Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

6. The Whiskey Rebellion: "My Only Political Sin"
1791=1794

The storm that broke soon after Gallatin brought Hannah home to the western Pennsylvania hills had been brewing a long time. The clouds had started to gather, as we have seen, in the winter of 1790-1791, when Secretary Hamilton induced Congress to levy a federal tax on distilled liquors despite a protest that Gallatin had led in the Pennsylvania Assembly.

During the summer recess of the legislature in 1791, which Gallatin passed on Georges Creek, he became aware that although the excise was now the law of the land many of his neighbors in the four counties west of the Alleghenies had no intention of submitting to it. The federal government had opened offices there and was sending a small army of officers--whose compensation was to be based on the taxes they collected --to roam the countryside, searching for and seizing unregistered stills, leaving behind a trail of paint, branding marks, and ill will. Another fact had become horribly plain to the westerners: the law provided that evaders were to be heard in federal courts, which meant that those apprehended would be taken nearly three hundred miles to the nearest court at Philadelphia, a great hardship for a small farmer who had to stick close to his plow for a living. Gradually the impression took hold that the federal administration was determined on nothing less than reducing American farmers to the economic and political level of European peasants.1

In July of this summer of murmurs and muttering a circular letter from Gallatin's old acquaintance of the Harrisburg meeting, James Marshel, now the register of Washington County, invited him and such others "as you may think proper" to attend a meeting of "respectable characters" from the western counties at Redstone Old Fort on July 27. The assemblage would "state to the people at large some general objections to the law and . . . propose some plan by which their sense on

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