The Whiskey Rebellion

The Whiskey Rebellion was a series of disturbances in
1794 aimed against the enforcement of a U.S. federal law
of 1791 imposing an excise tax on whiskey. The burden of
the tax, which had been sponsored by the Federalist leader
and secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton, fell
largely on western Pennsylvania, then one of the chief
whiskey-producing regions of the country. The grain
farmers, most of whom were also distillers, depended on
whiskey for almost all their income, and they considered
the law an attack on their liberty and economic well-being.
Organized resistance to the tax, even including the tarring
and feathering of federal revenue officials, rapidly assumed
grave proportions. Warrants for the arrest of a large
number of noncomplying distillers were issued by the
federal authorities in the spring of 1794; in the riots that
followed a federal officer was killed, and a mob burned the
home of the regional inspector of the excise. In a
proclamation issued in August 1794, President George
Washington ordered the insurgents to disperse and
requested the governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, New
Jersey, and Virginia to mobilize contingents of militia. The
president also dispatched three commissioners to
Parkinson\'s Ferry, Pennsylvania, to negotiate with
delegates representing the western section of the state, but
the negotiations proved fruitless. On October 14, 1794,
Washington ordered the militia to proceed to the western
counties. They met little resistance. The troops seized a
number of people, most of whom were soon released for
want of evidence. Two offenders were convicted of
treason, but they were pardoned by Washington. The
so-called Whiskey Rebellion is important in U.S. history
mainly because it provided the first real test of the federal
government\'s prerogatives and law enforcement power,
including the president\'s right to command the use of state
militias.

Category: History