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American Experience

Nearly twenty years after the revolutionary War began, the United States government faced a small-scale revolution by some of its own citizens. As in the previous war, taxes were a central issue. And Alexander Hamilton understood that putting down this rebellion was critical to the life of the nation.

In order to create a self-supporting and effective government, Treasury Secretary Hamilton knew he needed to find a steady source of revenue. He proposed an excise tax on whiskey produced in the United States, and Congress instituted the levy in 1791. In general, the citizens of that time felt negatively toward the idea of taxation. The farmers of western Pennsylvania, many of whom distilled whiskey and profited from its sale, proved outright hostile to the idea.

In July of 1794, a force of disaffected whiskey rebels attacked and destroyed the home of a tax inspector. The rebellion grew in numbers, if not in actions, and threatened to spread to other states. Hamilton knew that the presence of a large and potentially hostile force in Pennsylvania could not be tolerated. If the government were to survive, it would have to show itself capable of keeping control.

Hamilton advocated the use of military force President George Washington instead put state militias on the ready and sent in negotiators. When talks proved fruitless, Washington acquiesced to Hamilton's view. A force of 13,000 militia troops, led by Hamilton and Virginia governor Henry Lee, marched into western Pennsylvania.

By the time the federal force arrived, the rebellion had collapsed and most of the rebels had fled. Two men were convicted of treason and later pardoned by Washington. Alexander Hamilton was elated. The fledgling federal government had proven it could keep order — a necessity if the U.S. was to avoid instability. But many, in particular Thomas Jefferson, thought that this resort to military force was a dangerous mistake. It convinced them that Hamilton was a dangerous man.

The Whiskey Rebellion

Whiskey (Bourbon whiskey) is an American native spirit, with a history steeped in the cultures of the earliest settlers.

This unique American product was involved in the history of the first use of armed force by the new post-Revolution United States of America.

The Liberty Flag of the Whiskey Insurrection was much like the Sons of Liberty flags used by the colonists in their rebellion against England, but note the fifteen stripes for the then fifteen states.

Although whiskey was produced throughout the colonies (George Washington was among the noted whiskey producers of the time), the Scotch-Irish settlers of western Pennsylvania are where bourbon roots began, and where rebellion to the United States first occurred.

After the American Revolution the nation suffered unsettled economic conditions and a severe depression. Paper money was in circulation, but little of it was honored at face value. Most of those who were harmed by the depression were property-less and thus unable to vote. In Massachusetts the “sound money” merchants and bankers men controlled the government. The quarrel grew until thousands of men in the western counties of Massachusetts rose in armed revolt. They were led by Daniel Shays (1747-1825), a captain during the American Revolution. Shays’ Rebellion lasted from August 1786 to February 1787.

The agitators objected to heavy land and poll taxes, the high cost of lawsuits, high salaries of state officials, oppressive court decisions, and dictatorial rulings of the state senate. In Northampton on August 29 the mob succeeded in keeping the courts closed so debtors could not be tried and put into prison. Fearful of being tried for treason for this action, Shays and his men broke up the state Supreme Court session at Springfield the following month. The revolt took a more serious turn when Shays and a force of 1,200 men returned to Springfield in January to capture the arsenal. Action by the national government prevented the attack on January 25. Most of the insurgents were captured in early February, ending the rebellion. The leaders were condemned to death for treason but were later pardoned. Shays himself later received a war pension for his service in the American Revolution.

Shays’ Rebellion was one of several disturbances in different states. It hastened the movement for a federal government strong enough “to ensure domestic tranquility,” as stated in the preamble to the Constitution, which established the United States. And this Constitution brought the first use by the new federal government of its constitutional power to uphold the government of each state, as the Whiskey Rebellion broke out.

Western Pennsylvania had a history of wanting to be separate. As early as 1775 the Transylvanians petitioned the Continental Congress to be recognized as the fourteenth colony. In 1776 the people in the region claimed by both Pennsylvania and Virginia, announced that they were the new state of Westsylvania. They said that “no country or people can be either rich, flourishing, happy or free … whilst annexed to or dependent on any province, whose seat of government is … four or five hundred miles distant, and separated by a vast, extensive and almost impassible tract of mountains…”

On January 15, 1788, Lord Dorchester, the governor-general of Canada, sent John Connolly (previously in charge of Ft. Pitt) to Western Pa. to talk to General John Neville, General Samuel Parsons and other Pittsburghers sympathetic to the British cause to determine the likelihood of the West separating from the East. After receiving the report Dorchester then sent a letter to Lord Sydney advising him to aid the West in separating from the Union.

Indians led by the British raided the Pennsylvania areas west of the mountains. The United States sent two major military expeditions against the eastern Indians. The first, in 1790, was led by General Josiah Harmer and the second, in 1791, was led by General Arthur St. Clair. Both expeditions were defeated by the Indians! It wasn’t until 1794 that General Anthony Wayne defeated the British at Fallen Timbers and the British actually withdrew from the region, giving up on any hope of claim to the areas west of the mountains. To pay for the military activity against the Indians and British in the western counties, the federal government decided to put an additional tariff on the sale of whiskey at the source.

The settlers of Western Pennsylvania refused to pay, and broke out in armed rebellion in Pennsylvania. At some times, the rebellion had a force of seven thousand armed militia troops. To restore order to the ensuing “Whiskey Rebellion”, Washington sent the Continental Army. The 13,000 federal troops sent to the western Pennsylvania area was the first test of the power of the new government.

Although the army was successful in temporarily ending the rebellion the political problem remained. To avoid further troubles with the tough and stubborn Scotch-Irish settlers, and break up their center of resistance to taxation, Washington made a settlement with them, giving incentives for those who would move to western Virginia.

Although it was Washington who first offered incentives, it was the then Governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, who was offering offered pioneers sixty acres of land in Kentucky (at that time a western part of Virginia). To gain the land all the settler had to do was build a permanent structure and raise “native corn”. No family could eat sixty acres worth of corn a year and it was too perishable and bulky to transport for sale. The Scotch-Irish in Pennsylvania knew well how to make whiskey, and they used the rye of Pennsylvania to make the beverage. By switching the base of the beverage to corn, the problem of getting rid of a bulky grain that was too expensive to ship evaporated.

This corn based whiskey, which was a clear distillate, would become “bourbon” only after two coincidentally related events happened. The French had assisted in the War of Independence against the British. In acknowledgment of this, French names were subsequently used for new settlements or counties. In 1780, in the Western part of Virginia, the then huge county of Kentucky, was subdivided, in 1780 and again in 1786. One of these subdivisions was named Bourbon County, after the French Royal House.

Being on the Ohio River, the town of Marysville, Bourbon County, Kentucky, became a primary shipping port. Bourbon County thus became associated with the shipping of Whiskey. The name of the spirit became synonymous because of this location and the enterprise of the Reverend Elijah Craig from Bourbon County. He used old barrels to transport his whiskey to market in New Orleans. To get rid of the residue of previous contents of the old barrels, he charred the barrels before filling them. As his clear corn based whiskey made the long trip to market, it “mellowed” and took on a light caramel color from the charred oak. Being from Bourbon County Rev. Craig started calling his mellowed whiskey “Bourbon”. His whiskey became sought after more than the “white lightening” of the other producers. Soon all whiskey producers were claiming they also had “Bourbon”, and any corn whiskey that had aged some in charred barrels and shipped from Bourbon County was called Bourbon.

How the 18th Century Whiskey Rebellion Changed U.S. Attitudes Toward Revolt

In 1789, America was faced with a debt of $79 million, equivalent to about $2.4 billion today. The cause? The Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804) suggested that the federal government assume the debt and pay it off through various taxes, like the Excise Whiskey Tax, which passed in 1791.

The legislation taxed domestic and imported alcohol, and it was immediately unpopular in areas like western Pennsylvania. Due to its structure, small producers like grain farmers often had to pay as much as 9 cents ($2.73 today) per gallon, while larger, dedicated distilleries paid as little as 6 cents per gallon ($1.82 today).

Despite the tax, farmers produced whiskey for a number of reasons. Due to the war’s impact on alcohol importation, it was difficult to acquire foreign spirits like rum. Meanwhile, beer was hard to store and transport across the Allegheny Mountains. In contrast, whiskey made from local corn kept well and allowed farmers to do something with surplus corn that would otherwise rot.

A still during the whiskey rebellion / Getty

Tax payments had to be made in cash, but the use of cash was a rarity the further west in Pennsylvania one traveled, where people often paid for goods and services partly or wholly in whiskey. Whiskey was the informal medium of exchange. Many families only saw a few actual dollars during the year and paying the tax in cash could’ve severely impacted their ability to make other cash purchases.

Producers in western Pennsylvania had to ship their whiskey up to 300 miles before they could sell it, which further reduced their revenue. Distilleries located closer to cities didn’t have that extra overhead.

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The tax wasn’t just unpopular due to the financial burden it placed on producers, but the thought of paying a distant sovereign and being dragged 300 miles to stand trial if you refused bore resemblance to the way colonists were treated by England.

Initially, many refused to pay. Some argued that the structure was unfair to smaller producers and that paying in money was too burdensome.

This made tax collection difficult. Famously, on September 11, 1791, Robert Johnson, a tax collector, was tarred and feathered on his collection route in Washington County. Later, John Conner, a cattle driver, tried to collect on the resulting warrants for two men that Johnson recognized during the attack. He was also tarred and feathered before being tied to a tree for several hours.

It came to a head on the morning of July 16, 1794, when a mob surrounded Bower Hill, the home of tax collector John Neville near Pittsburgh. The day prior, Neville had attempted to serve a distiller a summons to appear in court for refusing to pay his tax but was chased off the property. However, one of the soldiers hired to protect his property informed the mob Neville had already fled.

Enraged, the mob called for the soldiers to surrender and when they refused, the group set fire to the property and opened fire on Neville’s home. It was during this skirmish that the mob’s leader, Revolutionary War veteran James McFarlane, was killed.

