Shays Rebellion

This Day in History

While many would argue that the Feds wield too much power these days, most would agree that certain enumerated duties are best handled at the top level of our central government. Never was that more evident than began on this day in 1786 when a rowdy group of about 5,000 farmers and merchants staged what is known as Shay’s Rebellion.

Daniel Shay, the leader of the disgruntled band, was a farmer who found himself unable to pay debts he owed even though he had served honorably as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.

Unfortunately, because the then-law-of-the-land, The Articles of Confederation, did not allow for taxation, no monies had been collected as payment for the soldiers who fought for our freedom from England which left Shay and many others with growing debt and no ability to pay them off.

Banks began to confiscate goods and seize property through foreclosure which of course did not sit well with Shay and other hardworking farmers who needed their land in order to survive. The angry mob went to the streets of Massachusetts shutting down court hearings and proceedings, demanding the protection of their property rights.

The rebellion, while certainly disturbing, was considered a failure and Daniel Shay was subsequently arrested for his part and then later released.

So were all of their efforts in vain? Well, as is the case with most events throughout history (even those considered largely unsuccessful) the answer is a resounding “NO!”

The incident sharply illuminated the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation and the need for a form of governance that provided for a stronger central government and thus a more cohesive union.

The rebellion was not squashed by a large national military force but rather a group of private soldiers because the Articles of Confederation did not provide for the establishment of a federally mandated and funded military.

Ironically, the very thing that rendered the Feds unable to quickly tamp down Shay and his cohorts by swift use of military might, was the very thing that led them to rebel on that fateful day as the federal government did not see an obligation to pay Revolutionary War soldiers when their duties were not expressly enumerated in the Articles.

Soon after Shay’s Rebellion was put down, the United States Constitution would become the official law of the land, rendering the Articles of Confederation obsolete. And oddly, we can thank Daniel Shay and his army of angry rebels for demonstrating how woefully short they were in ensuring a unified republic.


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