Sunday, December 6, 2009

Shays' Rebellion

I apologize for the interval between this post and the previous one, Pulaski, due to a personal emergency. So now I have to make up for this gap with more posts of interest to you. But I won’t tell you the subjects; they should be a surprise.

Just a year before our Constitution (1787), the new United States had a rebellion. The insurgents were farmers in Western Massachusetts. Where else? Massachusetts was always in a state of unrest and rebellion during the period of our revolution. The leader of this rebellion was Daniel Shays, a farmer of modest means, and it took everyone by surprise and alarm. The fact that it occurred at all was believed to be a major reason that our Constitution was put in place.

Shays' Rebellion was about money and debt.

The war had created a lot of profit for some in Massachusetts, particularly in Boston. There were also a lot of debts. Some of the successful investors bought a lot of the mortgage notes of the hard-working farmers. The investors had also lent a lot of money to the state. When the occasion arose, they expected to be paid, and not with worthless paper currency. They also had powerful interests in the Legislature.

However, the farmers weren’t doing so well. Harsh taxes, a depressed business climate because the war was over. That awful word, foreclosure, was facing a lot of them. They had vigorously petitioned the Legislature for relief, and got nowhere. It was time for strong action.

Shays and his followers (500 – 1000, the number is not quoted consistently, with wildly inflated rumors), many putting on their old Continental uniforms, went on the march. Destination, Hampshire County Court. This plan was quite practical. Since foreclosure was a legal process, if a courthouse was essentially shut down, that would delay any proceedings.

The farmers got little if no support. Instead, reaction was swift, punitive, and entirely hostile. Washington declared that the campaign of the farmers was disgusting. Even Sam Adams, that perennial supporter of revolt, did a complete about face and called the rebels traitors.

Hancock sat out all the trouble. Militia hounded the farmers, imprisoned them, labeled them traitors. Shays had fled Massachusetts for safety, but was declared a traitor in absentia anyway and sentenced to death.

The rebels’ cause, which seemed so hopeless, did take a brighter turn. The next Massachusetts legislature was far more sympathetic to the farmers. Some remedies at least were started. Hancock was governor again and pardoned Shays.

But the impact of their rebellion persisted. The rich were frightened; the new country was very fragile. It’s good we had the bold ideas and practical applications of an Alexander Hamilton. Financial problems continued to persist.

I think farmers have always been treated harshly, all over the world. It’s a very hard occupation, 24 / 7, with disaster just around the corner: weather, precipitation, pests, and some very hard government policies, such as estate taxes, land taxes, and regulations. Today, we have a lot of large farming conglomerates, which has given the industry much more bargaining power and political influence. These huge operations have been blasted for all kinds of reasons, but they keep our food supply steady and available. I think we have the best of both worlds today. We have the huge inventory at the local supermarket, and a growing local supply, often organic.

Growing food yourself is not easy. Your crop of tomatoes, lemons, and vegetables is not exactly cheap. There are problems from nibbling rabbits to every pest known to man. The only remedy is a green thumb. I envy people who have one.

So, zucchini ladies, your home-grown bounty is well-received by me. I like to eat. We all know that a home-grown tomato beats a conglomerate version hands down.

I don’t think the rich Bostonians appreciated their Shays farmers at all. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

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