Shays Rebellion: Background History
The Revolutionary war was over
but was no strong national government with the power to smooth over
the differences between the states. The Continental Congress had
begun drawing up the Articles of Confederation in 1776 but there
were long delays that made it impossible to form a strong
Shays Rebellion: Revolutionary War Debts and Taxes
pay for the enormous war debts, massive taxes were imposed on the
people. The poll taxes, based on head counts rather than income,
were equivalent to one third of people's incomes.
Shays Rebellion: West Indies Trade
The prosperity of the northern
states was largely based on a profitable trade with the West Indies
but the British government ended the trade. No gold and silver came
to the United States from the West Indies but constantly left the
country to pay debts due to British merchants. Gold and silver grew
Shays Rebellion: Pro-Debtor Policies
There was no
strong national government to compel the people to pay the war
taxes. There was no strong national government to compel the British
government to open its ports to American trade and commerce.
American people called upon the state legislatures to print paper
money. Many state governments started to pursue pro-debtor
policies that forgave debts and printed more money. The policy of
printing money (we now call this quantative easing) worked to some
extent in states like Virginia, New HampshireNew York, Pennsylvania
and South Carolina. The policies were disastrous in Rhode Island and
Causes of Shays Rebellion: Printed Money
The state legislatures printed
large quantities of paper money. They paid the public expenses with
it, and sometimes lent it to individuals without sufficient security
for its repayment. The paper money devalued, inflation soared. Flour
that was $5 a sack rose to $10 a sack and then increased still
further, paper money became practically worthless. Prices of basic
commodities rose to such an extent people were unable to buy
necessary food and supplies.
Causes of Shays Rebellion: Depression in Massachusetts
By 1780 the paper dollar was only worth one-fortieth of a cent in
gold or silver. The situation led to a depression in Massachusetts.
Distilleries closed, ship building stopped and farmers had no buyers
for their harvests. The poll tax was 4 times greater in
Massachusetts than in states like New Hampshire. And the poll tax
was based on head tax which was the same for all citizens,
regardless of income. Poor farmers were therefore the hardest hit.
The poor farmers were unable to pay the taxes. Their lands and
personal possessions were sold at public auctions at far less than
they were worth. Many were thrown into Debtors prisons.
Causes of Shays Rebellion: "Tender Laws"
There was uproar. Demands were
made for "tender
laws." The "tender laws" enabled people to tender (offer) paper
money in exchange for basic commodities such as flour. The "tender
laws" of some states made it lawful to offer paper money or
goods in payment
of old debts which had been made when gold and silver were still in
use. The "tender laws" made things worse. Traders went out of
business and shops were closed. Merchants pressed for payments of
debts before the paper money became totally worthless.
Causes of Shays Rebellion: "Stay Laws"
laws" led to the introduction of "stay laws". The "stay laws"
prevented people who were owed money from enforcing their rights.
The effect of the "stay laws" was to close many of the remaining
businesses that had managed to survive. The people and traders
resorted to bartering. Laws were passed forcing people to accept the
paper money, even stopping people from voting if they refused to
accept paper money.
Causes of Shays Rebellion: Protest and Rebellion
The people of Massachusetts protested, crowds of armed men gathered
and a rebellion erupted.
The rebellion was led Daniel
and came to be known as Shays Rebellion...
Significance of Shays Rebellion
Shays Rebellion - President George Washington Video
Causes of Shays Rebellion: The article on the
Causes of Shays Rebellion provides an overview of one of the major
documents published just before his presidential term in office. The following video will
give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 1st
American President whose presidency spanned from April 30, 1789 to March 4, 1797.