Further enraged by the death of McFarlane, thousands of men marched toward Pittsburgh to capture the city shortly after the incident at Neville’s home. And while the mob was unsuccessful and the situation was ultimately diffused, government officials in Philadelphia decided something needed to be done about this string of violent events.

President Washington sent state and federal commissioners to try and resolve the situation. But when they failed, Supreme Court Justice James Wilson ruled that Pennsylvania’s western counties were in open rebellion.

Washington summoned more than 12,000 militia members from the surrounding states to fight the rebels.

There was little violence when the two forces met. The majority of the rebels had already dispersed, and only 150 were arrested. Two were charged with treason and sentenced to hang, but they were pardoned eventually by President Washington.

The moment in U.S. history demonstrated that the federal government not only had the support of the state government, but was capable of suppressing armed rebellion.

Many producers still refused to pay the whiskey tax and it was later repealed in 1802 during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. Initially opposed to the tax, he used the collection difficulties to help justify its repeal.

Legends of America

Illustration of the Whiskey Rebellion from “Our First Century”, by R.M. Devens 1882

What started as a tax in 1791 led to the Western Insurrection, or better known as the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, when protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting.

Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1806

On March 3, 1791, Congress instituted a tax on distilled liquors to help pay off the debt from the American Revolution. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton had initiated a program to increase central government power, and the tax was to fund his policy of assuming war debt of those states who failed to pay.

During this time the western part of Pennsylvania was separated from the east by the Allegheny Mountains. Farmers, the majority of the population, found there was a limited market for their grain locally, and it was difficult to transport the grain to the east for sale. So instead, farmers converted their grain to whiskey, which made it easier to transport and more marketable.

The excise tax, passed in 1791 on all distilled spirits, was based on the capacity of the still rather than the quantity of production. In addition, it was required to be paid in cash, which at the time was unusual since whiskey was often used by those in western Pennsylvania to pay for goods and services. The tax was also uneven in the way it was collected between small and large producers. Smaller still operations were required to pay the tax throughout the year at about nine cents per gallon. Larger producers in the east, who benefited from cheaper transportation costs, could decrease their tax by increasing their volume and were allowed to make annual payments that amounted to six cents per gallon.

The farmers of western Pennsylvania were already upset with the government over a lack of protection against Indian attacks. The tax just added to their frustration and they felt that this direct interference by the government into their business, was unjust, and a violation of their rights. Many of them war veterans, they argued they were fighting for the principals of the American Revolution and taxation without local representation. This immediately led to organized resistance to the tax in the summer of 1791, with many farmers refusing to pay. Collectors were ambushed, humiliated and some even tarred and feathered.

Rebels tarring and feathering a tax collector in western Pennsylvania during the Whiskey Rebellion

The violence continued to escalate over the next several years and spread to other counties until it came to a head in the summer of 1794. That May, subpoenas were issued for over 60 distillers who had not paid the tax. Those served with the subpoenas were, under the law, obligated to travel to Philadelphia to appear in federal court, which was a burden to those on the western frontier and beyond many of their means. So in June Congress modified the law so that they could appear in local state courts, but by that time U.S. Marshall David Lenox, under Alexander Hamilton’s direction, was already serving writs saying they had to come to Philadelphia. Over the years, historians have argued that Hamilton intentionally did not wait for the change in the law to serve the writs in order to provoke violence that would justify federal military intervention. Others have called it a string of ironic coincidences.

Regardless, by mid-July Federal Marshal Lenox had served most of the writs without incident. However, on July 15, Lenox and Federal Tax inspector General John Neville were fired upon at the farm of Oliver Miller, about 10 miles south of Pittsburg. The men split up with Lenox retreating to Pittsburgh and Neville returning home to Bower Hill. That next day around 30 Mingo creek militiamen showed up at Bower Hill demanding the surrender of Lenox, who wasn’t there. Neville responded by firing a shot from his fortified home, mortally wounding Oliver Miller. The rebels then retreated to Couch’s Fort for reinforcements. By the time they returned the next day they had 600 men and were now commanded by Major James McFarlane, a revolutionary war veteran.

Neville also had some reinforcements with 10 U.S. soldiers from Pittsburgh under the command of Major Abraham Kirkpatrick, whom before the rebels arrived had Neville leave the house to a nearby ravine. In the meantime, Lenox and Neville’s son returned the area but were captured by rebels. Historians say it is unclear how many casualties resulted, but after failed negotiations between the rebels and Kirkpatrick shots were fired, and after an hour rebel leader McFarlane called for a cease-fire. As he stepped into the open a shot from the house killed him, which enraged the rebels who then set fire to the house, forcing Kirkpatrick to surrender. Kirkpatrick, along with Lenox and Neville’s son Presley, were kept as prisoners but later escaped.

McFarlane’s death fueled rage among the rebels, whose leaders started urging more violent resistance. In late July, a group led by David Bradford robbed the U.S. mail as it left Pittsburgh so they could go through the letters and see who opposed them. Finding several, Bradford called for men to meet at Braddock’s field on August 1.

Some 7,000 showed up, many of them not even landowners, nor distillers, but upset over the tax and other economic issues. Much of the anger was directed at wealthy families who had no connection with the tax. There was even talk of declaring independence from the United States. Some plans included marching through Pittsburgh and loot and burn homes of the wealthy. Luckily this was defused by Pittsburgh citizens who banished several men who opposed the rebels and expressed support for the rebellion.

In the meantime, President George Washington was doing his best to confront the armed insurrection, while at the same time maintaining positive public opinion. He decided to send a peace commission to meet the rebel committee, but at the same time try to raise a militia through the states. Hamilton, writing under the name of “Tully” in Philadelphia newspapers, denounced the mob violence in western Pennsylvania and advocated military action.

On August 7, 1794, Washington issued a proclamation stating that with the deepest regret the militia would be called to suppress the rebellion. He called for the rebels to disperse by September 1. Enacting the Militia Act of 1792, which allowed the President, with Federal court approval, to use State militiamen for instances like this, letters were sent to governors of Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia requesting almost 13,000 men. This also caused problems as few men volunteered and a draft was used to fill the ranks. Protests and riots, along with draft evasion were widespread.

Washington leads troops during the Whiskey Rebellion, by Frederick Kemmelmeyer

In a last-ditch effort to avoid confrontation, the peace commission, consisting of Attorney General William Bradford, Pennsylvania Senator James Ross, and Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Jasper Yeates, met with rebels for several days in late August and early September. After the talks failed, they reported back on September 24 that it was “absolutely necessary that the civil authority should be aided by military force in order to secure a due execution of the laws.”

During this time, Washington’s militia of 13,000 were gathered at Carlisle Pennsylvania, and on September 19, President Washington himself began leading the troops on a nearly month-long march west over the Allegheny Mountains to the town of Bedford. On September 25, after getting the report from the peace commission, Washington issued a proclamation that he would not allow “a small portion of the United States dictate to the whole union.” He called on all citizens not to aide the rebels. Washington remains the only sitting President to personally lead troops in the field. After getting them to Bedford, Washington returned to Philadelphia, placing General Henry Lee in command. Alexander Hamilton also remained with the troops.

General Henry Lee, former Governor of Virginia, by William E. West, 1838

In late October the Federalized militia began entering the western counties of Pennsylvania, and the rebel organization began falling apart. By mid-November 150 rebels, including 20 of its leaders, had been arrested. On November 29th, under the direction of President Washington, General Lee issued a general pardon for all but 33. Of those only a few were tried and two convicted, who were also later pardoned. President John Adams would later pardon David Bradford in 1799. Bradford had escaped to Spanish controlled New Orleans.

While the physical and violent opposition to the tax was over, the political opposition continued. That opposition would help Thomas Jefferson defeat President Adams in the 1800 election. In 1802, Congress repealed the distilled spirits excise tax and all other internal Federal taxes, relying solely on import tariffs for revenue, which were growing along with the Nations foreign trade.

The Whiskey Rebellion is significant in American history due to the fact it was the first test of federal authority in the United States and enforced the idea that the newly formed government had the right to levy taxes that would impact citizens in all states. It also enforced the right of the government to pass laws impacting all states.

LInks to Sites on the Whiskey Rebellion - History

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Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1790s

The war with Britain was over, for now, and it was time for the United States to build its insitutions, of democracy, of the frontier, of its military. And it was time to prove to the world that this form of government could succeed, and prove its line of succession was possible. When Washington gave way to Adams in 1797, that act secured first proof that its concept had merit, and the world was watching.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1790s

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1794 Detail

September 1, 1794 - The Whiskey Rebellion occurs when western Pennsylvania farmers in the Monongahela Valley, upset over the liquor tax passed in 1791, are suppressed by 15,000 militia sent by Alexander Hamilton to establish the authority of the federal government to uphold its laws.

There's always been a problem with taxation, on how it affects certain segments of the population. That was true with a tax on tea that prompted the American Revolution, and it was true five years into the first presidency of George Washington, when farmers in western Pennsylvania decided that the liquor tax was unfair.

The tax was passed in 1791, the first tax on a domestic product, and it applied to all distilled liquor, although the rebellion and tax became known predominantly as the whiskey tax due to the popularity of the drink. Western farmers, including many veterans of the war for independence, opposed it on grounds that the federal government, without local input, was imposing a tax without representation. Of course, Congress thought, with the powers invested in them to tax in the Constitution, that they were within their powers.

The Articles of Confederation had no powers to tax, and thus debt had accrued during the revolution and subsequent years to $54 million by the time the Constitution and first president were inaugurated in 1789. With state debt added in and coupled together into a federal debit, it amounted to $79 million. The current import duties were not going to be enough to pay the debt down, and thus, Alexander Hamilton proposed a tax on distilled spirits. It became law in March 1791.

Immediate controversy began with many large eastern distillers at a distinct advantage over their western small still farmers. Since the large distillers could pay per a large volume by a flat fee, which the small western distillers could not, they were effectively paying a lower rate. At first, the western farmers harassed tax collectors or just refused to pay. By September, the harassment had escalated, with a new tax collector tarred and feathered, and lack of collection ensueing through the beginning of 1792. At second, the farmers banned together to lobby Congress, which worked in May 1792 to reduce the tax by 1 cent per gallon, but not repeal it.

