The Whiskey Rebellion: How Brand New America Tore Up The Bill of Rights

TDB's picture

Via The Daily Bell

223 years ago today, “The Dreadful Night” occurred in Western Pennsylvania, after an uprising called The Whiskey Rebellion.

The United States was brand new. Soldiers who had fought for independence from Great Britain found themselves on opposite sides of a skirmish. Some were having their rights violated practically before the ink was dry on the Bill of Rights. Other Veterans of the Revolution were doing the oppressing at Alexander Hamilton’s behest.

The Whiskey Rebellion saw farmers stand up to an unfair tax handed down by the federal government, and the government responded with the force of a monarchy. It may have all sprung from Alexander Hamilton’s desire for glory. Or Hamilton, the first Secretary of Treasury, may have had other motives for setting the precedent of force which still lives on today.

It all started after the Revolution, in 1791, when the federal government was in debt, and had no official money. The notes they paid to soldiers were worth fractions of what was promised, but many had no choice but to accept the funds and go home in order to try to survive.

But the soldiers were not the only ones who needed to be paid after the war. There were a number of rich investors and bankers who had provided the capital needed to win the Revolution. They too were awaiting repayment.

Alexander Hamilton had a better relationship with these financiers than with the soldiers. Hamilton was one of the leading banking figures of the time. He proposed a tax which would have two purposes. The tax would raise the revenue necessary to pay back the wealthy financiers of the Revolution. But the tax would also bring under the jurisdiction of the federal government a group of pioneers living in rural western Pennsylvania. The tax was to be levied on the production of whiskey, and not just at a commercial level. Everyone who made whiskey owed the tax. This would be the first federal tax on domestic goods.

This was a problem for the people of western Pennsylvania. Most people in this area used whiskey as a currency. Whatever surplus grain a family had would be converted into whiskey in order to preserve it. Whiskey would still have the calories of grain and was drank by almost everyone. It could be used for preserving and making some medicines.

Whiskey didn’t spoil, was widely used, and easy to transport. This made it an ideal currency. No need for banks, no need for paper money the worth of which can be manipulated. These people had tangible goods with intrinsic value absent of government mandate.

But Alexander Hamilton and the federal government insisted that the tax on whiskey be paid in coin.

For western Pennsylvanians, this amounted to an income tax. But even worse, now they had to find a way to convert their whiskey into coin. They had no use for coin since they used whiskey as a currency. But now the federal government would require them to use more time and effort just to pay the tax.

But it gets worse. Producers of whiskey were given a choice. They could pay a flat tax or pay a per gallon price. For commercial distillers who produced a lot of whiskey, the flat rate was cheaper than the per gallon rate. But for individuals, the per gallon rate was cheaper.

This was a political reward that Hamilton gave to commercial whiskey distillers in the area. They would now have the cheapest whiskey available since the flat tax worked out to a lower per gallon rate than home-distillers were forced to pay.

Hamilton did this to gain a foothold of support in the area (his enforcer was a large scale distiller) and to convert the economy of western Pennsylvania away from a whiskey-based currency. The sooner everyone was brought under the jurisdiction of the federal government, the sooner the government could raise money to pay for spending.

The tax destroyed the way of life for your average rural Pennsylvanian. First, they were singled out for a tax that most city dwellers would not be affected by. Next, they were forced to find a way to earn coin in order to pay the tax. Then, the tax made their whiskey more expensive compared to commercial distillers. This meant it was harder to sell, making it harder to convert the whiskey into coin to pay the tax.

Many people from this area moved out west to avoid the intricacies of society and government. Some were veterans of the Revolution. They would not accept this tax.

They were outraged that this tax was levied against them while the Northwest Indian War was going badly for the U.S. making the area unsafe. Seeing the tax as an advantage to grain growers (who owed no tax) and big distillers in the east (who owed a flat rate) also fueled western Pennsylvanian’s anti-federal sentiment.

They decided that if this was the way the new country was to treat its people, they wanted no part in it. They refused to pay the tax and served vigilante justice to tax collectors and other sympathizers of the federal government. They reacted similarly to how the United States reacted to unfair British taxes which sparked the Revolution.

By 1794 the climax of the situation unfolded. A U.S. Marshall was sent to the area and a showdown ensued. Some rebels were shot in a skirmish and their leader, a veteran of the Revolution, was killed. The tax collector and U.S. Marshall were captured only to later escape, and the fury of western Pennsylvanians peaked.

