Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle

Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle

Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle

Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle


"During the bitter winter of 1786-87, Daniel Shays, a modest farmer and Revolutionary War veteran, and his compatriot Luke Day led an unsuccessful armed rebellion against the state of Massachusetts. Their desperate struggle was fueled by the injustice of a regressive tax system and a conservative state government that seemed no better than British colonial rule. But despite the immediate failure of this local call-to-arms in the Massachusetts countryside, the event fundamentally altered the course of American history. Shays and his army of 4,000 rebels so shocked the young nation's governing elite - even drawing the retired General George Washington back into the service of his country - that ultimately the Articles of Confederation were discarded in favor of a new constitution, the very document that has guided the nation for more than 200 years and brought closure to the American Revolution." "The importance of Shay's Rebellion has never been fully appreciated, chiefly because Shays and his followers have always been viewed as a small group of poor farmers and debtors protesting local civil authority. In Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle, Leonard Richards reveals that this perception is misleading, that the rebellion was much more widespread than previously thought, and that the participants and their supporters actually represented whole communities - the wealthy and the poor, the influential and the weak, even members of some of the best Massachusetts families. Through a careful examination of contemporary records, including a long-neglected but invaluable list of the participants, Richards provides a clear picture of the insurgency, capturing the spirit of the rebellion, the reasons for the revolt, and its long term impact on the participants, the state of Massachusetts, and the nation as a whole. Shays's Rebellion, though seemingly a local affair, was the revolution that gave rise to modern American Democracy." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


This book started by accident. For twenty-five years I rarely gave a thought to Daniel Shays and his followers, even though I lived in the heart of Shays’s country and drove down Shays Street every day to work. Like most historians, I thought that as a scholarly topic Shays’s Rebellion had been worked to death. I had heard the standard story many times—first as a high school student, then as an undergraduate, then as a graduate. It appeared in every American history textbook as well as scores of scholarly books. I had read it at least two dozen times.

Then, about five years ago, I ran into a classroom problem. Just before the fall classes were to begin, the bookstore phoned with the news that the first book that I had assigned to a class of forty-five students was no longer available. Could I come up with a last-minute replacement? I said “yes” and hurriedly began thumbing through one book after another. In the process, I discovered in a footnote that the Massachusetts Archives had the names of the Shaysites, not just the names of the leaders, but some four thousand names.

That is unusual. With most rebellions, finding out who participated is an impossible task. With Shays’s Rebellion, however, the rank and file had the opportunity to avoid harsh punishment by accepting a temporary loss of citizenship and swearing future allegiance to the state and its rulers. Thousands did so. Scores of others were arrested and stood trial.

Why, then, had scholars not studied these men in depth? That puzzled . . .

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