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Whiskey Rebellion

Background

Following the Revolutionary War, the United States desperately needed funding. Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, made a plan to fund war debt. This included an excise tax Hamilton wanted to tax something that was very popular, yet would be a "sin tax", or taxing something that was harmful. So, he decided to tax whiskey, the most popular alcoholic beverage at the time. In 1791, it was signed into law.

Rebellion

Tax collectors were being tarred and feathered, and tension between the national government and distillers began rising. Many people weren't paying their taxes, and one day, U.S. marshal David Lenox had been sent in to summon delinquents to court.

Battle of Bower Hill

Lenox was joined by General Neville, who helped to guide him in Allegheny County. Later, after Lenox retreated to Pittsburgh, approximately thirty militiamen surrounded Neville's home, called Bower Hill. Nothing happened that day, but Neville shot and wounded one of the rebels. The next day, they returned, with 600 people, now commanded by Major McFarlane, a veteran from the Revolutionary War. Neville had reinforcement from some U.S. soldiers, and Lenox came back. After an exchange of fire, McFarlane and one or two militiamen were killed, while one U.S. soldier may have been wounded. Lenox and Neville's son were held captive, but they escaped. 

March on Pittsburgh

Radical leaders, such as David Bradford, began emerging. They urged violent resistance; In July 1794, he called for a military assembly at Braddock's Field, about 8 miles east of Pittsburgh. On August 1, 7000 people gathered at Braddock's Field.They talked of seceding, although they only had support of six counties and a few thousand people. 

Federal Intervention

The national government consolidated state militias from Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania to amass an army of 13,000 men. They needed a draft, because not many people volunteered, so there were many anti-draft riots. George Washington initially led the troops into battle, making him the only sitting president to ever lead troops into battle. When he realized that he would be met with little resistance, he handed off the job to Henry "Lighthouse Harry" Lee, the governor of Virginia and a hero of the Revolutionary War. 

The rebels' militia quickly collapsed; Bradford fled westward to safety, and eventually a federal court indicted 24 men for high treason. Only two people were convicted: Philip Wigle, who beat a tax collector and burned his house, and John Mitchell, who was convinced by Bradford to rob a U.S. Post Office. Both men were sentenced to death, but George Washington pardoned both of them.

Aftermath and Legacy 

The government's suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion was greatly lauded. It demonstrated that the new national government had the ability to suppress violent resistance, something the national government under the Articles of Confederation wouldn't have been able to do. So, it was generally regarded as a success. The Whiskey Tax was eventually repealed in 1801, when Thomas Jefferson became president.

 

 

David Witten

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