There was talk among the rebels that they should secede from the United States and form their own country. The plan that emerged was a watered down version of protest in which the rebels would march through Pittsburgh nonviolently. This was meant to send a message that they would not back down against what they saw as Hamilton’s attempts to pay back the wealthy by taxing the ordinary citizen.

President George Washington decided it was time to send in the army. A commission he sent to western Pennsylvania returned and recommended using the military to enforce the tax laws, and restore order.

By October 1794 Washington was seeing troops off, and heading back east, much to the dismay of some moderate locals including Congressman William Findley. He saw Washington as a fair president who just wanted to do what was right. Alexander Hamilton was the real force behind the army heading west, according to Findley, who was included on Hamilton’s list of possible rebels to be arrested.

Hamilton went with the army of nearly 20,000 as a civilian adviser. He was instructed by Washington to maintain the utmost discipline among the troops. As they advanced toward their target in western Pennsylvania, Hamilton was to prevent any breach of law by the troops, such as pillaging the countryside.

Officers harshly punished any soldier caught stealing, but the soldiers were doing so because of the lack of rations and clothing. Hamilton decided to solve this by making the theft of these goods legal. According to William Hogeland in his book The Whiskey Rebellion:

The quartermaster corps, [Hamilton] announced, would impress civilian property along the way. Now families watched helplessly as bayonet-wielding soldiers–no longer freelancing thieves but officials, authorized by the president–commandeered hard-won winter supplies of grain, meat, firewood, and blankets on behalf of the government of the United States. A steady, freezing rain meant the arrival of winter. Families whose sustenance was carted away faced grim months ahead (218).

Once the army and Hamilton finally arrived at the target county in western Pennsylvania, they contonued their oppression. They did not care much to follow the due process laid out in the Bill of Rights in new Constitution, despite Hamilton’s assurances to the President.

Many residents had signed oaths of support for the U.S. government. By signing, they risked local vigilante justice. But the U.S. promised that they would be pardoned as punishment was served to the region for failing to pay the new tax, and leading an insurrection against officials of the federal government.

These oaths were ignored and many who had signed them were arrested by Hamilton and the army anyway. A month earlier the first arrests of a few rebels had been made, prompting the most guilty among the rebels to flee. Anyone left in western Pennsylvania had minimal roles in the insurrection, and had certainly not led it. The most violent rebels, who had committed the worst acts against government officials, had already fled.

“The Dreadful Night” began in the middle of the night on November 13, 1794. Hamilton had created three lists of people: those who were not to be arrested, those who would be arrested, and those who were to be brought in as witnesses for questioning. The first list was not provided to the generals. Hamilton gave them the authority to arrest anyone they suspected of having participated in the rebellion, aided the rebels, raised liberty poles, or robbed the mail. He also authorized the troops to arrest local officials who failed to suppress the insurrection. The officers and soldiers who were passed these orders were delighted to finally have some excitement and authority on this trip west.

One particularly unstable officer named White was put in control of  the 40 prisoners which Hamilton thought would give the most valuable intelligence on the whole situation. These prisoners “were brought to a dark log structure” where they were tied up and seated on the muddy floor, and guarded by soldiers instructed to keep the prisoners away from the warmth of the fire. The tavern keeper was told he would be killed if any prisoners received food, and thus for more than two days the sadistic officer in charge:

…starved and dehydrated his shivering, exhausted captives, steadily cursing and castigating them, glorying in their helplessness and describing their imminent hanging. Even White’s troops became concerned about the captives who seemed barely alive (222).

The prisoners were then marched 12 miles in bad weather to be held in another jail, still without being charged with any crime. Following interrogation, most of them were eventually released without any criminal proceedings. This was unsurprising since most of those arrested were indeed innocent.

The arrests and brutality went on for several days throughout western Pennsylvania. This served as a reminder to all residents not to speak out against the federal government. Hamilton made it clear to the presiding judge that regardless of innocence, a good number of detainees would need to be marched back to Philadelphia in order to give the impression that the federal government had accomplished its goal, and put down a violent, unjustified rebellion. The judge held a number of rebels for trial even with what he considered lack of evidence, fearing that the army would revolt if too many prisoners were let go.

The prisoners that remained in custody were marched back to Philadelphia with great show in order to create the illusion of glory. It was essentially a photo op for Hamilton and Washington, who could now say, see, look what we did, look at the problems we solved. The prisoners were paraded on Christmas Day 1794 before 20,000 Philadelphians.

