30 October 2012

Whiskey Rebellion Defeated – Rebels Paraded

The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hodgeland, 2006, Excerpts

On Christmas morning, 1794, twenty thousand Philadelphians mobbed the broad, cobbled streets of their city to see the defeated whiskey rebels brought in from the west. If the people were expecting a big show, they had reason to be disappointed. There were twenty prisoners, and General Blackbeard White himself had been given the job of escorting them from the Forks. Already skinny, pale, and exhausted by questioning and imprisonment when leaving Fort Fayette on November 25, they’d spent a month crossing mountains forbidding enough in summer, locked now in winter. Each prisoner had walked. General White ordered the beheading of anyone attempting escape: heads, he’s announced hopefully, would be displayed in the city. Only twelve cases went to trial, and in the end only two rebels were convicted. With the crisis over, Washington pardoned the condemned men.

In Washington’s stated opinion, suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion had drawn from the American people the support for law and government that marked their highest character. Washington also noted that the operation worked out well for him personally. With commercial distilling newly profitable, he added whiskey making to his endeavors at Mount Vernon.

Yet the whiskey tax remained hard to collect. There were occasional disruptions of court proceedings and occasional threats, but mainly there was sneakiness and recalcitrance, smuggling and moonshining. The authority that established itself at last in the western country was not challenged. It was eluded.

In the election of 1800, the Jeffersonians came to power and the whiskey tax was repealed.

29 October 2012

Troops Advance to Squash Whiskey Rebellion

The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hodgeland, 2006, Excerpts

The citizen army that Washington and Hamilton were moving west had two classes. Officers came from the ranks of the creditor aristocracy in the seaboard cities. The men these cavaliers were commanding were mainly militia draftees. Because better-off draftees hired substitutes to serve in their places, the ranks were crowded with the poorest laborers and landless workers, recent immigrants and subsistence farmers.

The draftees had no uniforms. Their clothing couldn’t keep out autumn dampness and chill. To Hamilton’s frustration, the supply process was chronically sluggish, and desperately needed tents, overalls, and jackets, even blankets were scarce. The men slept in cold fields, sometimes in tents but always on the ground, usually without straw for insulation. Drinking water could be bad, food paltry. Officers stayed in warm taverns and homes, where they spent their plentiful coin on extra food and drink. At times they were lavishly fed and entertained by hosts who could proffer fine wines and the charms of piano-playing daughters. Out in the camps, men drank whiskey and fired newly issued muskets for fun. Drunk on wine in brick houses, officers didn’t focus on orders not to waste powder.

Mornings began with floggings. Draft evasion had been rampant, with militiamen simply running and hiding. Once pressed into service, men deserted incorrigibly, embarrassing state governors and undermining the mission’s political spin: this was supposed to be a patriotic citizen army, reporting eagerly for duty to suppress ambitious traitors.

Foot soldiers felt resentment for the mission and had hopes mainly for plunder. They were all hungry and cold. While families cowered in farmhouses, freelancing soldiers crashed drunk through fields of just-ripened crops, tearing down fences for firewood, slaughtering chickens and pigs, buildings fires, and sleeping where they fell.

This army seemed thirstier for blood, more intent on murder, less disciplined. Rebel militias had been trying to take over the legitimate government. These soldiers were even more frightening: they were the legitimate government.

28 October 2012

The Militia Act – Federal Troops Mobilize

The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hodgeland, 2006, Excerpts

The Militia Law Act, as well as certain parts of the Constitution itself, had been constructed for the very purpose of allowing troops to police citizens. The militia could “enforce the law,” “cause the laws to be duly executed,” and “suppress combinations,” all of which must mean, Hamilton said, that the militia can also break up meetings and assemblies that exist simply for the purpose of noncompliance with the law, when such meetings are supported by violence that baffles ordinary law enforcement. The federal commissioners threatened the entry of troops into the Forks area and implied strongly that military incursion could be avoided it total submission were demonstrated by all people in the region. Repeal of the excise tax law was out of the question.

