American Revolution Inspired Shays Rebellion

Updated on October 25, 2017
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

What Was the Shay's Rebellion?

The rebellion was actually not one battle or fight. It was a simply a series of protests staged by farmers challenging the government about taxes and debt. It all occurred between 1786 and 1787 in most of the original states. In Massachusetts the protests were extremely intense with one man leading the loudest of the protests.


Looked to the Founding Fathers and Friends

The farmers involved in Shays’ Rebellion and other similar gatherings throughout Massachusetts found their inspiration in their leaders of the American Revolution. These same men fought to shrug off the tyranny of their local governments and now looked to the same leaders to remove it once again. When the answer to their protests was not what they wanted, they disappointed in the very men who had led the way down the same path just a few short years before. They thought nothing of picking up arms and doing what they had to do to get their leaders' attention.

Separating from the new union was the farthest thing from their minds. A solution to the immediate need was what they sought and they did it the only way they knew how. Yet, many of the founding fathers were not impressed with the actions of the Massachusetts farmers.


Samuel Adams' View

Samuel Adams was heavily involved in the American Revolution. His view of Shays’ Rebellion was quite different from what many anticipated. The Revolutionary veterans expected to get Adams' support, as they were following in his footsteps. But Adams saw a big difference between the protests of 1776 and those a decade later.

In 1786, “the key difference was that the revolutionaries had been resisting the tyranny of a monarchical power” while the farmers faced a government that was “safely in the hands of the people of Massachusetts.” Adams did not see a need for the revolt with the people holding the reins of government. He just did not realize how weak the new government was. Shays’ Rebellion was pivotal in pointing that out.


Wasn't an Overthrow

Daniel Shays and the thousands of others involved in the protests that began in August 1786 did not see themselves as revolutionaries, but as protestors. Governor Bowdoin saw the act as rebellion against the government and treated all those involved as such. The similarities between their acts and that of Britain never crossed their minds.

The farmers saw themselves as following the footsteps of the men they admired who stood up to Britain and achieved the only solution open to them. Not looking for independence, the farmers looked for financial relief and the use of common sense by the Massachusetts leaders. If taking up arms and marching on those seats of government was the only way to get the job done without having to spill blood or tear apart the new union, the farmers were willing to do just that.


A Sign of the Future

Shays’ Rebellion would not be the last of protests that would scare the founding fathers and remind them of the revolutionary acts they began before 1776. After adopting the U.S. Constitution, the new nation found itself in debt that amounted to $54 million once it accounted for the debts to individual creditors and to the international community. As various taxes were enacted on the citizens, more protests arose and the federal government found itself struggling against the very same spirit that helped create it.

Ironically, America would find itself fighting the greatest battle of all with itself. The spirit that conquered the land and sent other nations back across the ocean discovered its strength when it turned on itself. It could not handle its own power and could not see how noble it was while easily misled at the same time. It was a spirit that conquered a nation and had to rein itself back in line various times during the early years of the new country.

Didn't Go As Planned

Shays’ Rebellion was a desire for change that turned into a bloody encounter. History can see where blood could have been avoided, but it can also see where this rebellion was a continuation of the spirit of the new country. It was a desire for a better life with a strong government looking out for the people. The new nation did not have what it thought it possessed. Shays and the other farmers helped the government see that plainly. The protests brought the new states together to sign the United States Constitution and began a journey to create the nation the men of the American Revolution longed for.


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Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Westminster: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

“Governor Bowdoin.” Shays’ Rebellion & the Making of a Nation. Accessed February 16, 2012.

“Luke Day.” Shays’ Rebellion & the Making of a Nation. Accessed February 15, 2012.

Newton, Michael E. Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution. Kindle Edition, 2011.

Pertz, Josiah. “Hamilton to States: Drop Debt – The Federal Government’s Assumption of States’ Debts.” Accessed February 15, 2012.

Peskin, Lawrence A. Manufacturing Revolution: The Intellectual Origins of Early American Industry. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

“Samuel Adams.” Shays’ Rebellion & the Making of a Nation. Accessed February 16, 2012.

“Shays’ Rebellion Collection, 1786-1787.” American Antiquarian Society. Accessed February 14, 2012.

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Williams, Tony. America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events That Shaped a Nation’s Character. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Accessed February 17, 2012.,%20Shays%27%20Rebellion.pdf.



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