Shay’s Rebellion (1786-1787)

Shay’s Rebellion was a major domestic conflict in the United States while governed by the Articles of Confederation.  It took place in the state of Massachusetts, beginning in August of 1786.  The country was experiencing an economic depression following the Revolutionary War and Massachusetts was struggling with significant debt as a result of the war.

Farmers in Massachusetts were struggling and because of the economic problems the whole country was suffering, New England bankers were forced to foreclose on them.  As farms were being taken away for these farmers, many of them Revolutionary War veterans, people began to protest.  They shut down the local courts to prevent any more farms from being foreclosed on and also to prevent the collection of state taxes (there were no national taxes because the government under the Articles of Confederation was not allowed to collect taxes).

When some of the leaders were arrested, people were outraged.  When a group of rebels attempted to seized the Springfield Armory in January 1787,

 

The protesters became radicalized against the state government following the arrests of some of their leaders, and began to organize an armed force. A militia raised as a private army defeated a Shaysite (rebel) attempt to seize the federal Springfield Armory in late January 1787, killing four and wounding 20. The main Shaysite force was scattered on February 4, 1787, after a surprise attack on their camp in Petersham, Massachusetts. Scattered resistance continued until June 1787, with the single most significant action being an incident in Sheffield in late February, where 30 rebels were wounded (one mortally) in a skirmish with government troops.

The rebellion took place in a political climate where reform of the country’s governing document, the Articles of Confederation, was widely seen as necessary. The events of the rebellion, most of which occurred after the Philadelphia Convention had been called but before it began in May 1787, are widely seen to have affected the debates on the shape of the new government. The exact nature and consequence of the rebellion’s influence on the content of the Constitution and the ratification debates continues to be a subject of historical discussion and debate.

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