Shay's Rebellion

Shay's Rebellion

There were many problems with Massachusetts in the early days of the United States. Some of the biggest problems in early Massachusetts were excessive taxation and people being unable to pay their debts.

Many Revolutionary War veterans in Massachusetts were not paid well for their efforts in the war and started to go into debt. Many farmers who previously bought supplies on credit were now forced to pay in cash, since American money was very devalued. The farmers couldn't support this kind of tax collection, and many of them were taken to prison and their homes were foreclosed.

So, the town leaders drafted complaints and sent them to the governor of the state, James Bowdoin. However, no response came from the government, and a rebellion began.

The people started blocking courthouses, and stopping the judges from getting in. Fights broke out between the people and tax collectors.

This is where Daniel Shays comes in. He was a Revolutionary War soldier who fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill and other important battles of the war. However, he became destitute as a result of the merciless taxation and decided to join the revolt, becoming one of its leaders. He suggested a plan to take the Springfield Arsenal and fight against the Massachusetts militia preparing to put down the revolt.

A small fight broke out between Shay's men and a guard posted at the arsenal, where two of Shay's rebels were killed. The rebellion ended, but it was one of the reasons the Constitution was written.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was not concerned by Shay's rebellion. He thought that rebellions were good for the government because they helped keep it in check.

"The people are the only censors of their governors:  and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution… The basis of our government being the opinions of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right… Cherish therefore the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention."
- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Edward Carrington, 1787

Furthermore, Thomas Jefferson said that rebellions were a way for the people to express their grievances to the government and that they were important for a republic that had the people's best interests in mind.

Shay's rebellion exposed the fact that under the Articles of Confederation, the national government was slow to raise an army because of a lack of centralized military power and this showed the founding fathers that they had to create a better constitution.

Another flaw in the Articles of Confederation was that the government could not pay the soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War because they couldn't tax.