17 October 2012

Debtor vs Creditor

The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hodgeland, 2006, Excerpts

The Morris plan was to swell the federal debt to massive proportions. A sufficiently huge debt, Morris believed, would force the Congress to pass federal taxes. So Morris began defining the purpose of the war as sustaining the war debt. Only extending the military conflict, he said, could hold the country together long enough for the government to grow strong and the people resigned to paying national taxes.

Morris enlisted young Hamilton to get the war effort focused on what Morris saw as its main purpose: paying interest to the bondholding class. Here was the origin of Hamilton’s whiskey tax of 1791. Here too was the origin of a resistance movement – typified by the tar and feathering – that would treat the whisky tax as the last, intolerable stroke in a long flogging. The conflict that Alexander Hamilton was taking up in the confederation Congress, and which he would pursue with increasing intensity to its climax in the 1790s, was really a conflict between creditors and debtors.

During the Colonial period, gold and silver were rarely seen by ordinary people. But still, ordinary people, paralyzed and reduced to barter, had to borrow. When high payments and retiring debt was out of sight, creditors came in effect to own debtors’ labor and property. Farmers over-worked their soil in hopes of success and only failed more rapidly. When they couldn’t pay, their farms and businesses were seized. Families were sent in droves from their farms and shops to prisons and poorhouses, their land, livestock, and furniture auctioned off, sometimes to the very creditors who had foreclosed and were now picking up, at bargain prices, the debtors’ lands, mills and tools.

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