Shay's Rebellion Essay

Submitted By CereP
Words: 855
Pages: 4

In 1777, the Constitution’s predecessor, the Articles of Confederation, was signed. These united the states under a relatively weak Congress compared to what ours is today. This “first draft” featured a federal government that could do little more than run the post office. Among its many weaknesses was that it was forbidden from regulating taxes; they had to rely on donations from the states. This variant of government soon proved itself to be powerless when challenged with the new country’s crises. This paper explores the causes and effects of Shays’ Rebellion and its impact on the very foundation that the United States and many other nations are now based on.

After the revolutionary war, the nation had large amount of debt racked up. The war for American Independence was the longest conflict the United States had endured until the Vietnam War. Combined with the cut in trade from Great Britain, the debt caused the nation to enter an economic depression. The government had yet to pay a majority of the wages owed to the soldiers and would often pay those who did receive care with low-value British pounds. In addition, the Articles of Confederation made it hard to raise money to pay these debts. The soldiers, most of whom were farmers, returned from the war only to quickly become impoverished.

One of the hardest hit states was Massachusetts; Boston was largely dependant on overseas trade with Britain. Many had lost their land and were thrown in jail for their debt. When Daniel Shays, a solider who fought at Bunker Hill and Lexington, arrived home from the war, he was shocked by the amounts of men who lost their property after being taken to court. Ironically, many of those men were soldiers and the government was actually in their debt. Likening this to the very tyranny that he had fought to destroy, Shays gathered men to attempted protests, but they led to no change. So he decided to take another approach.

In August of 1786, Shays lead angry mobs to shutdown the courthouses. They also retook land taken by the state government. The upperclassmen of Boston were shocked at the size of the opposition so they passed the Riot Act and repealed the Writ of Habeas Corpus to allow the government to arrest anyone on pure suspicion. The state government also requested the aid of federal troops, but they were denied. This was because the federal army had very little funding and thus very small amount of forces. The rebellion was also a state matter so the Articles of Confederation forbade the federal government from getting involved. Determined, the upper-class of Massachusetts put together enough money to create a private militia that could provide the protection they needed. Former Continental Army General Benjamin Lincoln raised those funds for the militia and led it personally.

Meanwhile, Shays planned an attack on the Federal armory at Springfield. If he succeeded, his men would be better equipped than both the state and private militias combined. Shays plan was to launch on January 25th and to be a three-pronged attack. Shays controlled one third of the forces while the others two thirds was split between two different leaders in the rebellion. However, one leader was not yet ready, so he sent a messenger to Shays asking to postpone until he was ready. This messenger