Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Whiskey Rebellion - America's First Crime Against the People

Did government consecrate its monopoly on violence in 1791? I had initially thought that 1865 marked the official death of America, but 1791 appears to have been the first stroke.

That scumbag Alexander Hamilton (who also wanted to establish a central bank) authorized an excise tax on whiskey. In the east, whiskey was not a big deal, but to the rural westerners (of western Pennsylvania and the Appalachias) whiskey was simultaneously a source of income, a medium of trade, and a means to preserve their excess grain crops.

It would not be the last time that the government targeted laws against specific rural cultures.

Those rowdy western Pennsylvania boys were not to be denied. Tax collectors were beaten, intimidated, and in one notable case, tarred and feathered. When the government sent officials to issue warrants to the men who had tarred and feathered a tax collector, the officials themselves were whipped, and then tarred and feathered.

The anti-government violence continued throughout the western states and the tax went uncollected for two years. Rowdies would target not just the officials who tried to enforce the tax, but individuals who were found to comply with it.

In 1794 it got a little crazy. The government issued warrants for over 60 men who were known distillers, and sent federal agents to deliver those warrants. As might be expected, those agents were resisted. Sometimes violently.

The battle of Bower Hill was fought between the pro-government forces and the anti-government forces with the rebels winning but losing their figurative head. Now they had a martyr and the government had its causus belli to militarily intervene.

The rebels, by this time, had no coherent plan. Their complaints had gone far beyond just the whiskey tax and they were talking pretty crazy. Some wanted to march on Pittsburgh, loot the homes there, and then burn the city to the ground. There was admiring talk about the French Revolution and how it perhaps needed to happen here.

President George Washington, the father of our country, would ultimately ride at the head of a 13,000 strong federal military force. Upon hearing he was coming, the rebel group of approximately 7,000  disbanded and disappeared. Ultimately only 24 men would be arrested and tried for treason.

By musket and sword, the new federal government had enforced its will against the American public. Whatever spirit had existed in 1776 was now dead.

1 comment:

Gorges Smythe said...

Very true. I always found it interesting that the man who led the troops was a distiller himself. Could he have been merely getting rid of some competition?