Friday, April 21, 2006

Whiskey Rebellion

Would you like a good stiff drink? So would I. A whiskey sour would be great right now! However, I do not know if I would be willing to rise up in armed rebellion over it.

However, this is exactly what happened in 1794. President Washington was required to enforce federal laws with troops for the first time. It was a key test for his presidency.

The Whiskey Rebellion was not only about whiskey. The Whiskey Rebellion - Whiskey Insurrection website notes, "This 1794 insurrection was caused, in part, by the lack of federal courts (which necessitated trips to Philadelphia for trial), large numbers of absentee landlords, lack of protection from the Indians, lack of access to the Mississippi River and the high excise tax on whiskey. President George Washington ordered 12,000 to 13,000 troops to the Washington Pennsylvania area. This was the first test of the power of the new government."

However, government taxes on whiskey are what enraged people the most. A majority of farmers in West Pennsylvania were poor and had little money. As a result, whiskey became a form of currency. They could distill their own whiskey, put it in jugs, and use it as a form of cash. Government attempts to tax it hit the poor farmers hard and they were willing to go to war to stop the taxation.

Wikipedia notes, "George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, remembering Shays' Rebellion from just eight years before, decided to make Pennsylvania a testing ground for federal authority. " When the federal army arrived, the rebellion collapsed. Twenty people were arrested. Two were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by hanging.

The death sentences were never carried out. President Washington pardoned them because he said that one was a simpleton, and the other, insane. That is good rationale for the use of a presidential pardon!

The Whiskey Rebellion did not amount to much. However, by taking decisive action, President Washington showed the new country that the federal government could enforce federal law.

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