It was a disappointing show to the spectators who knowing that thousands of rebels had marched against the government, were surprised to see only twenty prisoners. Twelve cases went to trial, and two rebels were convicted. The rest weren’t released until 1796. They were left to find their way home if they could afford it. The whiskey tax remained hard to collect until it was repealed in 1801 by President Thomas Jefferson.

From the beginning of this country, the federal government has not been very good at abiding by the Constitution. Clearly, the due process rights of most of the “rebels” arrested were violated. Also violated were the rights of the farmers whose food and property was confiscated along the way in order to supply the army.

Cruel and unusual punishment was used on the prisoners, prior to them even being charged. What a precedent to set at the birth of a “free” country. They tore up the Bill of Rights before the ink had time to set.

With Hamilton’s broad presence in the foundation of the country’s banking and finances, is it any wonder that his vision has led us to where we are today? The government still uses taxes to give some businesses an advantage. The government still levies taxes which are meant to change the way citizens live their lives.

But remember that the government still found it hard to enforce and collect the whiskey tax. And today we can arrange our lives in a similar fashion, and make it difficult for the government to collect their unfair taxes. Let the spirit of rebellion inspire you.

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hoytmonger's picture

Well, the US wasn't "brand new", it was created in 1778 by the Articles of Confederation.

The Constitution was a coup d'etat... also provoked by Alexander Hamilton at the Annapolis Convention.

He was a real douchebag.

RedBaron616's picture

One needs to remember that communication back then was less than perfect. No doubt what happened in western Pennsylvania became huge by the time the news reached DC. President Washington was certainly not a rash man, so I feel sure that he responded to the news as he received it. The fact that none of these things seem to be considered or mentioned doesn't exactly make me believe that this account is even-handed. Is this true history or just a political agenda article?

hoytmonger's picture

Washington was urged by Hamilton in a letter on August 16, 1794, to invade the free and independent state of Pennsylvania.

Washinton was a distiller himself, and likely didn't care for the tax.

Also, the extent of the tax revolt wasn't limited to just Western Penn., it stretched south through the frontier areas of Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and the entire state of Kentucky.

GodSpeed_00's picture

No matter what laws you write human beings will be human beings.

JibjeResearch's picture

Become a cyborg... to prevent other from hurting me...

Now the challenge..., not to use the cyborg strength to hurt others ..

I'm getting tired of being bullied around....

EnragedUSMCExpat's picture

Then do humanity and the gene pool a favor and off yourself, fruit.

Dead Indiana Sky's picture

Please Tylers, more of these articles and fewer pics of empty NFL stadiums.

Disqushyn's picture

If ever there was a Statue that needed to be torn-down....

I wonder what the Players in the Broadway Show would have to say about this ?

Son of Captain Nemo's picture

BRITAIN post 1776 "WAS OWED"!!!

Able Ape's picture

Government is wicked because those in power are not held accountable for their misdeeds.  Hang or execute a few corrupt politicians every now and then - the only way to slowly get the rot and wickedness out of government...  Nothing sends a message like a "rope dance..." 

Old Hippie Patriot's picture

The unstated other side of the Constitutional system was a public that knew the Constitution that would force the rulers to obey it. No wonder the teaching of American history and civics has been deliberately sabotaged by the government schools. America is drowning in a see of ignorance. The only reason that conditions in this country are not far worse than it is today is lazy, stupid, party animal incompetence of the American elite.

kentek's picture

Great bit of history reporting.

Trust No One; especially if they say"I.m from the governemnt and I am here to help"!

gdpetti's picture

Yes, excellent piece.... and with the little I knew of Hamilton before that musical was produced and raved about in the usual MSM, I thought it odd to celebrate the essentially first central banker promoter... which is always the start of imperial excesses to come...

Grimaldus's picture

I'm working on becoming a whiskey snob. Straight bourbon whiskey-----mash bill at least 51% corn and aged a minimum of four years or so. Been having some pretty good luck with the snob recommendations, all good so far but  the nod goes to Buffalo Trace. Good luck finding it in stock. Mixing is blasphemy, all of this is poured straight into a glencarin glass. I look for "small batch" or "single barrel" or age statements.

Going to have to look into distilling my own corn liquor and not paying tax on it. Been a failure pretty much at growing corn in the garden though..not good results so far.









stilletto2's picture

Go for it. Distil your own. You can teach yourself from a few good books. I now make my own beer, cider, wine and brandy. And the taxman doesnt know much about it. A dozen bottles of my wine trades for half a pig so no sales tax either. Get off the grid, off the cloud, off the govt computers.

kalboking's picture

i laugh at all the conservatards always bringing up the constitution. constitution is a joke bill of rights wasnt even supposed to be there.

this is not shocking since Patrick Henry predicted everything like a prophet.