The farmers were not satisfied, calling a second convention in Pittsburgh for August, with more radical results. Liberty poles were raised. Local militia were taken over. Hamilton saw these acts as a considerable threat. After a report by Tax Collector George Clymer about the Pennsylvania problem, Hamilton convinced George Washington to sign a presidential proclamation on September 15, 1792.

Presidential Proclamation, September 15, 1792

PROCLAMATION. Whereas certain violent and warrantable proceedings have lately taken place tending to obstruct the operation of the laws of the United States for raising a revenue upon spirits distilled within the same, enacted pursuant to express authority delegated in the Constitution of the United States, which proceedings are subversive of good order, contrary to the duty that every citizen owes to his country and to the laws, and of a nature dangerous to the very being of a government and

Whereas such proceedings are the more unwarrantable by reason of the moderation which has been heretofore shown on the part of the Government and of the disposition which has been manifested by the Legislature (who alone have authority to suspend the operation of laws) to obviate causes of objection and to render the laws as acceptable as possible and

Whereas it is the particular duty of the Executive "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed," and not only that duty but the permanent interests and happiness of the people require that every legal and necessary step should be pursued as well to prevent such violent and unwarrantable proceedings as to bring to justice the infractors of the laws and secure obedience thereto:

Now, therefore, I, George Washington, President of the United States, do by these presents most earnestly admonish and exhort all persons whom it may concern to refrain and desist from all unlawful combinations and proceedings whatsoever having for object or tending to obstruct the operation of the laws aforesaid, inasmuch as all lawful ways and means will be strictly put in execution for bringing to justice the infractors thereof and securing obedience thereto.

And I do moreover charge and require all courts, magistrates, and officers whom it may concern, according to the duties of their several offices, to exert the powers in them respectively vested by law for the purposes aforesaid, hereby also enjoining and requiring all persons whomsoever, as they tender the welfare of their country, the just and due authority of Government, and the preservation of the public peace, to be aiding and assisting therein according to law.

In testimony whereof I have caused the seal of the United States to be affixed to these presents, and signed the same with my hand. [SEAL.] Done this 15th of September, A. D. 1792, and of the Independence of the United States the seventeenth.

The Proclamation Leads to Insurrection

Although the western Pennsylvania counties were not the only counties or states where the Whiskey tax was fought, it became the focus of attempting collection. This failed, for the most part, throughout 1793, up and down Appalachia, but especially in Pennsylvania. On November, 22, 1793, a tax collector in Fayette County, Benjamin Wells, was forced at gunpoint to surrender his commission. Washington ordered the assailants caught. They avoided capture.

By May of 1794, non payment was no longer going to be tolerated. Federal District Attorney William Rawle issued sixty subpoenas to distillers in western Pennsylvania who had not paid. They would be forced to appear in Federal Court three hundred miles away in Philadelphia. A number of the farmers would not accept that mandate and the expensive trip east. Battles ensued at Bower Hill on July 16-17 between Federal marshals and the rebels, on the second day six hundred strong and led by American Revolution Major James McFarlane. When the federal marshals seemed to indicate surrender, McFarlane stepped into the open and was shot.

The moderates in the Whiskey Rebellion were enraged and gathered seven thousand strong on Braddock's Field, (see engraving above) site of the former Battle of the Monongahela during the French and Indian War on July 9, 1755. This meeting on August 1, 1794 was not only of the whiskey farmers, but also included the poor citizens of the region who felt pushed down by the federal government. Violence was advocated, but was diffused. A march on Pittsburgh came with only a few barns burned, and another convention held at Whiskey Point on August 14, where peace and revolt were discussed.

Washington remained perplexed by the mounting insurrection. Most of his cabinet wanted him to use force to stop it. Washington chose to send a peace delegation, but also began raising a militia to suppress it. By September 1, Washington, through another proclamation, commanded that the rebels disperse or they would be suppressed by the national militia.

Presidential Proclamation, August 7, 1794

BY AUTHORITY By the president of the United States of America A PROCLAMATION

Whereas, combinations to defeat the execution of the laws laying duties upon spirits distilled within the United States and upon stills have from the time of the commencement of those laws existed in some of the western parts of Pennsylvania.

And whereas, the said combinations, proceeding in a manner subversive equally of the just authority of government and of the rights of individuals, have hitherto effected their dangerous and criminal purpose by the influence of certain irregular meetings whose proceedings have tended to encourage and uphold the spirit of opposition by misrepresentations of the laws calculated to render them odious by endeavors to deter those who might be so disposed from accepting offices under them through fear of public resentment and of injury to person and property, and to compel those who had accepted such offices by actual violence to surrender or forbear the execution of them by circulation vindictive menaces against all those who should otherwise, directly or indirectly, aid in the execution of the said laws, or who, yielding to the dictates of conscience and to a sense of obligation, should themselves comply therewith by actually injuring and destroying the property of persons who were understood to have so complied by inflicting cruel and humiliating punishments upon private citizens for no other cause than that of appearing to be the friends of the laws by intercepting the public officers on the highways, abusing, assaulting, and otherwise ill treating them by going into their houses in the night, gaining admittance by force, taking away their papers, and committing other outrages, employing for these unwarrantable purposes the agency of armed banditti disguised in such manner as for the most part to escape discovery

And whereas, the endeavors of the legislature to obviate objections to the said laws by lowering the duties and by other alterations conducive to the convenience of those whom they immediately affect (though they have given satisfaction in other quarters), and the endeavors of the executive officers to conciliate a compliance with the laws by explanations, by forbearance, and even by particular accommodations founded on the suggestion of local considerations, have been disappointed of their effect by the machinations of persons whose industry to excite resistance has increased with every appearance of a disposition among the people to relax in their opposition and to acquiesce in the laws, insomuch that many persons in the said western parts of Pennsylvania have at length been hardy enough to perpetrate acts, which I am advised amount to treason, being overt acts of levying war against the United States, the said persons having on the 16th and 17th of July last past proceeded in arms (on the second day amounting to several hundreds) to the house of John Neville, inspector of the revenue for the fourth survey of the district of Pennsylvania having repeatedly attacked the said house with the persons therein, wounding some of them having seized David Lenox, marshal of the district of Pennsylvania, who previous thereto had been fired upon while in the execution of his duty by a party of armed men, detaining him for some time prisoner, till, for the preservation of his life and the obtaining of his liberty, he found it necessary to enter into stipulations to forbear the execution of certain official duties touching processes issuing out of a court of the United States and having finally obliged the said inspector of the revenue and the said marshal from considerations of personal safety to fly from that part of the country, in order, by a circuitous route, to proceed to the seat of government, avowing as the motives of these outrageous proceedings an intention to prevent by force of arms the execution of the said laws, to oblige the said inspector of the revenue to renounce his said office, to withstand by open violence the lawful authority of the government of the United States, and to compel thereby an alteration in the measures of the legislature and a repeal of the laws aforesaid

And whereas, by a law of the United States entitled "An act to provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions," it is enacted that whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed or the execution thereof obstructed in any state by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings or by the powers vested in the marshals by that act, the same being notified by an associate justice or the district judge, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia of such state to suppress such combinations and to cause the laws to be duly executed. And if the militia of a state, when such combinations may happen, shall refuse or be insufficient to suppress the same, it shall be lawful for the President, if the legislature of the United States shall not be in session, to call forth and employ such numbers of the militia of any other state or states most convenient thereto as may be necessary and the use of the militia so to be called forth may be continued, if necessary, until the expiration of thirty days after the commencement of the of the ensuing session Provided always, that, whenever it may be necessary in the judgment of the President to use the military force hereby directed to be called forth, the President shall forthwith, and previous thereto, by proclamation, command such insurgents to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes within a limited time

And whereas, James Wilson, an associate justice, on the 4th instant, by writing under his hand, did from evidence which had been laid before him notify to me that "in the counties of Washington and Allegany, in Pennsylvania, laws of the United States are opposed and the execution thereof obstructed by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings or by the powers vested in the marshal of that district"

And whereas, it is in my judgment necessary under the circumstances of the case to take measures for calling forth the militia in order to suppress the combinations aforesaid, and to cause the laws to be duly executed and I have accordingly determined so to do, feeling the deepest regret for the occasion, but withal the most solemn conviction that the essential interests of the Union demand it, that the very existence of government and the fundamental principles of social order are materially involved in the issue, and that the patriotism and firmness of all good citizens are seriously called upon, as occasions may require, to aid in the effectual suppression of so fatal a spirit

Therefore, and in pursuance of the proviso above recited, I. George Washington, President of the United States, do hereby command all persons, being insurgents, as aforesaid, and all others whom it may concern, on or before the 1st day of September next to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes. And I do moreover warn all persons whomsoever against aiding, abetting, or comforting the perpetrators of the aforesaid treasonable acts and do require all officers and other citizens, according to their respective duties and the laws of the land, to exert their utmost endeavors to prevent and suppress such dangerous proceedings.

In testimony whereof I have caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed to these presents, and signed the same with my hand. Done at the city of Philadelphia the seventh day of August, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-four, and of the independence of the United States of America the nineteenth.

G. WASHINGTON, By the President

Armed Suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion

Three commissioners were sent to Western Pennsylvania Attorney General William Bradford, Justice Jasper Yeates of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and Senator James Ross, to negotiate peace and meet with the rebels. On August 21, the negotiations began. The rebels must denounce violence, submit to U.S. laws, and hold a referendum. If done, there would be amnesty. With mixed results and a small majority, the terms were agreed upon. When some areas still held out for rebellion, the commissioners recommended the militia be sent to cause the rebels to submit to federal authority.

The federal militia of 12,950 men, plus state militias, were sent. By October, George Washington joined them on the field. With this action, he became the only sitting United States President to lead troops on the field. With the amount of force shown by Federal authorities, and led by former American Revolution heroes General Light-Horse Harry Lee and Daniel Morgan, the insurrection stopped. Through 1795, a force of twelve hundred soldiers would remain under Morgan to keep the peace. Some of the rebels were brought to trial with two convicted of treason and sentenced to hang. Both men were pardoned by Washington.

