Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The farmers involved in Shays’ Rebellion and other similar gatherings throughout Massachusetts found their inspiration in their leaders of the American Revolution. These same men fought to shrug off the tyranny of the local government and looked to the same leaders to remove it once again. When the answer to their plea did not arise, they found disappointment in the very men who led the way down the same path a few short years before. They thought nothing of picking up their arms and doing what they had to do to get the attention of their leaders and to get the job done. Separating from the new union was the farthest thing from their minds. A solution to the immediate need was what they sought and they did it the only way they understood to work. Yet, many of the founding fathers were not impressed with the actions of the Massachusetts farmers.
Samuel Adams was heavily involved in the American Revolution. His view of Shays’ Rebellion was one quite different than many would have anticipated. The Revolutionary veterans would have anticipated pride or support in their cause as they were following in Adams’ footsteps. Yet, Adams saw a big difference between the protests from the colonists of 1776 and those of the farmers a decade later. In 1786, “the key difference was that the revolutionaries had been resisting the tyranny of a monarchical power” while the farmers faced a government that was “safely in the hands of the people of Massachusetts.” Adams did not see a need for the revolt with the people holding the reins of government. He just did not realize how weak the new government was. Shays’ Rebellion was pivotal in pointing that out.
Daniel Shays and the thousands of others involved in the protests that began in August 1786 did not see themselves as revolutionaries but as protestors. Governor Bowdoin saw the act as rebellion against the government and treated all those involved as such. The similarities between their acts and that of Britain never crossed their minds. The farmers saw themselves as following the footsteps of the men they admired who stood up to Britain and achieved the only solution open to them. Not looking for independence, the farmers looked for financial relief and the use of common sense by the Massachusetts leaders. If taking up arms and marching on those seats of government was the only way to get the job done without having to spill blood or tear apart the new union, the farmers were willing to do just that.
Shays’ Rebellion would not be the last of protests that would scare the founding fathers and remind them of the revolutionary acts they began before 1776. After adopting the U.S. Constitution, the new nation found itself in debt that amounted to $54 million once it accounted for the debts to individual creditors and to the international community. As various taxes were enacted on the citizens, more protests arose and the federal government found itself struggling against the very same spirit that helped create it.
Ironically, America would find itself fighting the greatest battle of all with itself. The spirit that conquered the land and sent other nations back across the ocean discovered its strength when it turned on itself. It could not handle its own power and could not see how noble it was while easily misled at the same time. It was a spirit that conquered a nation and had to rein itself back in line various times during the early years of the new country.
Shays’ Rebellion was a desire for change that turned into a bloody encounter. History can see where blood could have been avoided, but it can also see where this rebellion was a continuation of the spirit of the new country. It was a desire for a better life with a strong government looking out for the people. The new nation did not have what it thought it possessed. Shays and the other farmers helped the government see that plainly. The protests brought the new states together to sign the United States Constitution and began a journey to create the nation the men of the American Revolution longed for.
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