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and involved adopting excise tax for all distilled spirits in the nation (Reed, 27). However, the Congress did not anticipate the rejection of the tax by residents especially of Kentucky and Western Pennsylvania. Farmers initiated an armed rebellion against the Federal Government. For this reason, the roots of the rebellion were found in a Federalist policy, which was committed to creating a powerful military and fiscal state that was based on the British model.
Since the whiskey tax pushed for higher taxes, it fell particularly hard on the background farmers from Kentucky and Pennsylvania. In essence, people expressed their displeasure by refusing to pay taxes as the residents viewed this as another instance of bad policies that were dictated and enforced by the Eastern elites, which negatively affected the U.S. citizens on the frontier. In essence, this was because the Western farmers in these states distilled their grains into hard spirits. As such, it was the largest source of livelihood as the Whiskey fetched a higher price compared to unrefined grains, and was also cheaper to transport the product to Eastern markets. The policy angered the distillers and they expressed this by harassing excise collectors. The use of violence, as well as intimidating collectors in opposing the tax was not bothersome at first. Even so, anger ensued over the tax in a period spanning three years since 1791, before an organized resistance erupted in 1794 (Hogeland, 97). Angry protestors marched to the house of John Neville, a tax collector characterized the summer of 1794. However, when the group of protestors failed to disperse, the General fired to the rebels, and subsequently injured some and also ended up killing one protestor. In effect, this triggered angry citizens assembled in arms at Braddocks field near Pittsburg a month later. They declared their willingness to oppose the government policy using force. As such, what had commenced as a tax protest worsened to an armed rebellion.
As such, it can be derived that the residents recognized the whiskey excise as an unfair tax regime targeting westerners. In essence, the whiskey tax made farmers on the western front less competitive because they produced less whiskey compared to their eastern counterparts. In addition, since money was always in shortage, whiskey was used as a mode of exchange. Therefore, for the poor, the tax was paid using whiskey. Small farmers in the west also opposed that the tax was unfair because large distillers on the Eastern frontier did not pay the tax using whiskey. Essentially, there were two modes of tax payment, one by use of gallons of whiskey or two, using a flat fee. It was advantageous for large distillers as they could afford the flat fee, and thus, they could not use their whiskey gallons to pay even though they were more efficient. On the other hand, smaller farmers paid more tax per gallon. Therefore, western farmers had small stills which made them less competitive, and the tax took a large part of their profits. For this reason, most of the western frontiers residents believed that whiskey tax was meant to ruin them economically, and served in promotion of bigger businesses.
In effect, many of the western frontier residents petitioned against the passing of the whiskey excise law. However, when it failed, many western Pennsylvanians created rebel groups to oppose the law. The opposition was prevalent in Fayette, Allegheny, Westmoreland, and Washington. Consequently, the Pittsburg convention led to the modification of the law in May 1792. The changes comprised a one-cent reduction in the whiskey taxes but still was unacceptable to the residents (Hogeland, 114). Appeals to nonviolent resistance were unsuccessful. Excise collectors were feathered, tarred, and whipped by attackers, and consequently, between 1791 and early 1792 taxes were not collected. In 1792, Hamilton advocated military action in the hope of suppressing the resistance. A second convention was held in Pittsburg in August 1792, which was more radical compared to the first, and in turn send more tax officials, only to increase tensions. Even so, tax collectors were targeted people as well as those who supported them. For instance, Neville who rented a house in Pittsburg was forced to leave after the landlord was threatened by members of the Mingo Creek Association, which was a militant group that had radical demands, especially for the whiskey tax. Resistance to the tax continued even to 1793, especially in Appalachian counties, but disapproval was persuasive in western front of Pennsylvania. A rebel group made of a 100 people in Washington County raided Neville in June. Also, on November 22, men broke into the house of Benjamin Well, a tax collector in Fayette County, and the they forced him to renounce his assignment at gunpoint. Even though Washington offered a reward for anyone who tipped on for the arrest of the invaders, it bore no fruits.
Consequently, as Cooke (321) asserts, the confrontation came to a peak in 1794 when in May, William Rawle, a federal district attorney, issued orders for individuals defecting payment. As such, they needed to travel to Philadelphia, which was costly and time-consuming. However, the law underwent modification so that such cases would be held in local state courts. Federal Marshal Lenox issued most of the writs without incidence. On July 15, Neville joined him. However, that evening, shots were fired at the men, making Neville to return home while Lenox retreated to Pittsburg. On July 16, 30 Mingo Cree militias surrounded Nevilles house and demanded his surrender. However, he opposed them and fired at them, and in consequence, it wounded one of the rebels. Even though the rebels fired back, they were unable to dislodge him, and later they retreated to gather reinforcements. The next day the rebels returned with reinforcements of up to 600 men, with the leadership of Major James McFarlane, who was one of the Revolutionary War veteran. However, Neville also had received reinforcements of 10 soldiers from Pittsburg headed by Major Kirkpatrick. They had fruitless negotiations, and both sides engaged each other in a firing spree. Consequently, McFarlane, one militiamen, as well as one U.S. soldier died.
In August 1974, according to Kohn (567), President Washington sent three commissioners to negotiate with the westerners. The commissioners demanded that the committee needed to renounce violence, as well as follow the laws. A referendum was held with the aim of gauging whether the citizens maintained the decision. Those who supported it would not be subjected to further prosecutions. However, the commissioners proposed the use of military force to enforce the laws. With approximately 12,950 militiamen from Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, and eastern Pennsylvania, Washington had amassed a force to ensure that the rebellion was successfully suppressed. Under Washingtons instructions, they made it clear that people in Western Pennsylvania should not aid or comfort the insurgents, contrary to which they would peril. For this reason, the vast militia helped quell the anti-draft riots, and deter insurgency of the rebels and protestors of the whiskey excise.
Therefore, the Washingtons militia were crucial in terminating and containing the Whiskey Rebellion. In essence, when this group of militia got to Pittsburg, the rebels had already disintegrated, and rebellion was encountered. However, they seized at least 15 men and tried them for treason, but it was impossible to obtain witnesses thereby hampering the trial. Phillip Weigel and John Mitchell were convicted but were pardoned by Washington. Washingtons success in suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion verified that the U.S. government had the capacity to overpower resistance. By 1802, President Thomas Jefferson repealed the excise tax on whiskey (Hogeland, 242), which subsequently proved that the U.S. had survived the first challenge to federal authority.
Cooke, Jacob E. "The Whiskey Insurrection: A Re-Evaluation." Pennsylvania History 30 (July 1963), 31664. Print
Hogeland, William. The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America's Newfound Sovereignty. New York: Scribner, 2006. Print
Kohn, Richard H. "The Washington Administration's Decision to Crush the Whiskey Rebellion." The Journal of American History 59.3 (1972): 567-584. Print
Reed, Isaac Ariail. "Between Structural Breakdown and Crisis Action: Interpretation in the Whiskey Rebellion and the Salem Witch Trials." Critical Historical Studies 3.1 (2016): 27-64. Print
Slaughter, Thomas P. The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution. Oxford University Press, 1986. Print
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