was in circulation, but little of it was honored at face
value. Merchants and other “sound money” men wanted
currencies with gold backing. In Massachusetts the “sound
money” men were property owners and controlled the
government. Most of those who were harmed by the depression
were without property and thus unable to vote. Conflict
between these two groups grew until thousands of men in the
Daniel Shays (1747-1825), a captain during the American
Revolution. Shays’ Rebellion lasted from August 1786 to
February 1787. The agitators objected to heavy land and
poll taxes, the high cost of lawsuits, high salaries of
dictatorial rulings of the state senate.
In Northampton, Worcester, Great Barrington, and Concord
on August 29 the mob succeeded in keeping the courts closed
men broke up the state Supreme Court session at Springfield
the following month. The revolt took a more serious turn
when Shays and a force of 1,200 men returned to Springfield
in January to capture the arsenal. Action by American
general William Shepard of the national government
prevented the attack on January 25. The rebels fled toward
insurgents were captured in early February, ending the
but were later pardoned. Shays himself later received a war
Although they were defeated, their act of defiance worried
many property owners who became afraid that similar
rebellions might arise. The fears raised by Shays’
Rebellion woke a number of people up to the need of a
James Madison: “We are either a united people or we are
not. If the former, let us act as a nation. If we are not,
let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it.” Many
consider this rebellion to be a major factor in the calling
of the Constitutional Convention.
Shays’ Rebellion was one of several disturbances in
different states. It hastened the movement for a federal
government strong enough “to ensure domestic tranquility,”
as stated in the preamble to the Constitution, which
established the United States.
That is the Shays Rebellion in brief. The sentiments behind
these actions, of roughly 200 years ago, seem very much
alive today. Clearly the Nation is grappling with many of
Daniel’s issues once again.
Daniel Shays is a local hero in Western Massachusetts A
substantial number of streets and highways bear his name.
I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good
the physical. . . . It is a medicine necessary for the
sound health of government.
What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The
Nov. 1787, referring to Daniel Shays s rebellion of poor
farmers in Massachusetts. Jefferson, writing from Paris,
was the only one of the American leaders not alarmed by
news of the revolt.
Feidel, F., and May, E., eds., Shays’s Rebellion (1989);
Kaufman, M., ed.,