The Revolutionary Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1776 to 1800

By Carol Sue Humphrey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17

The Whiskey Rebellion, 1794

When George Washington became president, he appointed his former aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton, to be the secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton saw his primary responsibility to be getting the finances of the United States on a stable footing. In order to raise some money, Congress approved an import tax in 1789. However, getting America’s financial status straightened out would take some planning as well as some money.

Hamilton proposed a four-part plan. He stated that the federal debt should be funded at face value in order to show that the United States would pay its bills. He urged that state debts incurred in fighting the Revolution be paid by the national government because they were debts incurred fighting for everyone’s freedom. He also proposed the creation of a national bank. These three ideas passed Congress without too much trouble. His fourth proposal, a protective tariff designed to encourage American manufacturing, failed.

As part of his proposals, Hamilton got Congress to pass an excise tax on the production of whiskey, snuff, and loaf sugar. These were all the products of flourishing industries in the United States, and government leaders thought successful businesses should help support the government. There were protests from people involved in producing all three products, but the strongest cries came from whiskey producers in the west.

Many farmers west of the Appalachian Mountains grew grain and then converted it to whiskey because that was easier and cheaper to transport over the mountains. They feared that Hamilton’s excise would increase their costs and drive them out of the whiskey business. Western farmers protested through their representatives, but felt that no one listened. Finally, in the summer of 1794, farmers in the four western counties of Penn-

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