Whiskey Rebellion: Conclusion and Impacts

By Allen C. Guelzo, Ph. D., Gettysburg College

that of Alexander Hamilton Public credit report offered to finance the national government debt through an excise tax on whiskey. The “whiskey rebels” defied the excise and rebelled. The Democratic-Republican Society’s connection with the rebels prompted Washington to call in the services of the militia and take control.

In July 1794, Bower Hill was reduced to ashes by the “Whiskey Rebels”. (Image: Everett Collection / Shutterstock)

Lenox and Neville against the “Whiskey Rebels”

In July 1794, when a newly appointed Federal Marshal David Lenox arrived with 39 subpoenas to challenge the excise to appear in federal court in Philadelphia, he turned to John Neville, a veteran Revolutionary officer, for help him serve. his writings.

However, Lenox and Neville are shot and on July 16, a group of 50 gunmen show up at Neville’s farm, Bower Hill, just southwest of Pittsburgh. Neville armed his slaves, barricaded himself in his house, and gunfire began, leaving five assailants wounded. The next day the attackers returned, now swelling between 400 and 800. Neville fled and Bower Hill was reduced to ashes.

A week and a half later, on August 1, an angry mass meeting of 7,000 “whiskey rebels” was called at Braddock’s Field, urging the excise challenge and vowing to march on Pittsburgh. The fiercest of the rebels, David Bradford, one of the leaders of the Mingo Creek Democratic-Republican Society, openly called for “secession from the Union” and hailed the French “system of terror” as a means of intimidation .

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“Whiskey Rebels” and the link with companies

The connection to corporations explained it all in Washington and Hamilton. Republican-Democratic societies in Pennsylvania had rushed to denounce excise for “the ruin of many and the impoverishment of the country,” and similar tumultuous meetings had taken place in Morgantown and Martinsburg, Virginia.

On August 7, Washington issued a proclamation announcing that “the very existence of government and the fundamentals of social order” were in danger and calling for militia services in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland. to assemble in Carlisle. , Pennsylvania, where Washington himself offered to take direct command, with Alexander Hamilton as second in command.

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Talks between Washington and Findley

William Findley was no lover of excise, but neither did he want his properties destroyed or his district of western Pennsylvania becoming the scene of a civil war.

He convinced the rebels to appoint him emissary to meet Washington in Carlisle. And when Findley arrived there on October 9, when the militia was massing in force, Washington received him with “politeness and attention.” Findley quickly blamed Hamilton for the whole explosion and accused Hamilton of using excise to provoke the border and “set the army on fire to a high degree.”

But Findley also insisted that he was speaking for the majority of West Pennsylvanians in expressing “unfeigned satisfaction” at Washington’s response. And he assured the president that “in the future, the laws would be respected and the officers protected”.

A portrait of George Washington.
Washington told Congress that the real culprits were “some self-created companies” and not the rebels. (Image: Everett Collection / Shutterstock)

The end of the whiskey rebellion

Washington was not entirely appeased and the march on Pittsburgh began on October 12. But every moment Washington has encountered, not resistance, but cheers and hospitality. And by October 20, Washington had become sufficiently convinced that no combat would take place that he passed command to Hamilton and Light Horse Harry Lee of Virginia and returned to Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, Findley managed to isolate hotheads like Bradford and persuade the rebel base to disperse. Twenty of the rebels were eventually arrested. Two were found guilty of treason, but pardoned by Washington. As he explained to Congress in November, the real culprits were “some self-created companies”.

The great whiskey rebellion was over, more with a moan than a bang.

Avoid anarchy and confusion

In retrospect, it was easy to think of the Whiskey Rebellion as a storm in a teapot. Jefferson joked that “an insurgency has been announced and proclaimed and armed against, and marched against, but could never be found.”

But Washington had a point worth hearing when it warned on August 10 that “if the laws are to be so trampled with impunity and a minority must dictate the majority, there is an end. all at once, to republican government; and nothing but anarchy and confusion are to be expected in the future.

Lawlessness and confusion were what had prevailed under the articles. Lawlessness and confusion were what the Constitution was designed to dispel, but lawlessness and confusion could still gain the upper hand if the lessons of Confederation were so quickly forgotten.

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The impact of the end of the whiskey rebellion

Washington may have been wrong about a Genet-inspired plot at work in western Pennsylvania – the Whiskey Rebels were, after all, landowners who simply opposed more than pieces of their property being taken away from them through the tax than they just thought. Nonetheless, Washington had to consider the possibility that across the Appalachians the Spaniards still controlled the Mississippi Valley and disgruntled Westerners might decide that their interests dictated a shift of their political allegiance closer to where their economic interests might reside.

One thing Washington could at least take satisfaction in: “self-created” Democratic-Republican societies have dissolved into embarrassment about the whiskey rebellion as the snow melts. The problem was that the party spirit, of which they had been a symptom rather than a cause, was ready to take a newer and more intense form.

Common questions about the conclusion and impacts of the whiskey rebellion

Q: Who was David Bradford?

David Bradford was one of the leaders of the Mingo Creek Democratic-Republican Society. He participated in the Whiskey Rebellion, openly calling for “secession from the Union”.

Q: Why did William Findley want to be appointed emissary to meet Washington?

When Washington called for militia services, Findley, although against excise, had no desire to have the property destroyed or for his district of western Pennsylvania to become a theater of civil war. He therefore convinced the rebels to appoint him emissary to meet with Washington.

Q: What did William Findley do to pacify Washington?

Findley accused Hamilton of using excise to provoke the border and “set the army on fire to a high degree”. But he also welcomed Washington’s response and assured the president that “in the future, the laws would be respected and officers protected.”

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