So what did the Whiskey Rebellion prove? That the federal government had the power to tax its citizens, and in some ways, that the citizens would not like it, although there was a limit to the way they could protest it and that protest could not include violence. If it did, the power of the federal government would contain it. In 1802, Congress repealed the whiskey tax under the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson, and went back to import taxes to fund the government.

President George Washington decides to subdue Whiskey Rebellion

On August 26, 1794, President George Washington writes to Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, Virginia’s governor and a former general, regarding the Whiskey Rebellion, an insurrection that was the first great test of Washington’s authority as president of the United States. In the letter, Washington declared that he had no choice but to act to subdue the “insurgents,” fearing they would otherwise “shake the government to its foundation.”

The Whiskey Rebellion of August 1794 was the product of growing discontentment, which had been expressed as early as 1791, of grain farmers who resented a federal tax imposed on their distillery products. As growers threatened federal tax collectors with physical harm, Washington at first tried to prosecute the resistors in the court system. In 1794, however, 6,000 men angry at the tax gathered at a field near Pittsburgh and, with fake guillotines at the ready, challenged Washington and the federal government to disperse them.

In response, Washington issued a public proclamation on August 7, giving his former Revolutionary War aide-de-camp and current Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton the power to organize troops to put down the rebellion. In his letter to Lee on August 26, Washington noted that the general populace considered the insurrection with “universal indignation and abhorrence” and said that he otherwise would not have authorized such a heavy-handed response. Washington knew that the nation, having only recently violently overthrown the tyrannical English king, was in a delicate state and did not want to appear as an equally despotic president. He waited to see if the insurgents would back down they did not.

According to biographer Joseph Ellis in His Excellency, George Washington, the aging president mounted his horse on September 30 to lead a force of 13,000–larger than any American army amassed in one place during the Revolution–to quell the uprising. (The act of mounting his war horse was brief and largely symbolic Washington made most of the journey by carriage.) Lee joined Washington and the army on its march to Pennsylvania. This was the first and only time a sitting American president ever led troops into battle. Washington abandoned the procession early, however, leaving Alexander Hamilton, the true mastermind of the military response to the insurrection, in charge of the final approach to Pittsburgh.

The rioters dispersed in the presence of the federal troops and bloodshed was averted. In the aftermath, Washington reported to Congress that although he had agonized about the decision and intended to uphold the constitutional right to protest unfair tax laws, the insurrection had to be put down or the survival of the young democracy would have been in peril. Congress applauded his decision, but Washington’s former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who was in temporary retirement at his Monticello estate, viewed Washington’s decision to call out troops against fellow citizens as a dire threat to republican ideals and an abuse of presidential power. The uprising highlighted a growing division in early American politics which, by the end of Washington’s second term, pitted rural, agricultural interests, led by future Presidents Jefferson and James Madison, against the pro-industrial urban interests, represented by Hamilton and John Adams, and gave rise to the two-party political system.


A new U.S. federal government began operating in 1789, following the ratification of the United States Constitution. The previous central government under the Articles of Confederation had been unable to levy taxes it had borrowed money to meet expenses and fund the Revolutionary War, accumulating $54 million in debt. The state governments had amassed an additional $25 million in debt. [7] Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton sought to use this debt to create a financial system that would promote American prosperity and national unity. In his Report on Public Credit, he urged Congress to consolidate the state and national debts into a single debt that would be funded by the federal government. Congress approved these measures in June and July 1790. [8]

A source of government revenue was needed to pay the respectable amount due to the previous bondholders to whom the debt was owed. By December 1790, Hamilton believed that import duties, which were the government's primary source of revenue, had been raised as high as feasible. [9] He therefore promoted passage of an excise tax on domestically produced distilled spirits. This was to be the first tax levied by the national government on a domestic product. [10] The transportation costs per gallon were higher for farmers removed from eastern urban centers, so the per-gallon profit was reduced disproportionately by the per-gallon tax on distillation of domestic alcohol such as whiskey. The excise became known as the "whiskey tax." Taxes were politically unpopular, and Hamilton believed that the whiskey excise was a luxury tax and would be the least objectionable tax that the government could levy. [11] In this, he had the support of some social reformers, who hoped that a "sin tax" would raise public awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol. [12] The whiskey excise act, sometimes known as the "Whiskey Act", became law in March 1791. [13] George Washington defined the revenue districts, appointed the revenue supervisors and inspectors, and set their pay in November 1791. [14]

The population of Western Pennsylvania was 17,000 in 1790. [15] Among the farmers in the region, the whiskey excise was immediately controversial, with many people on the frontier arguing that it unfairly targeted westerners. [16] Whiskey was a popular drink, and farmers often supplemented their incomes by operating small stills. [17] Farmers living west of the Appalachian Mountains distilled their excess grain into whiskey, which was easier and more profitable to transport over the mountains than the more cumbersome grain. A whiskey tax would make western farmers less competitive with eastern grain producers. [18] Additionally, cash was always in short supply on the frontier, so whiskey often served as a medium of exchange. For poorer people who were paid in whiskey, the excise was essentially an income tax that wealthier easterners did not pay. [19]

Small-scale farmers also protested that Hamilton's excise effectively gave unfair tax breaks to large distillers, most of whom were based in the east. There were two methods of paying the whiskey excise: paying a flat fee or paying by the gallon. Large distillers produced whiskey in volume and could afford the flat fee. The more efficient they became, the less tax per gallon they would pay (as low as 6 cents, according to Hamilton). Western farmers who owned small stills did not usually operate them year-round at full capacity, so they ended up paying a higher tax per gallon (9 cents), which made them less competitive. [20] The regressive nature of the tax was further compounded by an additional factor: whiskey sold for considerably less on the cash-poor Western frontier than in the wealthier and more populous East. This meant that, even if all distillers had been required to pay the same amount of tax per gallon, the small-scale frontier distillers would still have to remit a considerably larger proportion of their product's value than larger Eastern distillers. Small-scale distillers believed that Hamilton deliberately designed the tax to ruin them and promote big business, a view endorsed by some historians. [21] However, historian Thomas Slaughter argued that a "conspiracy of this sort is difficult to document". [22] Whether by design or not, large distillers recognized the advantage that the excise gave them and they supported it. [23]

Other aspects of the excise law also caused concern. The law required all stills to be registered, and those cited for failure to pay the tax had to appear in distant Federal, rather than local courts. The only Federal courthouse was in Philadelphia, some 300 miles away from the small frontier settlement of Pittsburgh. From the beginning, the Federal government had little success in collecting the whiskey tax along the frontier. Many small western distillers simply refused to pay the tax. Federal revenue officers and local residents who assisted them bore the brunt of the protesters' ire. Tax rebels harassed several whiskey tax collectors and threatened or beat those who offered them office space or housing. As a result, many western counties never had a resident Federal tax official. [24]

In addition to the whiskey tax, westerners had a number of other grievances with the national government, chief among which was the perception that the government was not adequately protecting the residents living in the western frontier. [24] The Northwest Indian War was going badly for the United States, with major losses in 1791. Furthermore, westerners were prohibited by Spain (which then owned Louisiana) from using the Mississippi River for commercial navigation. Until these issues were addressed, westerners felt that the government was ignoring their security and economic welfare. Adding the whiskey excise to these existing grievances only increased tensions on the frontier. [25]

Many residents of the western frontier petitioned against passage of the whiskey excise. When that failed, some western Pennsylvanians organized extralegal conventions to advocate repeal of the law. [26] Opposition to the tax was particularly prevalent in four southwestern counties: Allegheny, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland. [27] A preliminary meeting held on July 27, 1791, at Redstone Old Fort in Fayette County called for the selection of delegates to a more formal assembly, which convened in Pittsburgh in early September 1791. The Pittsburgh convention was dominated by moderates such as Hugh Henry Brackenridge, who hoped to prevent the outbreak of violence. [28] The convention sent a petition for redress of grievances to the Pennsylvania Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives, both located in Philadelphia. [29] As a result of this and other petitions, the excise law was modified in May 1792. Changes included a 1-cent reduction in the tax that was advocated by William Findley, a congressman from western Pennsylvania, but the new excise law was still unsatisfactory to many westerners. [30]

Appeals to nonviolent resistance were unsuccessful. On September 11, 1791, a recently appointed tax collector named Robert Johnson was tarred and feathered by a disguised gang in Washington County. [31] A man sent by officials to serve court warrants to Johnson's attackers was whipped, tarred, and feathered. [32] Because of these and other violent attacks, the tax went uncollected in 1791 and early 1792. [33] The attackers modeled their actions on the protests of the American Revolution. Supporters of the excise argued that there was a difference between taxation without representation in colonial America, and a tax laid by the elected representatives of the American people. [34]

Older accounts of the Whiskey Rebellion portrayed it as being confined to western Pennsylvania, yet there was opposition to the whiskey tax in the western counties of every other state in Appalachia (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia). [35] The whiskey tax went uncollected throughout the frontier state of Kentucky, where no one could be convinced to enforce the law or prosecute evaders. [36] [37] In 1792, Hamilton advocated military action to suppress violent resistance in western North Carolina, but Attorney General Edmund Randolph argued that there was insufficient evidence to legally justify such a reaction. [38]

In August 1792, a second convention was held in Pittsburgh to discuss resistance to the whiskey tax. This meeting was more radical than the first convention moderates such as Brackenridge and Findley were not in attendance. Future Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin was one moderate who did attend, to his later regret. [39] A militant group known as the Mingo Creek Association dominated the convention and issued radical demands. As some of them had done in the American Revolution, they raised liberty poles, formed committees of correspondence, and took control of the local militia. They created an extralegal court and discouraged lawsuits for debt collection and foreclosures. [40]