Shall Liberty or Empire be Sought? by Patrick Henry

Gohigher's picture

More articles like this, please....
Even if the conclusions are:


Liberty ROCKS

Honest Sam's picture

Anyone know if the smash hit on Broadway brought out this real Hamiltonian debacle?

Or was it a liberal misinterpretation or revisionist take on his power? 


numapepi's picture

No Constitution, no matter how well crafted, will stifle the propensity of the elite to violate it... except another group of elite tasked to do just that.

JibjeResearch's picture

For us human, I see many aweful acts.

After about 40 years of living.., I realize that the only way to stop other human from hurting me is to become a cyborg....

to protect myself from the mean evil human, in addition to learning about politic, economic, and world society.

Honest Sam's picture have it totally backwards.

"The government still uses taxes to give some businesses an advantage. The government still levies taxes which are meant to change the way citizens live their lives."

Should be revised to:

"Businesses that are part of the Corporatocracy still tell the Government to levy taxes on those businesses they wish to crush, and for which they hire elected and unelected bureaucrats to gain huge advantage. The government is the Tool which Big Business uses to levy taxes which are meant to move towards monopoly."

numapepi's picture

...Which is why government power must be curtailed! To limit the power of corporations.

wwxx's picture

The root of the problem, then, as is to this very The flipping British heritage and culture.  Everyday British the use of the word 'sir'...I'm glad there is a few kids out there that would rather say fuck you, and hell ya let us fight, rather than be dominated by your average cocksucker.  All they have ever stood for is domination by force, bribe, & secret, and it is no wonder that those sore bastards needed help surviving when Hitler was going to whip their cruel asses.  The ONLY reason you call someone 'sir' is because you were taught that horseshit, quite possibly by force, & you somehow think that 'sir' shit is adequate, to this very day...somehow transforming yourself into a brand new do-gooder. 


I don't know...was it dumb luck that the sir-name 'lord' didn't carry over to the brandnew confederation elitist?  Been that was a long time... sir this, sir that, stomp this, kill that [made legal, of course] is called dominfuckingation.  Ohhhhhhhhhh yeah and what about that British fucking heritage, that showed you slavery as a way of life, domination plain & simple, first thing all slaves & soldiers are taught is how to say: yeah sir.


It is no wonder to me, that whenever British moves their puppeteering fingers, The United States of Pet Owners' mouth continually  wags.  Someone will introduce this very day, the same Representatives as: The Honourable...or haven't you heard? 





Colonel's picture

After reading this article its obvious Aaron Burr and those Pennsylvania "rebels" were the true American heros, too bad somebody didn't finish off Hamilton sooner.

Sid Davis's picture

Rose Wilder Lane (of Little House on the Prairie fame) was a libertarian almost equal in stature to Ayn Rand. In her book, "Discovery of Freedom" she chronicled the history of civilization in terms of freedom vs. slavery, and pointed out that during periods of freedom good things happened, but freedom always eroded and we returned to the suffering of slavery. Some form of master and slave has dominated most of history.

The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth, and the formation of the US based on principles of freedom obviously has given way to our enslavement by the rulers of the state. It started almost immediately after the ink dried on the Constitution, and by 1861 half the nation had enough and wanted out, only the thug, Lincoln, killed off a good part of the men in one generation to prevent the escape of the South from what had become federal tyranny.

Now only the illusion of freedom remains as many of us work for half the year to turn over our earnings to our masters. To reinforce our delusion that we are free, we are allowed to vote for the sociopaths and psychopaths that are allowed to get on the ballots. Government is the biggest scam ever invented.

If you look at how government came into existence, it arose when we discovered agriculture and created excess beyond what was necessary for subsistence. Farmers were tied to their land, and had something of value to steal, so that made them vulnerable to plunder by roving gangs. In order to avoid random plunder, farmers made deals with the stronger gangs for protection, in return for regular payments (tribute or tax); this was the birth of government. Only the dominant gang always kept increasing its share and setting up controls to make sure the farmers stayed in tow. Early farmers became serfs under the rule of the king, and it progressed to today when we are called taxpayers instead. It is just that things have become so complex today that the chains are invisible, existing in our "laws" and our minds instead of around our wrists and ankles.

