The ineptitude of the federal government is nothing new. From 1791 through 1794 the citizens of the western side of the Allegheny Mountains banded together to fight Alexander Hamilton’s excise task on whiskey on the perfectly reasonable grounds that since the government contributed nothing to its makers they were not entitled to tax them. The government – as always – wanted money and then, as now, was unwilling to admit that it produced nothing and then, as now, was perfectly willing to use force to collect taxes.
Washington sent his army over the mountains to put down the rebellion and collect the taxes. They found no rebels but arrested Herman Husband who had come to fame before the revolution when he joined resisters who organized and began calling themselves “Regulators” because they wanted to regulate the government, that is to force it to obey the laws. He was jailed that time to but was set free when an angry mob of armed farmers marched on the jail in Sandy Creek, North Carolina. He had been thrown out of the Quakers and the North Carolina legislature but was a lifelong committed pacifist which made him a strange choice for arrest. Old, ill and held for months without a trial this would be his last arrest since he died on his way home having been released without ever being charged or tried.
Hugh Henry Brackenridge – one of the founders of what is now the University of Pittsburgh, and the newspaper that still operates as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – found himself assaulted by both sides for trying to mediate the dispute. As for Washington’s vaunted army under the command of Lighthorse Harry Lee [Robert E. Lee’s father] they were so ill equipped and poorly trained that when provisions ran low they helped themselves to local produce earning the sobriquet, the watermelon army. The failure of the government helped open the door for Jefferson one of whose first acts was the repeal of the tax.
The Whiskey Rebellion : George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the frontier rebels who challenged America’s newfound sovereignty William Hogeland New York : Scribner, c 2006 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. vii, 302 p. : maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 279-286) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
A gripping and provocative tale of violence, alcohol, and taxes, The Whiskey Rebellion pits President George Washington and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton against angry, armed settlers across the Appalachians. Unearthing a pungent segment of early American history long ignored by historians, William Hogeland brings to startling life the rebellion that decisively contributed to the establishment of federal authority.
In 1791, at the frontier headwaters of the Ohio River, gangs with blackened faces began to attack federal officials, beating and torturing the collectors who plagued them with the first federal tax ever laid on an American product – whiskey. In only a few years, those attacks snowballed into an organized regional movement dedicated to resisting the fledgling government’s power and threatening secession, even civil war.
With an unsparing look at both Hamilton and Washington – and at lesser-known, equally determined frontier leaders such as Herman Husband and Hugh Henry Brackenridge – Hogeland offers a fast-paced account of the remarkable characters who perpetrated this forgotten revolution, and those who suppressed it. To Hamilton, the whiskey tax was key to industrial growth and could not be permitted to fail. To hard-bitten people in what was then the wild West, the tax paralyzed their economies while swelling the coffers of greedy creditors and industrialists. To President Washington, the settlers’ resistance catalyzed the first-ever deployment of a huge federal army, led by the president himself, a military strike to suppress citizens who threatened American sovereignty.