Whay was Shays Rebellion important?

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  • 1 decade ago
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    The rebellion was closely watched by the nation's leaders, who were alarmed at what they saw as an effort to "level" the inequalities the new nation was experiencing in the aftermath of the Revolution. George Washington, for example, exchanged dozens of letters through the fall and early winter of 1786-87, and it can be argued that the alarm he felt at the rebellion in Massachusetts was a strong motivation to bring him from retirement and work for a stronger central government. (See Richards, Shays' Rebellion, 1-4 and 129-130, for example). Most alarming for Washington and other early American elitists such as Samuel Adams and former general Henry Knox was the very real helplessness that the Confederation government had in the face of a rebellion that had nearly seized one of the few federal arsenals the country had. Adams was, in fact, so disturbed by the events of the rebellion that the once great advocate of revolution called for the deaths of the men rebelling against ostensibly similar oppression. He would state "In monarchy the crime of treason may admit of being pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares rebel against the laws of republic ought to suffer death."

    However, not all founding fathers felt that the rebellion was a bad thing. On Nov. 13, 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to New York senator William S. Smith saying, "A little rebellion now and then is a good thing. ... God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ... And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." [2]

    In the aftermath of the Newburgh Conspiracy in 1783, the high cost of a standing army, and the country's discomfort with a standing army, the Confederation Congress had nearly completely demobilized the army. In the face of the increasing unrest through the fall of 1786, Knox ordered an expansion of the nearly completely demobilized Continental Army; by mid-January, he'd managed to recruit only 100 men.

    Some of the nation's leaders had long been frustrated by the weakness of the Articles of Confederation. James Madison, for example, initiated several efforts to amend them, efforts that were blocked by small, but significant, minorities in Congress. Emboldened by his success in the Maryland-Virginia border dispute of 1784-5, Madison decided that decisions outside Congress were the only way for states to resolve their various commercial and other problems. Others within Congress worried that the government was too weak to turn back outside invasions, but the general sentiment against standing armies kept the power of the government small.

    As an extension of process of working out problems between the states, Madison and others decided to call for a gathering of the states in the fall of 1786. The Annapolis Convention held in Annapolis, Maryland September 11 to September 14, 1786 initially earned the acceptance of eight of the states, but several including Massachusetts, backed out, in part due to suspicion at Virginia's motives. In the end, only twelve delegates from five states (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia) appeared. The Convention did not accomplish much other than to endorse delegate Alexander Hamilton's call for a new convention in Philadelphia to "render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union." (Leonard, 126-127).

    The events of Shays' Rebellion over the coming months would strengthen the hands of those who wanted a stronger central government, and persuade many who had been undecided as to the need for such a radical change. One of the key figures, George Washington, who had long been cool to the idea of strong centralized government, was frightened by the events in Massachusetts. By January 1787, he decided to come out of retirement and to attend the convention being called for the coming May in Philadelphia. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a new, stronger government would be created under the United States Constitution.

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  • Kim
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    It helped convince some people that they needed a stronger federal government, one which could put down rebellions like this in the future. The two most important impetuses towards making the Constitution were to strengthen the tax gathering power and the war fighting power of the federal government. Shays' Rebellion helped spur interest in both.

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