The Whiskey Rebellion, like the War of 1812 – took place in the lives of many Americans who had been young when the War of Independence was won. The Spirit of Revolution was very much fired. On the surface level, it may be easy to see the event as an example of Federal Overreach. After all, isn’t it ironic that a Government predicated on No Taxation Without Representation… should suppress tax revolts? Was there a popular referendum for a moratorium to be proposed? Many people – veterans included – felt betrayed.
It is a common refrain, but freedom isn’t free. Wars cost money, that never changes. Now for America to be, it had to disentangle from Britain – obviously – but what is sometimes forgotten is that Britain was the naval, as well as financial superpower of the day. It was also true that Britain was the vehicle by which the Yankees came by rum, the unofficial national drink. In loss of this supply, home brewing skyrocketed. Especially in the Western frontier, then Pennsylvania. So the government, under Washington, levied a “sin tax.” The idea being to tax surplus, nonessential but popular items. Guaranteed revenue. In the East, where a mercantile infrastructure was established, there was less concern. Along the Western Borders where the economy was hard – often the supplementary income from whiskey distillery was the difference for thrifty farmers between
subsistence and poverty.
The tax was grossly unpopular, and the Pennsylvanians evaded, and at times outright revolted against the tax. The end result was that George Washington sent a warning, and a show of force. Few were harmed or injured during this conflict, and a great takeaway was that Washington showed considerable restraint. Moreso given that, for those who had known him, Washington had been capable of great ruthlessness in dealing with insubordination. But, wisely, he recognized that the people were not the military, and civil law must be separate from military law – hence, he retained his air of opposition to tyranny. It was clear the government had the will and energy to crush rebellion, revolution. It was clear history could repeat itself. The threat of violence ended the revolt,
and Washington let the protestors, by and large, go. They agreed to pay a tax – although in reality, the taxes were continually evaded. However, the message was sent – the government asserted authority.
A potentially unforeseen byproduct of this exchange was a gradual disinterest in Federalism. In the wake of the conflict, faith in Thomas Jefferson waxed. He ascended to the Presidency with his Republican Party, and the seeds of the American political machine were planted. Jefferson had advocated proto-libertarian principles, arguing that the sanctity of democracy came from the people directly – and could not be dictated from above. The complexities of this struggle are ones we should sympathize with. From 1776 until the passing present year, the discussion of ideal government role is hotly debated by ideologues and taxpayers alike.
- Hook Backing
- Release: 12/8/2023