Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shay's Rebellion - Part 1

I was going through some old files and found a paper I did for honor's credit for my government class.  I decided if it was good enough to earn me honor's credit, it was good enough to share.  First, a little background.  When I decided to take up romance writing again in 2002, I started writing the story that had rattled around in my brain for 15 years.  A story that took place in Massachusetts in the 1780's.  I then did a little research and discovered information about "Shay's Rebellion."  I don't think I used it in my story, but the rebellion stayed in my head and when I revisited it again in government 101 in college.  We I needed a subject for my honor's paper, I picked it.  Quite frankly, the United States wouldn't have the U.S. Constitution it does today if not for Shay's Rebellion happening when it did -- between the Annapolis Convention 1786 and the The Constitution Convention a year later.

This paper is nine pages long, too long to post here at one time.  So, what I'm going to do, is split it up and post the beginning here and the second part today on my own blog, Chatting With Anna Kathryn.  I still won't post the whole thing today, but will finish it up over the next few days on my own blog.  So please stop by and read about the 'little rebellion' that shaped the U. S. Constitution.

Shays’ Rebellion: Shaping the Constitution, Part One

“Since it is no secret that wars and revolutions seldom settle anything, the founding fathers of the republic should have been less startled than they were when...in Massachusetts the Minutemen marched again,” (3). Thus states Marion L. Starkey in the prologue for A Little Rebellion. They were not only shocked to find fellow Americans taking up arms in objection of many of the same injustices they themselves had protested just a few short years before, but they were startled by the lack of Federal aid available through the Articles of Confederation to help squash the rebellion.

The rebellion in Massachusetts was more than disagreements between disgruntle, indebted landowners and the merchant class who had the ear of the state legislature. It was an opening for those who wished to change the Federal Government from one with very few powers to one with backbone and more control over the individual states.

When the Articles of Confederation were written and voted on in 1777 the delegates wanted a weak national government. At the heart of this document was the principle that “each state should retain its sovereignty, freedom and independence and every power, jurisdiction and right not expressly delegated to the Union government,” explains the forward of The Constitution Convention, (14). Having just declared war on a government that suppressed them, taxed them and did not allow proper representation, “The States did not want to make the same mistake by creating an American National legislature that they could not control,” (15).

Irving Brant in Establishing a Government states, “These articles were drafted in a period of national strength and unity, but they did not reflect that spirit...They were weakened by sectional jealousies, by errors due to inexperience, and by the all-pervading dislike of taxation, (95).”

The Articles of Confederation gave the National Government the authority to provide for a national defense, but it did not give it the power to raise the taxes necessary to pay for an army. Instead, the government relied on the individual states to raise the money for them. States complained that the other states were not paying their fair share and would then pay less in retaliation. This lack of  taxing power would prove to be a fatal flaw in the Articles.

From the start critics expressed concern that the Articles were too weak for the National government to address such  important security matters. “[V]aliant efforts were made to amend the Articles of Confederation. Twelve states voted to give Congress power to tax imports...but Rhode Island blocked the plan,” explains Brant (96). Finally, a convention was called and held in Annapolis, Maryland in 1786 to look into strengthening the Articles. However, only five of the thirteen states bothered to send delegates.

The Annapolis Convention was an abysmal failure, but Alexander Hamilton took advantage of the instructions New Jersey sent along with its delegates. They were “to consider ways to strengthen the national government in more than simply commercial issues.” This wording resulted in a resolution by Hamilton calling for a convention in Philadelphia in 1787 to “devise further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union,” The Constitution Convention (21).

Read Part Two, posted on my blog at Chatting with Anna Kathryn Lanier.

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hats


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Works Cited

Brant, Irving. “Establishing a Government.” The American Story: The Age of the Atom.
Ed. Miers, Earl Schenck. New York: H. Wolff, 1956: 93-98.

Brown, Richard D. “Shays’ Rebellion and the Ratification of the Federal Constitution in
Massachusetts.” Beyond the Confederation: Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity. Ed. Beeman, Richard, Stephen Botein and Edward C. Carter II. Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 1987: 113-127.

Grob, Gerald N. and George A. Billias, eds. Interpretations of American History: Patterns
and Perspectives. New York: The Free Press, 1967.

Hamilton, Alexander. “Federalist Paper No. 6.” The Federalist. Washington: Robert B. Luce, Inc. 1976, 1787.

Heresly, Richard ed. The Constitution Convention. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002:
14-15, 21, 42, 59-62.

Lindop, Edmund. Birth of the Constitution. Hillside: Enslow Publishing, 1987: 33-36.

Minot, George Richard. History of the Insurrections in Massachusetts in 1786. New
York: Da Capo Press, 1786: 6.

O’Conner, Karen, Larry Saboto, Stefan D. Haag and Gary Keith. American Government:
Continuity and Change. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006: 43-44.

Schanchner, Nathan. “Alexander Hamilton.” The American Story: The Age of the Atom. Ed. Miers, Earl Schenck. New York: H. Wolff, 1956: 88-93.

Starkey, Marion L. A Little Rebellion. New York: Knopf, 1955: 3.

Sterns, Monroe. Shays’ Rebellion 1786-7: Americans Take Up Arms Against Unjust Laws. New York: 1968: 10-11.

Tindall, George Brown and David E. Shi. America: A Narrative History. New York: W.W. Norton Co., 1984, 2000: 202-204.

Jannine said...

That was fascinating! I hadn't heard about Shay's Rebellion. It certainly wasn't taught in my history classes. At least I don't recall it ever being taught. I graduated 40 years ago, so the memory isn't so good, lol. But even in all my research for books I've written that take place in the U.S., I never came across this piece of history.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

I think I came across it in a book on the history of Mass. that I've had for years. Actually, it appears that its a library book I got in High School from the town library and never returned...lol. I remember that I wrote a book report on said book. For many years, I still had that book report, too. Shay's Rebellion is mentioned in it, and from there, I did more research. I also did the honor's paper on this subject, because I like Hamilton and the story invovles him. I need to do more research on him - actually, I think my husband has a very thick biography on Hamilton. I'm going to have to borrow it.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Even though I love history, I was not familiar with Shay's Rebellion. This was a fascinating post.