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Shay’s Rebellion Essay

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For the critics of republicanism, Shay’s Rebellion was a chilling vision of the future. Describe the economic troubles, many of which first developed in the revolution that subsistence farmers (along with others) in the post-revolutionary era faced. With regards to Shay’s Rebellion, discuss how it could be interpreted as proof of the fallibility of republicanism.

In the post war era many economic troubles developed. The war debt- was agreed to in the Treaty of Paris in 1783 had to be paid back to the English. The debt was large a hefty sum of 35 million (much of it needed to be paid to French and Dutch bankers). Under the republican system, and the newly ratified Articles of Confederation the Congress of the new nation couldn’t tax. Congress had to borrow money- and as exhibited later on borrowing is a very unfortunate concept. Therefore, the states had to have the willingness to meet their financial obligations. The states needed to find way to get all the money, so they started raising taxes. Again, the states borrowed money from merchants and investors.

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The people complained about the taxes, and tried to pay in paper money- which the government wouldn’t accept because the value fluctuated all the time. Other issues also added to the financial crisis. The English, Dutch or French wouldn’t trade with the Americans- this brought depression to towns that relied on this trade of goods. If that wasn’t bad enough- prices started rising. Prices on common goods increased dramatically.

To handle that issue, the states introduced price controls, which were fine with the poor, but the wealthy obviously wanted to make more money and the price controls diminished that opportunity. Finally, the issue of paper money also added to the economic troubles. Paper money started being printed all the time and its value going from 1.5:1 (ratio with gold) went to 147:1 in 5 years and counterfeit money was common which added to the confusion. All these issues were a fallibility of republicanism because they showed that when power was dispersed into state governments it wasn’t as effective. If the power was concentrated more into the government- the government would be able to deal with these economic issues.

Subsistence farmers as well as laboring people were hardest hit in these economic troubles. This brings the issue back to borrowing because the government borrows from other countries, the state government borrows from wealthy merchants and the small farmers and laboring people (who need money for taxes) borrow from the merchants. When in 1785, the English bank called for all the American loans, the merchants want all their debts paid. In Massachusetts the issue was most unstable. Farmers started petitioning for relief from all their debts, but the government didn’t do any because it was comprised of the merchants and other wealthy people, who wanted their money from these farmers.

The government passed a law calling for full repayment (or risk foreclosure) and even more taxes (when the average man in Massachusetts in the 1780’s paid a third of his salary in taxes). In response to this the Hampshire County convention condemns the state senate, court fees and tax system (reminiscent of the Revolution). The courts start issuing foreclosures and the people prevent the court from sitting and then close the court down completely.

The governor of Massachusetts- Bowdain dispatches a militia of 600 to protect the Supreme Court of the state. Daniel Shays (war captain- awaiting payment) gathers a group of 500 insurgents. In western Massachusetts the men are led to the courthouse, but retreat after 4 are killed. The national militia (1,300) troops chases down the rest and suppresses the rebellion. This rebellion represents a fallibility of republicanism, because the issues could have been resolves earlier. If the national government had the power to stop the unfair laws being made in the first places, the rebels would have never gathered. Giving too much power to the state government, the national government can’t control the events until they threaten national safety.

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