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Shays’ Rebellion

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Essay title: Shays’ Rebellion

Troubled Farmers

"In the first years of peacetime, following the Revolutionary War, the future of both the agrarian and commercial society appeared threatened by a strangling chain of debt which aggravated the depressed economy of the postwar years".1 This poor economy affected almost everyone in New England especially the farmers. For years these farmers, or yeomen as they were commonly called, had been used to growing just enough for what they needed and grew little in surplus. As one farmer explained " My farm provides me and my family with a good living. Nothing we wear, eat, or drink was purchased, because my farm provides it all."2 The only problem with this way of life is that with no surplus there was no way to make enough money to pay excessive debts. For example, since farmer possessed little money the merchants offered the articles they needed on short-term credit and accepted any surplus farm goods on a seasonal basis for payment. However if the farmer experienced a poor crop, shopkeepers usually extended credit and thereby tied the farmer to their businesses on a yearly basis.3 During a credit crisis, the gradual disintegration of the traditional culture became more apparent. During hard times, merchants in need of ready cash withdrew credit from their yeomen customers and called for the repayment of loans in hard cash. Such demands showed the growing power of the commercial elite.4 As one could imagine this brought much social and economic unrest to the farmers of New England. Many of the farmers in debt were dragged into court and in many cases they were put into debtors prison. Many decided to take action: The farmers waited for the legal due process as long as them could. The Legislature, also know as the General Court, took little action to address the farmers complaints. 5 "So without waiting for General Court to come back into session to work on grievances as requested, the People took matters into their own hands."6 This is when the idea for the Rebellion is decided upon and the need for a leader was eminent.

The Rebellion

The person that was chosen to lead the rebellion was Daniel Shays. Shays, born in Hopkinton Massachusetts, grew up as a farmer before he fought for his country in the War for Independence. During the War he fought in such key battles as the Battle of Lexington, Bunker Hill and Saratoga. For his success in battle he was awarded the rank of Captain and after the War returned to civilian life. After the War he held a political office in Pelham, Massachusetts but during the beginning of the rebellion his sympathies were with the farmers which is what brought him into the fight.7 The farmers decided that the person who should lead them into rebellion against their own government had to, in the words of a farmer, "Be a firm leader and a man the is capable of keeping his head in case of emergency and I believe

Daniel Shays is that such man."8 So now the lines were drawn and a leader was picked it was time for action.

Shays' men were restless and wanted to take action. So while they were outside courthouse at Springfield they talked about kidnaping the judges and holding them as hostages. Daniel Shays was doing his best to hold them back. The Massachusetts militia was present but would not defend the judges, court was adjourned and the judges snuck away. Shays' men then took control of the empty courthouse. Then on a prearranged signal the two groups dismissed. 9 Now after this event, numerous court house throughout the state begin to be held up by other farmers groups inspired by the actions of Shays' men. For example, the Hampshire Country court, Great Barrington, and Worcester Court of Common Pleas were all held up during the rebellion. Some of these were protested in small groups and other such as Worcester, which had over 5000 people, were done by Shays' men on a much larger scale.10 Word of a rebellion spend quickly through the state as well as the country. Massachusetts asked the Congress of the Confederation for help but found that once Congress said they would it proved ineffective. They had no way to raise money to field an army to combat the rebels because of the lack of national taxes.11 This rebellion demonstrated that the central government could not protect the citizenry from armed rebellion or provide adequately for the public welfare."12 With tensions and fears growing within the citizens of Massachusetts something had to be done to put this insurrection to an end. James Bowdoin, Governor of Massachusetts, decided to take matters into his own hands. With his own funds and the funds of other merchant leaders Governor Bowdoin fielded an army under the command of General Lincoln to put down the rebellion.13 During Shays'

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