The Whiskey Rebellion

Here’s a post from that talks about the Whiskey Rebellion and how this party all started in the first place. 

In 1794 thousands of farmers in western Pennsylvania took up arms in opposition to the enforcement of a federal law calling for the imposition of an excise tax on distilled spirits. Known as the “Whiskey Rebellion,” this insurrection represented the largest organized resistance against federal authority between the American Revolution and the Civil War. A number of the whiskey rebels were prosecuted for treason in what were the first such legal proceedings in the United States.

Congress established the excise tax in 1791 to help reduce the $54 million national debt. The tax was loathed across the country. For a small group of farmers west of the Allegheny Mountains, the federal excise tax was singularly detestable. Bartering was the chief means of exchange in this frontier economy, and distilled spirits were the most commonly traded commodity. Cash was a disfavored currency in western Pennsylvania during the late eighteenth century, but whiskey, especially Monongahela Rye, was as valuable as gold. Whiskey was considered an all-purpose liquor, with locals using it for cooking and medicine, and drinking it at social occasions, among other uses.

By modern standards the excise tax of 1791 does not seem oppressive. Distillers were taxed based on the size of their stills. Stills with the capacity to annually produce at least 400 gallons of whiskey were taxed between 7 and 18 cents a gallon, depending on the proof of the liquor. Distillers who made stronger whiskey paid a higher tax. Smaller stills were taxed at a rate of 10 cents for every month a still was in operation, or 7 cents for every gallon produced, whichever was lower. Based on these rates, the average distiller was required to pay only a few dollars in liquor tax each year. But even an annual tax of $5 would have consumed a large percentage of the disposable income earned by farmers in the barter-based economy of western Pennsylvania.

The rebellion began in Pittsburgh during October of 1791 when a group of disguised farmers snatched a federal tax collector from his bed, and marched him five miles to a blacksmith shop where they stripped him of his clothes, and burned him with a poker. Over the next three years dozens of tax collectors were beaten, shot at, tarred and feathered, and otherwise terrorized, intimidated, and humiliated. The home and plantation of John Neville, the chief tax collector for southwestern Pennsylvania, were burned to the ground.

By 1794 the excise tax lay largely uncollected in western Pennsylvania. The national debt was rising, and respect for federal authority was waning. Rebel forces had swelled to 5,000. In October President george washington dispatched 15,000 troops to quell the resistance. Led by alexander hamilton, Washington’s secretary of state, the federal troops met little opposition. Within a month, most of the rebels had dispersed, disavowed their cause, or left the state. Keeping a few soldiers in western Pennsylvania to maintain order, the federal army departed for Philadelphia, having arrested more than 150 people suspected of criminal activity.

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