Little Bits of History

Twice a Rebel

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 25, 2013
Daniel Shays

Daniel Shays

January 25, 1787: Daniel Shays finds taxation with representation isn’t so hot, either. Shays was a captain during the American Revolutionary War, fighting for freedom from overseas rule and its crushing taxation. Shays was an officer of distinction. He worked his way up through the ranks and was awarded a sword for valor bestowed upon him by the great Lafayette. After the war, he returned to his western Massachusetts farm.

Shays was not finished fighting for his country. He led an armed resistance of about 4,000 men. The men came from all economic classes. Their goal was to decrease the taxes levied to pay off the war debt. The crushing debt caused by the regressive tax during a depressive economic time was causing families to lose their farms and many men ended up in debtor’s prison. On this day, an arsenal was attacked.

Shays’s Rebellion is often misunderstood and new information is causing historians to rethink the Rebellion that raged for two years. It was seen until recently as only poor men wishing to avoid debtor’s prison. In fact, the discontent spread further and involved men of all economic means. George Washington himself wrote letters to Shays and other influential participants. Some of the Founding Fathers saw some merit in the Rebellion. Thomas Jefferson wrote in support of it.

Over the months of confrontation, a new concept was brought forth for the infant nation. A stronger central government was needed. The Articles of Confederation, written ten years earlier, were seen as too weak. In the light of the Rebellion, a new, stronger, more centralized government was seen as the answer to the young nation’s problems – a new path for the Founders to follow. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, all this was taken under consideration as the United States Constitution was written.

“Democracy [is] when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.” – Aristotle

“…nothing in this world is certain but death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments.” – William H. Borah

“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.” – Jean-Baptiste Colbert

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Daniel Shays was born in 1747 in Massachusetts and was one of six children born to his Irish immigrant parents. He joined the 5th Massachusetts Regiment and fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Battle of Lexington, and the Battle of Saratoga. He was wounded during the war and resigned, without pay. He returned home to his farm and found that not only were taxes high, but local businessmen were raising prices on commodities needed by the farmers in order for the shopkeepers to pay their own taxes. He later sold his ceremonial sword to help pay off his debt. He was eventually given a pension from the Federal Government to help pay for his five years of service during the Revolutionary War for which he was never paid. He died at the age of 78 after years of heavy drinking, living in poverty, and working a small parcel of land in Sparta, New York.

Also on this day: Moscow University – In 1755, Moscow University was established.
First Winter Olympics – In 1924, International Winter Sports Week opens in Chamonix, France.
Payola – In 1960, punishments for those involved in the payola scandal were issued.

2 Responses

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on January 25, 2013 at 11:54 am

    In the spirit of a hippie Shays was a greedy capitalist pig. In the spirit of Barack Obama Shays would be a source of bribes. In the spirit of any other colonist at the time Shays got in the way and failed too many times. He should have stayed a farmer. Enthusiasm in the wrong mind kills not win..

    • Sherry said, on February 3, 2014 at 9:17 am

      You’re insane, Bobby Dias.

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