The abstract for the article Suppressing Shays’ Rebellion says it all in two sentences. According to Cain and Dougherty, the states had sufficient resources to fund a national army but did not free up these resources to the fledgling nation’s benefit. This revealed the weakness inherent in the Articles of Confederation (Cain, 1999, p. 233). The thirteen colonies were attempting to break free of British domination. An often hurled and legitimate complaint regarding the home country was that British politicians and merchants put self-interest and profits over the welfare of the people. The irony is that the newly formed and free United States of America emulated the British mantra of profit above people.
The famous rebellion, which helped to bring about an end to the Articles and gave rise to the Constitution, was led by a true American patriot. Daniel Shays was the son of Irish immigrants who had moved in the 1730s to the then British colony of Massachusetts (Shays’ Rebellion, People: Daniel Shays, 2012). Shays was exactly the type of success story of which every nation could be proud. He rose from a poor background to a captaincy in the Continental Army. His parents were without land of their own while he eventually ended up owning 251 acres of farm land. His service to his nation and his success as a gentleman farmer should have left him as little more than a footnote in early American history. The Articles of Confederation changed this war hero into a reluctant rebel against his own government.
The Articles of Confederation were the law of the land in American colonies and later the United States of America from March 1781 to March 1789. A relatively brief period from winning independence in 1783 until the ratification of the Constitution was enough to lead the United States to its first real economic crisis as a nation. The state government of Massachusetts decided to enact a ruinous policy that spelled financial disaster for honest, hardworking patriots such as Daniel Shays. The decision to pay off war debt by demanding tax payment strictly in limited amounts of gold and silver was a sure way to damage goodwill and good credit. Heroes and farmers both lost a lot because of ill thought out taxation which was unregulated by the national government.
Shays went from successful gentleman farmer to losing half his lands and being sued more than once for debt (Shays’ Rebellion, People: Daniel Shays, 2012). This sad state of affairs might not have come about if Congress had had the funds necessary to give the expected and essential back pay which every soldier deserved. The short-sighted policies of Massachusetts politicians created a formula for disaster. The government helped create the recession by refusing to release funds providing soldiers with money which they had rightfully expected. The economy suffered thanks to the fact that soldiers had little money to spend on goods in shops. The subsequent rebellion would likely not have happened if state governments such as Massachusetts had been required under national law to provide for its citizenry.
Daniel Shays simply wanted to live the newly born American dream. The Articles of Confederation favored the individual states to the extent that citizens only had recourse to governments who had an interest in keeping up the status quo. Shays’ Rebellion was no more than the cry of a desperate group of men who believed that they should be allowed to take their proper place in the American sunshine.
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