’ Rebellion Essay, Research Paper Shays’ Rebellion After the American Revolution unsettled economic conditions and a severe depression tore the young nation. Paper money

’ Rebellion Essay, Research Paper

Shays’ Rebellion

After the American Revolution unsettled economic conditions

and a severe depression tore the young nation. Paper money

was in circulation, but little of it was honored at face

value. Merchants and other “sound money” men wanted

currencies with gold backing. In Massachusetts the “sound

money” men were property owners and controlled the

government. Most of those who were harmed by the depression

were without property and thus unable to vote. Conflict

between these two groups grew until thousands of men in the

western counties rose in armed revolt. They were led by

Daniel Shays (1747-1825), a captain during the American

Revolution. Shays’ Rebellion lasted from August 1786 to

February 1787. The agitators objected to heavy land and

poll taxes, the high cost of lawsuits, high salaries of

state officials, oppressive court decisions, and

dictatorial rulings of the state senate.

In Northampton, Worcester, Great Barrington, and Concord

on August 29 the mob succeeded in keeping the courts closed

so debtors could not be tried and put into prison. Fearful

of being tried for treason for this action, Shays and his

men broke up the state Supreme Court session at Springfield

the following month. The revolt took a more serious turn

when Shays and a force of 1,200 men returned to Springfield

in January to capture the arsenal. Action by American

general William Shepard of the national government

prevented the attack on January 25. The rebels fled toward

Petersham, where they were finally defeated. Most of the

insurgents were captured in early February, ending the

rebellion. The leaders were condemned to death for treason

but were later pardoned. Shays himself later received a war

pension for his service in the American Revolution.

Although they were defeated, their act of defiance worried

many property owners who became afraid that similar

rebellions might arise. The fears raised by Shays’

Rebellion woke a number of people up to the need of a

strong, central government. George Washington wrote to

James Madison: “We are either a united people or we are

not. If the former, let us act as a nation. If we are not,

let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it.” Many

consider this rebellion to be a major factor in the calling

of the Constitutional Convention.

Shays’ Rebellion was one of several disturbances in

different states. It hastened the movement for a federal

government strong enough “to ensure domestic tranquility,”

as stated in the preamble to the Constitution, which

established the United States.

That is the Shays Rebellion in brief. The sentiments behind

these actions, of roughly 200 years ago, seem very much

alive today. Clearly the Nation is grappling with many of

Daniel’s issues once again.

Daniel Shays is a local hero in Western Massachusetts A

substantial number of streets and highways bear his name.

I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good

thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in

the physical. . . . It is a medicine necessary for the

sound health of government.

What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The

tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with

the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural


Thomas Jefferson (1743 1826), U.S. president. Letter, 13

Nov. 1787, referring to Daniel Shays s rebellion of poor

farmers in Massachusetts. Jefferson, writing from Paris,

was the only one of the American leaders not alarmed by

news of the revolt.


Feidel, F., and May, E., eds., Shays’s Rebellion (1989);

Kaufman, M., ed.,