Whiskey Rebellion

One of my Demon Copperhead highlights:

Whiskey Rebellion: an actual war. George Washington marched the US Army on our people for refusing to pay tax on corn liquor. Which they weren’t even selling for money, mainly just making for neighborly entertainment. How do you get tax money out of moonshine? Answer: You and what army. It goes a ways to explaining people’s feelings about taxes and guns.

The phrase “whiskey rebellion” is familiar, but I don’t have any memory in my head to say what it was. Weird.

The “whiskey tax” (which applied to all distilled spirits) became law in 1791. It was purely revenue driven, meant to start paying off war debt from the Revolutionary War. Farmers on the western frontier were used to distilling their surplus grains, and often the resulting whiskey was a medium of exchange. Many of the resisting farmers were veterans of the war, and felt that they were fighting for some of the same principles. Students of American history may not be surprised to hear they were particularly battling against taxation without local representation.

In 1794 things got violent. A U.S. marshal came to western Pennsylvania to serve writs to distillers. An alarm was raised and 500 armed men attacked the fortified (!) home of tax inspector John Neville. George Washington sent peace commissioners to negotiate and encouraged governors to send in militia. Washington even rode in himself at the head of 13,000 militiamen from four states (including Pennsylvania). The rebels cleared out before the militiamen arrived. Some were arrested, but all were acquitted or pardoned.

The “whiskey tax” was repealed during the administration of Thomas Jefferson.

RE: Wikipedia

Subscribe via RSS

Back to all blog posts