Shays' Rebellion

Shays's Rebellion

Shays's Rebellion, 1786–87, armed insurrection by farmers in W Massachusetts against the state government. Debt-ridden farmers, struck by the economic depression that followed the American Revolution, petitioned the state senate to issue paper money and to halt foreclosure of mortgages on their property and their own imprisonment for debt as a result of high land taxes. Sentiment was particularly high against the commercial interests who controlled the state senate in Boston, and the lawyers who hastened the farmers' bankruptcy by their exorbitant fees for litigation. When the state senate failed to undertake reform, armed insurgents in the Berkshire Hills and the Connecticut valley, under the leadership of Daniel Shays and others, began (Aug., 1786) forcibly to prevent the county courts from sitting to make judgments for debt. In September they forced the state supreme court at Springfield to adjourn. Early in 1787, Gov. James Bowdoin appointed Gen. Benjamin Lincoln to command 4,400 men against the rebels. Before these troops arrived at Springfield, Gen. William Shepard's soldiers there had repelled an attack on the federal arsenal. The rebels, losing several men, had dispersed, and Lincoln's troops pursued them to Petersham, where they were finally routed. Shays escaped to Vermont. Most of the leaders were pardoned almost immediately, and Shays was finally pardoned in June, 1788. The rebellion influenced Massachusetts's ratification of the U.S. Constitution; it also swept Bowdoin out of office and achieved some of its legislative goals.

See G. R. Minot, History of the Insurrections in Massachusetts in 1786 (1788, repr. 1971); R. J. Taylor, Western Massachusetts in the Revolution (1954, repr. 1967); M. L. Starkey, A Little Rebellion (1955); D. P. Szatmary, Shays' Rebellion (1980).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Shays' Rebellion: Selected full-text books and articles

Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle By Leonard L. Richards University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002
Shays' Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection By David P. Szatmary University of Massachusetts Press, 1980
A Little Rebellion By Marion L. Starkey Alfred A. Knopf, 1955
Western Massachusetts in the Revolution By Robert J. Taylor Brown University Press, 1954
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Shays' Rebellion"
The Farmers' Movement, 1620-1920 By Carl C. Taylor American Book, 1953
The Era of the American Revolution: Studies Inscribed to Evarts Boutell Greene By Richard B. Morris Columbia University Press, 1939
Librarian’s tip: "The Massachusetts Conservatives In the Critical Period" begins on p. 349
New England in the Republic, 1776-1850 By James Truslow Adams Little, Brown, 1926
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Rebellion"
The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought since the Revolution By Louis Hartz Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1955
Librarian’s tip: "Feudal Relics, Democratic Liberalism, and the Problem of Daniel Shays" begins on p. 71
The Boisterous Sea of Liberty: A Documentary History of America from Discovery through the Civil War By David Brion Davis; Steven Mintz Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "The Critical Period and Shays' Rebellion" begins on p. 226
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