Home Index Freedom Documents Constitution In-Depth About Us Contact Us Education Site Map Links Archives E-Mail
The History of America
Chapter V - Whiskey Boys in Revolt
Whiskey Boys in Revolt 1793 - 1794
Hamilton's financial program, especially the excise tax on whiskey, directly affected Western farmers. From his perspective, a tax on domestically produced whiskey would not only bring in much needed revenue, it would also reduce the nation's excessive consumption of alcohol. This excise tax infuriated farmers in Pennsylvania and the Carolinas who shrewdly sold their grain crops in the form of liquor to avoid the high costs of transporting corn to market. During the summer of 1794, protesting Pennsylvania farmers resisted arrest by a federal Marshall. One group of men disguised as women assaulted a revenue collector, crudely cut off his hair, tarred and feathered him and stole his horse.
President Washington, determined to prevent another Shays' Rebellion, issued a proclamation on August 7, 1794, which called for state militias from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland to mobilize if the wild "Whiskey Boys" refused to disperse. When the rebellious farmers did not disband, Washington ordered Virginia's governor, General Henry Light-Horse Harry Lee, to crush the rebellion with a militia of thirteen thousand men, a force larger than Washington's entire army in the Revolutionary War. Meanwhile, the rebels threatened to burn Pittsburgh to the ground if any militiamen took up arms against them. One terrified Pittsburgh resident wrote, "I believe most of the women in town were in tears; the people appeared (by the lights) to be all stirring, and I believe most of them [are] hiding property."
By the time the federal forces marched into western Pennsylvania, however, most of the unruly farmers had returned home. With a great deal of fanfare, federal troops paraded twenty of the rebel farmers through Philadelphia and into prison. Soldiers who had been eager to fight were disappointed. As one militiaman later explained, "We all lament that so few of the insurgents fell - such disorders can only be cured by copious bleeding." The Whiskey Rebellion ended with two deaths. After two protestors convicted of treason were pardoned by Washington because he considered them "simpletons and insane," an uneasy peace between farmers and the government ensued. Alexander felt that the federal government had obtained "reputation and strength" by this action, but Jefferson asserted that the rebellion, blown way out of proportion, in reality "could never be found." Nevertheless, the Whiskey Rebellion demonstrated that the federal government would not tolerate any organized, violent resistance to its firm authority.