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.

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