Hamilton regarded the second Pittsburgh convention as a serious threat to the operation of the laws of the federal government. In September 1792, he sent Pennsylvania tax official George Clymer to western Pennsylvania to investigate. Clymer only increased tensions with a clumsy attempt at traveling in disguise and attempting to intimidate local officials. His somewhat exaggerated report greatly influenced the decisions made by the Washington administration. [41] Washington and Hamilton viewed resistance to federal laws in Pennsylvania as particularly embarrassing, since the national capital was then located in the same state. On his own initiative, Hamilton drafted a presidential proclamation denouncing resistance to the excise laws and submitted it to Attorney General Randolph, who toned down some of the language. Washington signed the proclamation on September 15, 1792, and it was published as a broadsheet and printed in many newspapers. [42]

Federal tax inspector for western Pennsylvania General John Neville was determined to enforce the excise law. [43] He was a prominent politician and wealthy planter—and also a large-scale distiller. He had initially opposed the whiskey tax, but subsequently changed his mind, a reversal that angered some western Pennsylvanians. [44] In August 1792, Neville rented a room in Pittsburgh for his tax office, but the landlord turned him out after being threatened with violence by the Mingo Creek Association. [45] From this point on, tax collectors were not the only people targeted in Pennsylvania those who cooperated with federal tax officials also faced harassment. Anonymous notes and newspaper articles signed by "Tom the Tinker" threatened those who complied with the whiskey tax. [46] Those who failed to heed the warnings might have their barns burned or their stills destroyed. [47]

Resistance to the excise tax continued through 1793 in the frontier counties of Appalachia. Opposition remained especially strident in western Pennsylvania. [48] In June, Neville was burned in effigy by a crowd of about 100 people in Washington County. [49] On the night of November 22, 1793, men broke into the home of tax collector Benjamin Wells in Fayette County. Wells was, like Neville, one of the wealthier men in the region. [50] At gunpoint, the intruders forced him to surrender his commission. [48] President Washington offered a reward for the arrest of the assailants, to no avail. [51]

In addition to the unrest in Fayette county, on August 9th, 1794, 30 men surrounded the house of William McCleery, the local tax collector in Morgantown, Virginia, as retaliation for the new whiskey taxes. McCleery felt threatened enough by the angry mob to disguise himself as a slave, flee from his home and swim across the river to safety. The subsequent three-day siege of Morgantown by outsiders and townspeople led state authorities to fear that the events would influence other frontier counties to join the anti-tax movement. [52]

The resistance came to a climax in 1794. In May of that year, federal district attorney William Rawle issued subpoenas for more than 60 distillers in Pennsylvania who had not paid the excise tax. [53] Under the law then in effect, distillers who received these writs would be obligated to travel to Philadelphia to appear in federal court. For farmers on the western frontier, such a journey was expensive, time-consuming, and beyond their means. [54] At the urging of William Findley, Congress modified this law on June 5, 1794, allowing excise trials to be held in local state courts. [55] But by that time, U.S. marshal David Lenox had already been sent to serve the writs summoning delinquent distillers to Philadelphia. Attorney General William Bradford later maintained that the writs were meant to compel compliance with the law, and that the government did not actually intend to hold trials in Philadelphia. [56]

The timing of these events later proved to be controversial. Findley was a bitter political foe of Hamilton, and he maintained in his book on the insurrection that the treasury secretary had deliberately provoked the uprising by issuing the subpoenas just before the law was made less onerous. [57] In 1963, historian Jacob Cooke, an editor of Hamilton's papers, regarded this charge as "preposterous", calling it a "conspiracy thesis" that overstated Hamilton's control of the federal government. [58] In 1986, historian Thomas Slaughter argued that the outbreak of the insurrection at this moment was due to "a string of ironic coincidences", although "the question about motives must always remain". [59] In 2006, William Hogeland argued that Hamilton, Bradford, and Rawle intentionally pursued a course of action that would provoke "the kind of violence that would justify federal military suppression". [60] According to Hogeland, Hamilton had been working towards this moment since the Newburgh Crisis in 1783, where he conceived of using military force to crush popular resistance to direct taxation for the purpose of promoting national unity and enriching the creditor class at the expense of common taxpayers. [61] Historian S. E. Morison believed that Hamilton, in general, wished to enforce the excise law "more as a measure of social discipline than as a source of revenue". [62]

Battle of Bower Hill

Federal Marshal Lenox delivered most of the writs without incident. On July 15, he was joined on his rounds by General Neville, who had offered to act as his guide in Allegheny County. [63] That evening, warning shots were fired at the men at the Miller farm, about 10 mi (16 km) south of Pittsburgh. Neville returned home while Lenox retreated to Pittsburgh. [64]

On July 16, at least 30 Mingo Creek militiamen surrounded Neville's fortified home of Bower Hill. [65] They demanded the surrender of the federal marshal, whom they believed to be inside. Neville responded by firing a gunshot that mortally wounded Oliver Miller, one of the "rebels". [66] The rebels opened fire but were unable to dislodge Neville, who had his slaves' help to defend the house. [67] The rebels retreated to nearby Couch's Fort to gather reinforcements. [68]

The next day, the rebels returned to Bower Hill. Their force had swelled to nearly 600 men, now commanded by Major James McFarlane, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. [69] Neville had also received reinforcements: 10 U.S. Army soldiers from Pittsburgh under the command of Major Abraham Kirkpatrick, Neville's brother-in-law. [70] Before the rebel force arrived, Kirkpatrick had Neville leave the house and hide in a nearby ravine. David Lenox and General Neville's son Presley Neville also returned to the area, though they could not get into the house and were captured by the rebels. [71]

Following some fruitless negotiations, the women and children were allowed to leave the house, and then both sides began firing. After about an hour, McFarlane called a ceasefire according to some, a white flag had been waved in the house. As McFarlane stepped into the open, a shot rang out from the house, and he fell mortally wounded. The enraged rebels then set fire to the house, including the slave quarters, and Kirkpatrick surrendered. [72] The number of casualties at Bower Hill is unclear McFarlane and one or two other militiamen were killed one U.S. soldier may have died from wounds received in the fight. [73] The rebels sent the U.S. soldiers away. Kirkpatrick, Lenox, and Presley Neville were kept as prisoners, but they later escaped. [74]

March on Pittsburgh

McFarlane was given a hero's funeral on July 18. His "murder", as the rebels saw it, further radicalized the countryside. [75] Moderates such as Brackenridge were hard-pressed to restrain the populace. Radical leaders emerged, such as David Bradford, urging violent resistance. On July 26, a group headed by Bradford robbed the U.S. mail as it left Pittsburgh, hoping to discover who in that town opposed them and finding several letters that condemned the rebels. Bradford and his band called for a military assembly to meet at Braddock's Field, about 8 mi (13 km) east of Pittsburgh. [76]

On August 1, about 7,000 people gathered at Braddock's Field. [77] The crowd consisted primarily of poor people who owned no land, and most did not own whiskey stills. The furor over the whiskey excise had unleashed anger about other economic grievances. By this time, the victims of violence were often wealthy property owners who had no connection to the whiskey tax. [78] Some of the most radical protesters wanted to march on Pittsburgh, which they called "Sodom", loot the homes of the wealthy, and then burn the town to the ground. [79] Others wanted to attack Fort Fayette. There was praise for the French Revolution and calls for bringing the guillotine to America. David Bradford, it was said, was comparing himself to Robespierre, a leader of the French Reign of Terror. [80]

At Braddock's Field, there was talk of declaring independence from the United States and of joining with Spain or Great Britain. Radicals flew a specially designed flag that proclaimed their independence. The flag had six stripes, one for each county represented at the gathering: the Pennsylvania counties of Allegheny, Bedford, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland, and Virginia's Ohio County. [81]

Pittsburgh citizens helped to defuse the threat by banishing three men whose intercepted letters had given offense to the rebels, and by sending a delegation to Braddock's Field that expressed support for the gathering. [82] Brackenridge prevailed upon the crowd to limit the protest to a defiant march through the town. In Pittsburgh, Major Kirkpatrick's barns were burned, but nothing else. [83]

Meeting at Whiskey Point

A convention was held on August 14 of 226 whiskey rebels from the six counties, held at Parkison's Ferry (now known as Whiskey Point) in present-day Monongahela. The convention considered resolutions that were drafted by Brackenridge, Gallatin, David Bradford, and an eccentric preacher named Herman Husband, a delegate from Bedford County. Husband was a well-known local figure and a radical champion of democracy who had taken part in the Regulator movement in North Carolina 25 years earlier. [85] The Parkison's Ferry convention also appointed a committee to meet with the peace commissioners who had been sent west by President Washington. [86] There, Gallatin presented an eloquent speech in favor of peace and against proposals from Bradford to further revolt. [84]

Federal response

President Washington was confronted with what appeared to be an armed insurrection in western Pennsylvania, and he proceeded cautiously while determined to maintain governmental authority. He did not want to alienate public opinion, so he asked his cabinet for written opinions about how to deal with the crisis. The cabinet recommended the use of force, except for Secretary of State Edmund Randolph who urged reconciliation. [87] Washington did both: he sent commissioners to meet with the rebels while raising a militia army. Washington privately doubted that the commissioners could accomplish anything, and believed that a military expedition would be needed to suppress further violence. [88] For this reason, historians have sometimes charged that the peace commission was sent only for the sake of appearances, and that the use of force was never in doubt. [89] Historians Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick argued that the military expedition was "itself a part of the reconciliation process", since a show of overwhelming force would make further violence less likely. [90]

Meanwhile, Hamilton began publishing essays under the name of "Tully" in Philadelphia newspapers, denouncing mob violence in western Pennsylvania and advocating military action. Democratic-Republican Societies had been formed throughout the country, and Washington and Hamilton believed that they were the source of civic unrest. "Historians are not yet agreed on the exact role of the societies" in the Whiskey Rebellion, wrote historian Mark Spencer in 2003, "but there was a degree of overlap between society membership and the Whiskey Rebels". [91]

Before troops could be raised, the Militia Act of 1792 required a justice of the United States Supreme Court to certify that law enforcement was beyond the control of local authorities. On August 4, 1794, Justice James Wilson delivered his opinion that western Pennsylvania was in a state of rebellion. [92] On August 7, Washington issued a presidential proclamation announcing, with "the deepest regret", that the militia would be called out to suppress the rebellion. He commanded insurgents in western Pennsylvania to disperse by September 1. [93]


