Whiskey Rebellion

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The Whiskey Rebellion was the refusal of farmers in western Pennsylvania in the 1790s to pay federal taxes of 6 to 9 cents a gallon on the whiskey they produced for market. The tax on whiskey was pushed by Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton in 1791, to help pay the national debt. Farmers grew corn, which was too bulky to ship to markets, so they distilled it into whiskey, which was easy to ship in barrels. The American back-country in the 1790s was intensely individualistic and resented the way the new government interfered in their business. Other grievances against the government included the failure to open the Mississippi River to navigation (so they could ship whiskey to New Orleans), the disasters of the Indian wars in Ohio, the high prices of land, arduous and ill-paid militia duty, scarcity of specie, and the creation of a salaried official class.


A federal marshal was attacked in Allegheny County while serving a process, and on July 17, 1794 several hundred men, led by members of a local "Democratic society," attacked and burned the home of Gen. John Neville, the regional official in charge of collecting the tax as "inspector of the excise". The farmers closed the courts and robbed the U.S. mail. President George Washington refused to tolerate this violent protest; on Aug. 7 he issued a stern proclamation ordering the disaffected men to return to their homes, and calling up the militia from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. The governors of those states provided 13,000 militiamen; Washington personally led into the troubled region. The rebellion immediately evaporated, no one was punished, the Federalists were strengthened, Hamilton gained more power, the tax was collected (until Jefferson repealed it in 1801) and national authority was assured. The Whiskey Rebellion is very similar to the Fries Rebellion which happened four years later in Pennsylvania.

Further reading

Washington marches to suppress the rebellion
  • Baldwin, Leland D. Whiskey Rebels: The Story of a Frontier Uprising. (1939) online edition
  • Boyd, Steven R., ed. The Whiskey Rebellion: Past and Present Perspectives (1985), articles by scholars
  • Hogeland, William. The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the frontier rebels who challenged America's newfound sovereignty. (2006).
  • Kohn, Richard H. "The Washington Administration's Decision to Crush the Whiskey Rebellion," Journal of American History,' Vol. 59, No. 3 (Dec., 1972), pp. 567–584 in JSTOR
  • Slaughter, Thomas P. The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier epilogue to the American Revolution. (1986) online edition.
  • Whitten, David O. "An Economic Inquiry into the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794," Agricultural History, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Jul., 1975), pp. 491–504 in JSTOR