Shays's Rebellion: Authority and Distress in Post-Revolutionary America

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JHU Press, Jul 15, 2015 - History - 165 pages

How an uprising of debtors and small farmers unwittingly influenced the U.S. Constitution.

Throughout the late summer and fall of 1786, farmers in central and western Massachusetts organized themselves into armed groups to protest against established authority and aggressive creditors. Calling themselves “regulators” or the “voice of the people,” these crowds attempted to pressure the state government to lower taxes and provide relief to debtors by using some of the same methods employed against British authority a decade earlier. From the perspective of men of wealth and station, these farmers threatened the foundations of society: property rights and their protection in courts and legislature.

In this concise and compelling account of the uprising that came to be known as Shays’s Rebellion, Sean Condon describes the economic difficulties facing both private citizens and public officials in newly independent Massachusetts. He explains the state government policy that precipitated the farmers’ revolt, details the machinery of tax and debt collection in the 1780s, and provides readers with a vivid example of how the establishment of a republican form of government shifted the boundaries of dissent and organized protest.

Underscoring both the fragility and the resilience of government authority in the nascent republic, the uprising and its aftermath had repercussions far beyond western Massachusetts; ultimately, it shaped the framing and ratification of the U.S. Constitution, which in turn ushered in a new, stronger, and property-friendly federal government. A masterful telling of a complicated story, Shays’s Rebellion is aimed at scholars and students of American history.



Worcester Massachusetts September 56 1786
1 Paying for Independence
2 Governor Bowdoin Faces the Regulators
3 Mobilizing Authority and Resistance
4 Conflict from Springfield to Petersham
5 Governing the Regulators and Regulating Government
Shayss Rebellion and the Constitution
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About the author (2015)

Sean Condon is an associate professor and chair of the history department at Merrimack College.

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