In early August 1794, Washington dispatched three commissioners to the west, all of them Pennsylvanians: Attorney General William Bradford, Justice Jasper Yeates of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and Senator James Ross. Beginning on August 21, the commissioners met with a committee of westerners that included Brackenridge and Gallatin. The government commissioners told the committee that it must unanimously agree to renounce violence and submit to U.S. laws and that a popular referendum must be held to determine if the local people supported the decision. Those who agreed to these terms would be given amnesty from further prosecution. [94]

The committee was divided between radicals and moderates, and narrowly passed a resolution agreeing to submit to the government's terms. The popular referendum was held on September 11 and also produced mixed results. Some townships overwhelmingly supported submitting to U.S. law, but opposition to the government remained strong in areas where poor and landless people predominated. [95] On September 24, 1794, Washington received a recommendation from the commissioners that in their judgment, "(it was) . necessary that the civil authority should be aided by a military force in order to secure a due execution of the laws. " [96] On September 25, Washington issued a proclamation summoning the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia militias into service and warned that anyone who aided the insurgents did so at their own peril. [96] [97] The trend was towards submission, however, and westerners dispatched representatives William Findley and David Redick to meet with Washington and to halt the progress of the oncoming army. Washington and Hamilton declined, arguing that violence was likely to re-emerge if the army turned back. [95]

Militia expedition

Under the authority of the recently passed federal militia law, the state militias were called up by the governors of New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The federalized militia force of 12,950 men was a large army by American standards of the time, comparable to Washington's armies during the Revolution. [98] Relatively few men volunteered for militia service, so a draft was used to fill out the ranks. Draft evasion was widespread, and conscription efforts resulted in protests and riots, even in eastern areas. Three counties in eastern Virginia were the scenes of armed draft resistance. In Maryland, Governor Thomas Sim Lee sent 800 men to quash an anti-draft riot in Hagerstown about 150 people were arrested. [99]

Liberty poles were raised in various places as the militia was recruited, worrying federal officials. A liberty pole was raised in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on September 11, 1794. [100] The federalized militia arrived in that town later that month and rounded up suspected pole-raisers. Two civilians were killed in these operations. On September 29, an unarmed boy was shot by an officer whose pistol accidentally fired. Two days later, an "Itinerant Person" was "Bayoneted" to death by a soldier while resisting arrest (the man had tried to wrest the rifle from the soldier he confronted it is possible he had been a member of a 500-strong Irish work crew nearby who were "digging, a canal into the Sculkill" [sic] at least one of that work gang's members protested the killing so vigorously that he was "put under guard"). [101] President Washington ordered the arrest of the two soldiers and had them turned over to civilian authorities. A state judge determined that the deaths had been accidental, and the soldiers were released. [102]

Washington left Philadelphia (which at that time was the capital of the United States) on September 30 to review the progress of the military expedition. [96] According to historian Joseph Ellis, this was "the first and only time a sitting American president led troops in the field". [103]

Along the way he traveled to Reading, Pennsylvania on his way to meet up with the rest of the militia he ordered mobilized at Carlisle. [96] On the second of October, Washington left Reading, Pennsylvania heading west to Womelsdorf in order to "view the (Schuylkill and Susquehanna Navigation Company) canal. ". [96] Revolutionary war and Siege of Yorktown veteran, Colonel Jonathan Forman (1755–1809) led the Third Infantry Regiment of New Jersey troops against the Whiskey Rebellion and wrote about his encounter with Washington: [104]

October 3d Marched early in the morning for Harrisburgh [sic], where we arrived about 12 O'clock. About 1 O'Clock recd. information of the Presidents approach on which, I had the regiment paraded, timely for his reception, & considerably to my satisfaction. Being afterwards invited to his quarters he made enquiry into the circumstances of the man [an incident between an "Itinerant Person" and "an Old Soldier" mentioned earlier in the journal (p. 3)] & seemed satisfied with the information. [101]

Washington met with the western representatives in Bedford, Pennsylvania on October 9 before going to Fort Cumberland in Maryland to review the southern wing of the army. [105] He was convinced that the federalized militia would meet little resistance, and he placed the army under the command of the Virginia Governor Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Washington returned to Philadelphia Hamilton remained with the army as civilian adviser. [106]

Daniel Morgan, the victor of the Battle of Cowpens during the American Revolution, was called up to lead a force to suppress the protest. It was at this time (1794) that Morgan was promoted to Major General. Serving under General "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, Morgan led one wing of the militia army into Western Pennsylvania. [107] The massive show of force brought an end to the protests without a shot being fired. After the uprising had been suppressed, Morgan commanded the remnant of the army that remained until 1795 in Pennsylvania, some 1,200 militiamen, one of whom was Meriwether Lewis. [108]


The insurrection collapsed as the federal army marched west into western Pennsylvania in October 1794. Some of the most prominent leaders of the insurrection, such as David Bradford, fled westward to safety. It took six months for those who were charged to be tried. Most were acquitted due to mistaken identity, unreliable testimony and lack of witnesses. Two were sentenced to hang, see below.

Immediately before the arrests ". as many as 2,000 of [the rebels]. had fled into the mountains, beyond the reach of the militia. It was a great disappointment to Hamilton, who had hoped to bring rebel leaders such as David Bradford to trial in Philadelphia. and possibly see them hanged for treason. Instead, when the militia at last turned back, out of all the suspects they had seized a mere twenty were selected to serve as examples, They were at worst bit players in the uprising, but they were better than nothing." [109]

The captured participants and the Federal militia arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Day. Some artillery was fired and church bells were heard as ". a huge throng lined Broad Street to cheer the troops and mock the rebels . [Presley] Neville said he 'could not help feeling sorry for them. The captured rebels were paraded down Broad Street being 'humiliated, bedraggled, [and] half-starved . ' " [109]

Other accounts describe the indictment of 24 men for high treason. [110] Most of the accused had eluded capture, so only ten men stood trial for treason in federal court. [111] Of these, only Philip Wigle [114] and John Mitchell were convicted. Wigle had beaten up a tax collector and burned his house Mitchell was a simpleton who had been convinced by David Bradford to rob the U.S. mail. These, the only two convicted of treason and sentenced to death by hanging, were later pardoned by President Washington. [109] [115] [116] Pennsylvania state courts were more successful in prosecuting lawbreakers, securing numerous convictions for assault and rioting. [117]

In his seventh State of the Union Address, Washington explained his decision to pardon Mitchell and Wigle. Hamilton and John Jay drafted the address, as they had others, before Washington made the final edit:-

"The misled have abandoned their errors," he stated. "For though I shall always think it a sacred duty to exercise with firmness and energy the constitutional powers with which I am vested, yet it appears to me no less consistent with the public good than it is with my personal feelings to mingle in the operations of Government every degree of moderation and tenderness which the national justice, dignity, and safety may permit" [118] [119]

While violent opposition to the whiskey tax ended, political opposition to the tax continued. Opponents of internal taxes rallied around the candidacy of Thomas Jefferson and helped him defeat President John Adams in the election of 1800. By 1802, Congress repealed the distilled spirits excise tax and all other internal Federal taxes. Until the War of 1812, the Federal government would rely solely on import tariffs for revenue, which quickly grew with the Nation's expanding foreign trade. [24]

The Washington administration's suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion met with widespread popular approval. [120] The episode demonstrated that the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws. It was, therefore, viewed by the Washington administration as a success, a view that has generally been endorsed by historians. [121] The Washington administration and its supporters usually did not mention, however, that the whiskey excise remained difficult to collect, and that many westerners continued to refuse to pay the tax. [35] The events contributed to the formation of political parties in the United States, a process already underway. [122] The whiskey tax was repealed after Thomas Jefferson's Republican Party came to power in 1801, which opposed the Federalist Party of Hamilton and Washington. [123]

The Rebellion raised the question of what kinds of protests were permissible under the new Constitution. Legal historian Christian G. Fritz argued that there was not yet a consensus about sovereignty in the United States, even after ratification of the Constitution. Federalists believed that the government was sovereign because it had been established by the people radical protest actions were permissible during the American Revolution but were no longer legitimate, in their thinking. But the Whiskey Rebels and their defenders believed that the Revolution had established the people as a "collective sovereign", and the people had the collective right to change or challenge the government through extra-constitutional means. [124]

Historian Steven Boyd argued that the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion prompted anti-Federalist westerners to finally accept the Constitution and to seek change by voting for Republicans rather than resisting the government. Federalists, for their part, came to accept the public's role in governance and no longer challenged the freedom of assembly and the right to petition. [125]

In popular culture

Soon after the Whiskey Rebellion, actress-playwright Susanna Rowson wrote a stage musical about the insurrection entitled The Volunteers, with music by composer Alexander Reinagle. The play is now lost, but the songs survive and suggest that Rowson's interpretation was pro-Federalist. The musical celebrates as American heroes the militiamen who put down the rebellion, the "volunteers" of the title. [126] President Washington and Martha Washington attended a performance of the play in Philadelphia in January 1795. [127]

W. C. Fields recorded a comedy track in Les Paul's studio in 1946, shortly before his death, entitled "The Temperance Lecture" for the album W. C. Fields . His Only Recording Plus 8 Songs by Mae West. The bit discussed Washington and his role in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion, and Fields wondered aloud whether "George put down a little of the vile stuff too." [128]

L. Neil Smith wrote the alternate history novel The Probability Broach in 1980 as part of his North American Confederacy Series. In it, Albert Gallatin joins the rebellion in 1794 to benefit the farmers, rather than the fledgling US Government as he did in reality. This results in the rebellion becoming a Second American Revolution. This eventually leads to George Washington being overthrown and executed for treason, the abrogation of the Constitution, and Gallatin being proclaimed the second president and serving as president until 1812. [129] [130]

David Liss' 2008 novel The Whiskey Rebels covers many of the circumstances during 1788–92 that led to the 1794 Rebellion. The fictional protagonists are cast against an array of historical persons, including Alexander Hamilton, William Duer, Anne Bingham, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Aaron Burr, and Philip Freneau.

