A History of Shays Rebellion in 1786
In the history of the United States, there have been many rebellions, wars and uprisings; however none of them were quite like Shay’s rebellion. Shay’s rebellion began in 1786, when the farmers of Western Massachusetts organized a resistance against congress and the state legislature due to taxes.
During the 1780s, the Massachusetts state legislature was suffering from a major economic crisis due to the revolutionary war. They began to call for a collection of all the standing tax debts of the citizens of Massachusetts and additionally raised the taxes and required it be paid in hard money. However, many of the farmers possessed debts that could not be easily paid to due to the money invested into the war, as well as the mortgages standing for their farms. Many of the farmers were former soldiers, and already had a limited amount of funds to begin with- they had no possible revenue to pay the debts owed to the legislature and Congress. This resulted in the local sheriffs seizing farms and arresting farmers who could not pay their debts that they had collected. Mortgages were foreclosed, and some of the arrested farmers were even sold into servitude.
Shays rebellion began when the hundreds of farmers of Massachusetts began to organize a way to defend themselves against the tax collectors. They began by holding conventions and sent petitions to the Massachusetts General Court. They originally petitioned that the courts lower the taxes, judicial reform and the possibility of the used of paper currency to help pay off the debt. When this was ignored, they sent another petition that the courts be closed and foreclosures stopped. When the petitions failed to catch any attention of the Court, the farmers decided to close the courts for themselves by force. Lead by Daniel Shays and Luke Day, former officers of the continental army, the farmers-now called Shaysites-began to go and force courts to suspend their business.
Daniel Shay was the primary leader, a respected farmer from Pelham and a former captain in the war. Shay organized a group to occupy the Springfield courthouse-the home base of the Judicial Court, and refused to allow the Supreme Judicial Court to sit there. This was their stance against the taxes.
This plan caused a major stir in the Government. At this time, democracy was still very new, and many of the leaders were still doubtful of whether or not the idea of democracy would prevail in their country. Shays rebellion caused a stir for it was perceived as a warning of the dangers of a new democratic rebellion. They feared this group would cause the order of the new government to be destroyed. Because of this, Congress authorized the stationing of troops lead by Major General William Shepard, and later Benjamin Lincoln who would assist him at the Springfield arsenal to suppress the rebellion and protect the courts.
Once the Shaysites realized they were up against an organized militia, they developed a new strategy. They would launch a surprise attack and overrun the federal arsenal at Springfield. On December 26 the Springfield court was being guarded by the arsenal of Shephard, when the Shaysites attacked. The surprise attack was no longer a surprise- due to an intercepted message between Shay and Day that spoke of the plans that landed in Shephard’s hands. The Shaysites rebellion was ruined, as the federal troops were waiting for them on the day of the attack. The rebellion was quickly beat back when General Benjamin Lincoln arrived to assist Shepard. They routed the Shaysites by artillery fire at Springfield, and beat them back into the woods. The small flame of rebellion remained alive during the winter until March-where the rebellion finally ended.
While the Rebellion was short, the effects of the fear of a new rebellion were lasting. Due to this event, congress finally began to join fully to create a government stronger than the confederation by working together to join the states.
In conclusion, Shays rebellion was caused by the money shortage caused by the revolution and Massachusetts call for all tax debts to be paid immediately. This caused a large group of farmers lead by Shay and Day to form and proceed to close the courts in Massachusetts. They were defeated by December of 1886 by Shephard and Lincoln, and the matter was resolved with few further consequences to the rebels. The lasting consequence was congresses progression to the further joining of the states. It was a time of trial, however the effects helped the country to further progress into full unity.