Shays’ payment. Many veterans were not even receiving

Shays’ rebellion
was a “protest” that occurred in the summer of 1786 and inspired a series of
revolts throughout the states. Led by a former member of the Continental Army,
Captain Daniel Shays of Massachusetts, the rebels took up arms in protest of
taxes levied by the state. These taxes were in response to a debt crisis facing
the nation following the civil war. Many of those losing property were like
Daniel Shays, former soldiers in the Continental army who were owed pay for
their service. The demand for tax payment caused many rural farmers and average
Americans to lose property. The rebellion inspired similar revolts across the
newly formed states hit by similar economic hardships. This convinced many
Americans that the Articles of Confederation were too weak, and that central
government needed to be stronger in order to make a uniform economy and protect
citizens’ rights. This was fundamental in establishing the America we know

In order to
understand Shays’ Rebellion, we need to look at the Articles of Confederation. The
first draft of the Articles was presented to the Continental Congress in 1776,
and in 1781 the Articles were ratified by the 13 states. The Articles led to
the formation of a confederation of states and a very weak central government
with almost no power. In this system, the states were almost entirely
self-governing with congress called to settle disputes as a last resort. This
weak central government had no control over the people or the states. Even
though congress coined money, it was not accepted by every state as a valid
form of payment. Many veterans were not even receiving the payment that was
owed to them for their service. Debt collectors began forcing people from their
homes. Congress could not even fund a militia to put down any rebellions, it
must be handled by the states. These problems were at the root cause of Shays’
Rebellion and the ensuing revolts.

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Daniel Shays, upon
returning from service, found that he was going to court for unpaid debts while
he was away. Since he was not paid for his service like many other vets, he
could not afford to pay off his debts and was going to lose his land. Finding
many others in a situation like his, Shays formed a group to block courthouses
in August 1786. This essentially blocked the work of the debt collectors at the
time. When learning of the conflict, Massachusetts Governor James Bowdoin
ordered a state militia to shut down the protests. This plan backfired with
many of the militia men sympathizing with the protestors and allowing them to
continue. Governor Bowdoin then took action into his own hands and formed a
private militia.

With a large group
of supporters, Shays attempted to take the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts
in December 1786. They were met by the private army hired by Governor Bowdoin,
who fired warning shots at the approaching group of men which killed four and
injured 20. The mob scattered and Shays and other leaders went into hiding in
Rhode Island and Vermont. Shays was eventually pardoned for his role and
returned home and was paid the wages he was due from his service. The rebellion
reminded many of the American Revolution, fighting against taxes and tyranny.

Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed
from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Ultimately, this led
to Americans voicing for a stronger central government leading to the
Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787.

The Constitutional
Convention introduced many new ideas which form the base of the existing United
States government. All of the powers given to congress were no longer clearly
defined, congress had both implied and specific powers as defined in Article 1
Section 8. They printed a uniform currency, were able to establish federal
taxes, and had the power to intervene in certain state problems. With the
switch to a more powerful central government, constitutional delegates
introduced the Bill of Rights in order to protect certain liberties granted to
all citizens of the United States. The Bill of Rights was ratified on December
15, 1791. Amendment nine clearly protecting the rights of citizens from the
enumerated powers of the federal government. The Bill of Rights also
established the executive, judicial, and legislative branch with a system of
checks and balances in order to protect against the formation of a government
like Great Britain’s. This appealed to the masses as a solid replacement for the
Articles of Confederation.

Shays’ Rebellion
was instrumental in the establishment of a stronger central government and the
formation of the modern constitution.




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