In 2011, the Whiskey Rebellion Festival was started in Washington, Pennsylvania. This annual event is held in July and includes live music, food, and historic reenactments, featuring the "tar and feathering" of the tax collector. [131] [132]

The Whiskey Rebellion

As part of the compromises that led to the adoption of the United States Constitution in 1789, the new Federal government agreed to assume the Revolutionary War debts of the 13 States. In early 1791, to help pay off the resulting national debt, Congress used its new constitutional authority to "lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises" and passed the first nationwide internal revenue tax—an excise tax on distilled spirits.[1] Congress took this action at the urging of the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.

Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury (1789-1795).

Unlike tariffs paid on goods imported into the United States, the excise tax on distilled spirits was a direct tax on Americans who produced whiskey and other alcohol spirits. The 1791 excise law set a varying six to 18-cent per gallon tax rate, with smaller distillers often paying more than twice per gallon what larger producers paid. All payments had to be made in cash to the Federal revenue officer appointed for the distiller's county.

Large, commercial distillers in the eastern United States generally accepted the new excise tax since they could pass its cost onto their cash-paying customers. However, most smaller producers west of the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains, then the Nation's frontier, opposed the "whiskey tax."

Frustration on the Frontier

While eastern farmers could readily transport their grain to market, westerners faced the hard task of moving their crops great distances to the east over the mountains along poor dirt roads. Given this difficulty, many frontier farmers distilled their surplus grain into more easily transportable whiskey. In doing so, their grain became taxable distilled spirits under the 1791 excise law, and western farmers opposed what was, in effect, a tax on their main crop. Usually cash-poor, frontier residents also used whiskey to pay for the goods and services they needed. Naturally, many westerners quickly came to resent the new excise tax on their "currency."

Other aspects of the excise law also caused concern. The law required all stills to be registered, and those cited for failure to pay the tax had to appear in distant Federal, rather than local, courts. In Pennsylvania, for example, the only Federal courthouse was in Philadelphia, some 300 miles away from the small frontier settlement of Pittsburgh. In addition, many were upset by what they saw as the National government's inattention to continuing Indian attacks along the frontier and, with Spain's control of New Orleans, westerners were frustrated with the failure of the Government to open the Mississippi River to free American trade.

A receipt for the whiskey tax, 1798.

From the beginning, the Federal government had little success in collecting the whiskey tax along the frontier. While many small western distillers simply refused to pay the tax, others took a more violent stand against it. Federal revenue officers and local residents who assisted them bore the brunt of the protester's ire. Tax rebels tarred and feathered several whiskey tax collectors and threatened or beat many who offered them office space or housing. As a result, many western counties never had a resident Federal tax official.

President George Washington took notice of the resistance to the whiskey tax and issued a proclamation on September 15, 1792, condemning interference with the "operation of the laws of the United States for raising revenue upon spirits distilled within the same." [2]

The Whiskey Rebellion Begins

Despite the President's plea and Congressional modification of the excise law, [3] violent opposition to the whiskey tax continued to grow over the next two years. This was especially true in the four counties of southwestern Pennsylvania —Allegheny, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland—the location of up to one-fourth of the Nation's stills. In the summer of 1794, U.S. Marshal David Lennon arrived in the area to serve writs ordering those who had refused to pay the whiskey tax to appear in Federal court in Philadelphia. In Washington County, Federal revenue officer John Neville acted as Lennox 's guide. On July 15th, the two men served a writ on William Miller, but, after leaving the paper with the angry frontiersman, they were met by an armed group of his neighbors. A shot was heard as Lennox and Neville rode off, but neither man was injured.

Matters came to a head on July 16th when a group of angry farmers, including members of the extended Miller family, marched on Neville's house in the belief that Marshal Lennox was there. Confronted by these armed men, Neville shot and killed Oliver Miller. A shootout ensued, and Neville's slaves joined the fight by firing on the mob from their quarters. The protesters fled, but returned to Neville's house on July 17th with a force of 500 local militiamen. The tax collector, however, had slipped away earlier with the aid of a small squad of Federal soldiers from Fort Pitt who had come to guard his property. A shootout with the soldiers left rebel leader James McFarlane dead, but the greatly outnumbered Federals later surrendered. The rebels then burnt the Neville's house and barn to the ground. Several days later, David Bradford, deputy county attorney for Washington County, took command of the rebels in the county.

A tax collector is tarred and feathered by anti-tax frontiersmen during the Whiskey Rebellion.

Anti-whiskey tax violence quickly spread to other counties along the frontier. Rebels burnt the home of Benjamin Wells, the Federal collector for Fayette County, and armed men stole the mail from a post rider leaving Pittsburgh.After finding letters from their opponents, the rebels returned to the town and beat the letter's authors. Anti-tax meetings were held throughout the region in late July. Despite appeals from anti-tax leaders such as newspaper publisher Hugh Henry Brackenridge and businessman and State legislator Albert Gallatin for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, calls went out for the local militia to gather at Braddock's Field near Pittsburgh.

President Washington Responds

After several thousand armed rebels gathered at Braddock's Field during the last week in July 1794, President Washington met on August 2nd with his Cabinet and the governor of Pennsylvania, Thomas Mifflin, to consider the situation. The President issued a proclamation on August 7th calling on the rebels" to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes."[4] The proclamation also invoked the Militia Act of 1792, which, after Federal court approval, allowed the President to use State militiamen to put down internal rebellions and "cause the laws to be duly executed."[5] The same day, Secretary of War Henry Knox sent a letter to the governors of Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia requesting a total of 12,950 militiamen to put down the rebellion.

In a last bid to avoid a confrontation, President Washington sent Attorney General William Bradford, Senator James Ross of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Jasper Yeates to meet with rebel leaders. In late August and early September, the three Federal commissioners held talks with a 15-member committee appointed by a rebel assembly representing the four frontier counties of Pennsylvania and Ohio County in Virginia.The rebel committee included Hugh Henry Brackenridge, David Bradford, Albert Gallatin, and other prominent community leaders. Unable to find a peaceful solution to the spreading rebellion, the Federal commissioners returned to Philadelphia on September 24, 1794, where they reported that it was "absolutely necessary that the civil authority should be aided by a military force in order to secure a due execution of the laws."[6]

President Washington, astride a white horse, reviews his troops at Carlisle, Pennsylvania in September 1794.

In the mean time, almost 13,000 militiamen had gathered at Carlisle, Penn-sylvania, and prepared to march west to end the rebellion. On September 19, 1794, George Washington became the only sitting U.S. President to personally lead troops in the field when he led the militia on a nearly month-long march west over the Allegheny Mountains to the town of Bedford.

On September 25th, the President issued a proclamation declaring that he would not allow "a small portion of the United States [to] dictate to the whole union," and called on all persons "not to abet, aid, or comfort the Insurgents." [7] After leading the troops to Bedford, Washington returned to Philadelphia in late October and placed General Henry "Lighthorse" Lee, a Revolutionary War hero and governor of Virginia, in command. Washington left a letter with Lee with instructions to combat those "who may be found in arms in opposition to the National will and authority" and "to aid and support the civil Magistrate in bringing offenders to justice." [8] Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton also remained with General Lee and the troops.

The End of the Whiskey Rebellion

In late October 1794, the Federalized militia entered the western counties of Pennsylvania and sought out the whiskey rebels. By mid-November, the militia had arrested 150 rebels, including 20 prominent leaders of the insurrection. Under the President's authority, General Lee issued a general pardon on November 29th for all those who taken part "in the wicked and unhappy tumults and disturbances lately existing" with the exception of 33 men named in the document. [9] While most of the militia returned home, a regiment occupied the area until the following spring, and organized opposition to the tax evaporated.

Of the whiskey rebels who were arrested, many were released due to a lack of evidence. Only a few men were tried and just two were convicted of treason. In July 1795, President Washington pardoned the two convicted men and those still in custody or under indictment. Several rebels sought for arrest fled the area, but most were later pardoned as well. President John Adams pardoned David Bradford, who escaped to Spanish-controlled New Orleans, in March 1799.

While violent opposition to the whiskey tax ended, political opposition to the tax continued. Opponents of internal taxes rallied around the candidacy of Thomas Jefferson and helped him defeat President John Adams in the election of 1800. By 1802, Congress repealed the distilled spirits excise tax and all other internal Federal taxes. Until the War of 1812, the Federal government would rely solely on import tariffs for revenue, which quickly grew with the Nation's expanding foreign trade.

The Whiskey Rebellion's Legacy

Most whiskey rebels returned to their previous lives and occupations, and some rose to prominence in their communities and the Nation. Hugh Henry Brackenridge, already a leading author and founder of the Pittsburgh Gazette, wrote a book on the uprising and would become a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice.[10] William Findley, who urged peaceful protest of the whiskey tax, also wrote a book on the rebellion, and was elected repeatedly to Congress.[11]

Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury (1801-1814).

Albert Gallatin, a leading Pennsylvania businessman, land developer, and State legislator long opposed internal Federal taxes. Given the opposition, his Fayette county neighbors elected him to the rebel assembly during the Whiskey Rebellion. While in the assembly, however, Gallatin spoke out against an open, violent break with the National government, and he also served on the 15-member committee that met with President Washington's three commissioners in an attempt to end to the crisis peacefully. Gallatin 's name appeared on a list of rebel leaders, but he was never arrested for his role in the Whiskey Rebellion.

Elected to Congress after the rebellion, Gallatin worked for a more exact accounting of the Federal government's finances, leading President Thomas Jefferson to appoint him Secretary of the Treasury, a post he also held under President James Madison. In 1802, Gallatin oversaw the ending of all direct, internal Federal taxes, including the distilled spirits tax. During the War of 1812, however, the rising costs of fighting Great Britain forced Gallatin to seek and win Congressional approval of new Federal excise taxes on carriages, sugar refining, and distilled spirits in 1813.

