The Whiskey Rebellion   1 comment

Whiskey Rebellion 00

The painting depicts George Washington and his troops near Fort Cumberland, MD, before their march to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. Unknown artist, attributed to Frederick Kemmelmeyer. Circa 1795. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thomas Jefferson was a great President. He opposed the taxation of whiskey. And he had red hair! How could I not be a fan?

It all started in 1791, when the House of Representatives, on a vote of 35 to 21, passed the Excise Whiskey Tax. This legislation was wildly unpopular with farmers and eventually precipitated the “Whisky Rebellion.” Farmers, whose grain crop was a chief ingredient in whiskey, loudly protested the tax.

The year was 1794. US citizens in Pennsylvania had decided that the new government’s decision to tax whiskey was unfair.

In July, a mob of whiskey rebels attacked and destroyed the home of a tax official. The reports are unsure, but it seems that some tax officials were tarred and feathered , and some were ridden out of town on a rail … both of which were “extra-judicial” punishments that were exacted by vigilante mobs, not the fledgling government.

There were published illustrations of this phenomenon, such as the one below. It is important to note that the tar used in such spectacles was not the hot, asphalt-based tar that one might expect. Rather, the tar was pine tar, which can be in liquid form at room temperature. But still … the spectacle sought to punish the focus of the event with humiliation. It’s also true that if you were truly riding a triangular, split rail, then you would be, uh, uncomfortable. Injured, even.

Beware the whiskey tax rebels!

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“Famous whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania”, an illustration from America’s first century: being a popular descriptive portraiture of the one hundred great and memorable events of perpetual interest in the history of our country by R. M. Devens (Springfield, Mass, 1882). From the New York Public Library Digital Gallery; illustrator unknown.

The first US Secretary of the Treasury (1789 – 1795) was Alexander Hamilton, who understood that he needed to create a way for the new republic to pay for itself. One of his solutions was a tax on whiskey.

Pennsylvanians revolted, and an armed rebellion was in the offing. Hamilton advocated the use of military force, which Jefferson passionately opposed. President Washington decided to put the state militias on alert, and then sent in negotiators. When that didn’t help, Washington embraced Hamilton’s view, and sent a force of 13,000 troops – led by Hamilton and Virginia governor Henry Lee – to end the rebellion.

George Washington reviewed the troops at the Carlisle BarracksWhiskey Rebellion 03The final result?

The rebels saw the awesome power of the army, and folded. Ultimately, there were only 2 civilian casualties. Rebellion over.

From The

Not everyone fell in line, though. Albert Gallatin, a Pennsylvania politician who would later become one of Hamilton’s successors as Treasury secretary, called the levy a hypocritical attempt by elites to “tax the common drink of the nation,” even as they continued to enjoy their imported fine wines and brandies. Georgians launched a petition to exempt peach brandy as “necessary of life … in this warm climate.” And Thomas Jefferson, who was known to enjoy a drink, led a successful effort to repeal the tax shortly after he was sworn in as president.


Carlisle Barracks History

Alexander Hamilton: The Whiskey Rebellion

The Daily Reckoning: The Whiskey Rebellion

The Daily Reckoning: The Whiskey Rebellion, Part II: Enforcing The Wealth Tax

The Daily Reckoning: The Whiskey Rebellion, Part III: Ending The Rebellion

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