History of the United States
Shays' Rebellion

What was Shays' Rebellion?



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Shays' Rebellion

The economy in the period following the American Revolution was extremely precarious. Due to the war, there was massive debt throughout the United States. Foreign investors who aided the Patriots during the war started to call in their debts and Congress had to borrow money simply to pay accumulating interest. In addition, the Articles of Confederation ensured that unity in solving the economic crisis would be difficult. Some states had paid what was requested of them, while others could not make the minimum amount asked.

At the local level, farmers were struggling. They could not pay off their taxes or support their families. The economic hardship was exacerbated by the lack of commercial banks in the state, so people borrowed from each other in a pyramid of debt and credit.

In 1785, English banking houses heavily involved with American trade began to call in debts as prices went down. American merchants then called in their debts -- a chain reaction that went all the way to the bottom: farmers. The government that collected the farmers taxes was controlled by creditor and commercial interests and would not grant reprieve to the struggling farmers. The farmers petitioned the state government for an extension on their payments and issuing of new paper money to pay debts and taxes. However, the state government was not sympathetic to the farmers.

Frustrated with the inability to pay their taxes and debts, much less support their families, Massachusetts farmers stepped outside the law to solve their problems. Like most rebellions, meetings stressed non-violence, but soon the angry mobs took action. The farmers prevented the county courts from sitting, which were responsible for writs of property foreclosure.

Farmers gathered around an old Revolutionary War veteran, Daniel Shays. He too had fallen on hard times following the war and felt cheated that he wasn't compensated for his time in the Continental Army. Shays led 1,200 men to the federal arsenal at Springfield, attempting a full uprising on January 26, 1787. The state militia, financed by Eastern merchants fearing property damage, swept in and forced the "Shaysites" to retreat.

Though Shays' Rebellion failed, it paved the way for massive changes in US government. By then, it was understood that the Articles of Confederation had to be revised. After the American Revolution, there was a period of "Republican Extremism" that minimized government control, symbolized by the loose Articles of Confederation. But with Shays' Rebellion, a group (eventually the Federalists) formed calling for more governmental control and a new national Constitution.
Shays '​ Rebellion was an armed uprising which took place in Massachusetts during 1786 and 1787. Some historians believe "fundamentally altered the course of the United States' history.
Shay's rebellion was an armed uprising in central and western Massachusetts, led by Daniel Shays. It was in protest of high taxes and farm mortgages.