In 1814, Gallatin left the Department of the Treasury and helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. He later served as ambassador to France and to Great Britain.After retiring from Government service, he was president of the National City Bank of New York, and he helped found New York University.Gallatin later wrote that his participation in the Whiskey Rebellion was his "only political sin."[12]

In the end, the Whiskey Rebellion served as one of the first tests of the new Constitution and the Federal government's authority. It was also the greatest domestic crisis of President Washington's administration. The successful suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion helped to confirm the supremacy of Federal law in the early United States and the right of Congress to levy and collect taxes on a nation-wide basis.

Visiting Whiskey Rebellion-Related Sites Today

Historical markers throughout southwestern Pennsylvania identify sites, homes and other buildings associated with the Whiskey Rebellion. A searchable list of historical markers can be found on the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Web site at

For example, historical markers note important meeting sites of whiskey rebels at Braddock's Field, as well as Bonnet Tavern and Mingo Creek Church, both of which still stand today. Markers also note the location of a Miller family farmstead and the home of rebel leader David Bradford, both of which are now museums and open to the public.

In addition, plaques mark the location of the homes of whiskey tax collectors John Neville in Allegheny County and Benjamin Wells in Fayette County.Rebels burned both houses in 1794. In addition, several sites associated with President George Washington's march west from Carlisle are marked as well, including the still-standing Espy House, his headquarters in Bedford, Pennsylvania.

Alexander Hamilton's house in New York City is now the Hamilton Grange National Memorial, a unit of the National Park Service. For information on visiting the house, see the Memorial's Web site at for details.

Albert Gallatin's house, "Friendship Hill," near Point Marion, Pennsylvania, is also a National Park Service site, and the house and grounds are open to visitors. For details, including information on Gallatin 's role in the Whiskey Rebellion, see the Friendship Hill National Historic Site Web site at

For Further Reading

Short biographies of Secretaries of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin are posted on the Department of the Treasury's Web site at

Visit the University of Virginia's George Washington Papers Project Web site for information about viewing President Washington's diary entries for September and October 1794.

Henry Adams, The Life of Albert Gallatin (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1879) reprinted as The Life of Albert Gallatin, Selections, intro. by Raymond Walters, Jr., (New York: Chelsea House, 1983).

Leland D. Baldwin, Whiskey Rebels: The Story of a Frontier Uprising (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 1939).

H.H. Brackenridge, Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania in the Year 1794 ( Philadelphia : John M'Culloch, 1795) reprint, Daniel Marder, Incidents of the Insurrection, Edited for the Modern Reader (New Haven, Conn.: College & University Press, 1972).

Richard Brookhiser, Alexander Hamilton, American (New York: Free Press, 1999).

Jerry A. Clouse, The Whiskey Rebellion: Southwestern Pennsylvania 's Frontier People Test the American Constitution (Harrisburg, Penn.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1994).

William Findley, History of the Insurrection in the Four Western Counties of Pennsylvania in the Year 1794 ( Philadelphia : Samuel Harrison Smith, 1796) reprint, Reprint Co., Spartanburg, S.C., 1984.

Marie B. Hecht, Odd Destiny, the Life of Alexander Hamilton (New York: Macmillan, 1982).

Thomas P. Slaughter, Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

Raymond Walter, Jr., Albert Gallatin, Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat (New York: Macmillan, 1957).

[1] See U.S. Constitution, article I, section 8 and the Excise Act of March 3, 1791, in Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845-46, 8 vols.), vol. 1, pgs. 199-214. The act is officially titled "An Act repealing, after the last day of June next, the duties heretofore laid upon Distilled Spirits imported from abroad, and laying others in their stead and also upon Spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same."

[2] The proclamation appeared in the National Gazette on September 29, 1792.

[3] To address some of the westerners' concerns, Congress modified the excise act in May 1792 and again in June 1794. See "An Act concerning the Duties on Spirits distilled within the United States," passed May 8, 1792, in Peters, The Public Statutes at Large, vol. 1, pgs. 267-271 and "An Act making further provision for securing and collecting the Duties on foreign and domestic distilled Spirits, Stills, Wines and Teas" passed June 5, 1794, in ibid, pgs. 378-381.

[4] Proclamation by the President, August 7, 1794, Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd series, vol. 4, pgs.105-08. The proclamation was published in Claypoole's Daily Advertiser on August 11, 1794.

[5] Under the Militia Act of 1792, before the President could use State militia to repress an internal rebellion, a Federal judge had to rule that the laws of the United States were "opposed, or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by this act." See "An Act to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions," passed May 2, 1792, in Peters, The Public Statutes at Large, vol. 1, pgs. 264-266.

Associate Supreme Court Justice James Wilson authorized the use of the militia when he ruled on August 4, 1794, that the evidence presented to him showed a rebellion was underway in western Pennsylvania that could not be suppressed by normal judicial proceedings or by the area's U.S. Marshal. See the letter, Wilson to Washington, National Archives, Record Group 46, President's Messages.

[6] See the Commissioner's report, in the Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd series, vol. 4, pgs. 293-302.

[7] President Washington's proclamation was published in the Gazette of the United States ( Philadelphia ), September 25, 1794.

[8] George Washington to Henry Lee, October 20, 1794, George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799, Series 2 Letterbooks, Letterbook 40. General Lee also published the letter in his orders of October 21, 1794.

[9] Proclamation by Henry Lee, November 29, 1794, New Jersey Historical Society Archives, Manuscript Group 938, Henry Lee (1758-1818), Major General, General Orders, 1794, Call Number: MG 938.

[10] See H.H. Brackenridge, Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania in the Year 1794 ( Philadelphia : John M'Culloch, 1795) reprint, Daniel Marder, Incidents of the Insurrection, Edited for the Modern Reader (New Haven, Conn.: College & University Press, 1972).

[11] See William Findley, History of the Insurrection in the Four Western Counties of Pennsylvania in the Year 1794 ( Philadelphia, Samuel Harrison Smith, 1796).

New Whiskey Rebellion Trail to start in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Whiskey Rebellion Trail just launched will connect for booze and history tourists 75-plus cultural sites and craft distilleries from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, with lots of intoxicating views and visits in between.

The route is this region’s version of Kentucky’s booming Bourbon Trail, but aims to share an even older story - the “first chapter of American whiskey” when Colonial-era settlers in this region turned their rye into whiskey and then rebelled in the early 1790s when the new federal government taxed them on it.

“This is truly the only region in America that can tell that story,” says Meredith Meyer Grelli, co-owner of Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey, who led the effort to create a trail.

Her Strip District-based business, named for a figure convicted for treason in the Whiskey Rebellion, helped recently revive Pennsylvania rye from the dead. This trail takes the story forward, too, with stops at “modern whiskey rebels” - other new craft distilleries in Pennsylvania, Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area that “represent one of the most prolific craft-producing regions in the country.”

The attraction is a collaboration of many partners - distilleries (including the rebellion-themed Liberty Pole Spirits in Washington, Pa.), museums (the Smithsonian Institution), tourism agencies (Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau) and government (Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development).

In addition to the Smithsonian and its affiliated Senator John Heinz History Museum in Pittsburgh, the trail’s “highlighted partner cultural institutions” are the Bradford House Museum in Washington, Pa George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Fairfax, Va. Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia and West Overton Village & Museums in Westmoreland County.

The startup and first three years are being funded by destination marketing organizations including VisitPittsburgh. The trail’s fiscal sponsor for now is the Johnstown, Pa.-based Community Foundation of the Alleghenies, and the goal is to have the trail be a free-standing, self-supporting entity.

VisitPittsburgh’s president & CEO, Craig Davis, who is a founding member of the trail’s advisory board, said in a news release, “We see the Trail as a wonderful way to show off our region’s rich history as well as its emergence as an area with something for everyone … .”

Museums and distilleries don’t pay to be part of the trail, but they do offer discount admissions and tastings and other perks. They then get a portion of the proceeds of sales of passes. Some proceeds also support the trail.

Users will go to a website (that will go live on Friday) and choose one- or three-day passes in various regions that give them itineraries to follow and admission to those museums and tours, cocktails and flights at those distilleries. A pass for the entire trail - good for a year - also will be available. Passes are sent to users’ mobile phones, but users don’t need any kind of app.

“We want this to be seamless for guests,” says Grelli, who says the regional passes will range in price from $25 to $149.

Organizers are still finalizing the prices and the website, which has been built by Bandwango, a Salt Lake City company that has used its “destination experience engine” to build 50 such trails and other sites, but not one this extensive.

“This is really a unique scenario,” says one of Bandwango’s founders, Monir Parikh. “This is really the first of its kind, where there’s a partnership between multiple destination marketing organizations to create a cohesive trail.”

People can partake in amounts that suit them. At the Pittsburgh end of the trail, they can buy a pass to see some 20 attractions over three months, or do smaller pieces, such as a Strip District walking tour, or a “countryside” one.

The site isn’t just about e-commerce, Parikh says, but also is meant to be informational and weaves in a timeline of regional whiskey events from the start of the rebellion in 1791 to the present day.

Grelli and especially her Wigle colleague Teresa DeFlitch reached out to hundreds of prospective partners. The trail can be quickly tweaked and updated. As DeFlitch puts it, “It’s a living site.”

While the starting focus is on craft distilleries and museums, organizers intend to add bars, restaurants and hotels “as part of the complete passport offering,” she says.

The hope is that it will generate tourism like the popular Kentucky Bourbon Trail does. That trail was started in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, which in 2012 added the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. In five years, the trails and 29 distilleries on them have drawn more than 2.5 million visitors, who spent a lot of money.

Grelli foresees visitors who do that trail wanting to also visit the Whiskey Rebellion Trail and vice versa.

“It’s an exciting concept,” says Tripp Kline, one of the organizers of the Whiskey Rebellion Festival in Washington, Pa., and the Bradford House Museum, both of which are on the trail.

It may take a while to see how many tourists the trail brings to Washington, Pa., but he says, especially with good and sustained marketing, “I think it can only be a positive. … We have a real history that a lot of people don’t know about.”

Watch the video: Η τέχνη των κοκτέιλς με ουίσκι (May 2022).


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