The fate of males eighteen and older would depend on their signing, on September 11, and not a day later, an oath of submission to federal law. Those who signed on time, did not resist the troops in any way, and complied with the law in the future could count on an amnesty for past crimes. Anyone else, regardless of anything he’d done or not done during the insurgency, would be fair game for arrest by the troops. The federal marshal for Pennsylvania was sent to serve summons to the people on the list. The rebels moved instantly to shut down all tax offices and punish not only officials but also civilian collaborators.

Under the Militia Act, the president of the United States was now empowered to call out an army against them. And with Congress in recess, the president would be empowered by the new militia law to call out the largest possible force on his own discretion. Hamilton and Knox were arguing for moving immediately, with an overwhelming force of at least twelve thousand men, bigger than any American army to date, more than had beaten the British at Yorktown.

Eastern newspapers railed against the insurgency; the officer classes in city militias were gung ho to march for glory. The seaboard cities filled with patriotic fervor, expressed hatred for the rebels, and wondered why the president hadn’t already moved against them. The troops could now move with impunity.

Hamilton began ordering arms and supplies and sending work to Henry Lee of Virginia, who would serve under Washington as commander of the whole force. Troops from New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia began marching west. On September 30, Washington and Hamilton stepped into a presidential coach and rode together down Market Street, leaving Philadelphia to join the army at Carlisle. Washington had always excelled at military administration, and Hamilton was enjoying a new one as secretary of war.

George Washington - Land Speculator

The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hodgeland, 2006, Excerpts

Washington felt he knew the Forks well. He’d been getting immensely frustrated with the major project of his life, western land speculation. In five decades, that speculation had given him a total of sixty thousand acres across the Appalachians. He’d deployed land scouts with instructions to break and get around laws limiting tract size. He’d threatened and bullied people who were eyeballing plots to which, by virtue of having eyeballed them first, he claimed title. When the royal proclamation of 1763 prohibited land purchases west of the mountains, he told his agent to buy there anyway. The War of Independence legitimized his titles by overturning royal injunctions. After the revolution, he showed no patience for illegal possession: he spent much energy bringing actions against squatters, disdaining their idea that title – or at least affordable rents – should be offered to those willing to live on and improve the land.

Making Mount Vernon pay for itself was always a problem. He needed full rent. He had a constant need for cash. He’d hoped to gain solvency through collections of western rents and then – when canals and roads were supported by the government and built by his own company, when Indians were suppressed by the United States Army, when regional government became what he called well toned – make a fortune by selling those lands.

But his hopes for the west were growing dreary, his patience thin. The land was still squatted on; rents were uncollected The absence of cash in the west was well known to Washington: he had to accept grain and other barter as rent, which always sold for less than he knew it was worth.

The whole problem was becoming encapsulated for Washington in the western people’s resistance to the tax law, which hadn’t been enforced anywhere over the mountains, from Kentucky to the Northwest Territory. Failure to collect a national tax imposed an embarrassing limit on the national reach. Tax resistance weakened big creditors’ confidence in the financial stability of the United States, which had promised to pay bondholders interest derived from excise revenues. To make up the shortfall, Hamilton had been forced to propose new federal taxes: excises on snuff, sugar, and carriages, as well as stamp taxes and new import duties. Because such taxes shifted burdens back to eastern merchants and creditors, now even federalists were worried about excessive taxation.

The western land bubble would soon burst for everybody if lands appeared not to be under effective control of the United States.

27 October 2012

Liberty Poles and Whiskey Rebellion Flag

The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hodgeland, 2006, Excerpts

By May 1794, liberty poles were rising. Up to a hundred feet tall, these were symbols made most famously in Boston. The appearance of liberty poles in the western country thus had a meaning that was clear to everyone. The western country had its own flag now too.

Rebellion against tyranny was under way. The people saw the whiskey tax only as a symbol. They wanted repeal, but they were also talking about a redistribution of wealth, especially of land, with rules for access to land and rewards for improvement.