DarthVader101's picture

The "sla-mas-moron" (slave master moron) virus is embedded in the DNA of every single human being. Hence the reason why the only system of governance we know, live under, willingly BEG for and SUBMIT to is based on some hierarchical structure. Leaders and Followers, Bosses and Workers, Chiefs and Underlings, etc.

Honest Sam's picture

Finally someone else recognizes the thuggery of Lincoln a War Criminial who didn't get shot soon enough. 

The lionization of Lincoln for nearly 200 years is one of the biggest conspiracies and con jobs ever perpetrated----with their own ignorance to exploit-----upon the american and other human beans. 

600,000 killed

600,000 maimed with hideous injuries

1.2 million of their familes in ruins. 

The power of mass media is omnipotent, and the 5th column. 


UndertheDRADIS's picture

I believe that my friend Mr. Smith's "The American Lenin" is apropo at this time.

pparalegal's picture

No different than the civil war was over slavery. We have always had fake news and owners. Politicians are simply the uniformed pit crew.

What is scary is how much power they have turned over to the unelected globalist UN high commissars and their carbon credit trading mafia.

kentek's picture

Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. It had everything to do with the Northern elites controlling the South.

Maestro Maestro's picture

America is a lie, an abomination and a crime against humanity. Anybody who is proud to be an American is a moron.

UndertheDRADIS's picture

It depends if you are one of those morons who conflate government with society. "I love my country but I fear my government" is how most of us view things.

knotjammin2's picture

As someone that has traveled the world there is no other place I would want to call home than America.  I a ashamed at what "we" have let happen.  The liberals and the entitlements have brought us to our knees but even from our knees we can bring it back to what it once was.  We can either get rid of all the liberals here in America or we can get rid of about a dozen families around the world that instigate the turmoil and benifit from our losses. We will have to be making that choice very soon.

JibjeResearch's picture

You have bias. 

I too have travel around the globe...

In America, we are rich.

There are other places that I can life as well as America.

The only thing that stops a person from liking the place is the native language.

Know that language and the American will be in great shape...

Dontblamethegoat's picture

Try this instead: "America was bought by banksters who were smart enough not to change the founding myths. Anyone who is proud to be an American is ignorant of who really runs the place now."

ConnectingTheDots's picture

Hamilton was a tool of the Rothchild bankers. Too bad the information in this article is not taught in our schools.

Miss Informed's picture

That is an often repeated falsehood. Nathan Rothschild did not arrive in England until 1798, and did not gain significant political power until 1811 when he began dealing in gold and got involved with bankrolling Wellington’s army.

King of Ruperts Land's picture

I read another account where Washington leads the march to Pennsylvania. So what gives?

JibjeResearch's picture

All do respect to our history...,

How many of you can make a living.... when we end trades?

How many of you have saving?

Take out trade, it's like building a wall around ourselves...

May be the Fed will do Basick Income, which I will be happy to accept... if I have no job.

Dragon HAwk's picture

Ain't saying I'm a gonna shoot no revenuer

  I'm just saying he better not climb that there Mountain.

AurorusBorealus's picture

Hamilton was a Wall Street man.  The Wall Street men held the government debt, and they pushed Hamilton to collect via the whiskey tax.  That is not all though... they also got Hamilton to give the full force of U.S. law to their completely illegal collusion in restraint of trade agreement: also known as the New York Stock Exchange.  And that is how it began... with Hamilton giving control of the U.S. government to Wall Street.  It has been that way ever since.  There was no "glorious" American revolution, no "constitutional convention," no "declaration of independence."  These were shows put on for the public to allow the weathy men on Wall Street and the great plantation owners to gain control of the British colonies.

 The "civil war" was really just a war between rich plantation owners and Wall Street paper-money tycoons about who controlled the Atlantic trade.  It was not a "war of secession" blah blah.  It was a contest between the 2 richest factions in the nation, fought by poor rural farmers and Irish immigrante. That is real history of the U.S.  

UndertheDRADIS's picture

Too bad Aaron Burr didn't have a hotter temper.

SoDamnMad's picture

To trash the Second Amendment and disarm us so they can put forth new taxes by the bankers to enslave us. 

King of Ruperts Land's picture

Tar and tar melting apparatus can be found at roofing contractors and feathers can be obtained from cheap Walmart feather pillows. Let the tax protest begin!

libertyanyday's picture

Why are we debating history..........what a nonsensical waste of time..........America is in the 9th and it is the bottom of the inning...........