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Shays' Rebellion

1786 was a period of uncertainty for the future of the government of the United States. Although the nation was at peace, it continued to experience difficulties in its relations abroad, vainly seeking commercial treaties, recovery of British-held northwest frontier posts, protection for its shipping from the Barbary States, and free navigation of the Mississippi River. Postwar problems revealed a number of serious defects in the Articles of Confederation. The federal government lacked a separate executive branch and a judiciary, and although Congress exercised a certain amount of executive as well as legislative power, it lacked the power to tax. Proposals for strengthening the federal government led to the call for a convention of delegates at Annapolis to stimulate discussion.

To some of the delegates the conflicts and dissension between the states over the western lands seemed to carry the seeds of civil war. Rioting and disturbances in Massachusetts throughout the fall and winter of 1786 strengthened the pessimism of those who feared the collapse of the new nation. A severe commercial depression following on the heels of an immediate postwar boom was causing particular distress among the back-country farmers. Angry mobs gathered in the Massachusetts hills, broke up the meetings of the courts, harried lawyers and magistrates out of the villages, and began to threaten the government arsenal in Springfield.

On October 20, 1786, Congress responded to the threat by calling on several states to raise a 1,340-man force to serve for three years. This time the New England states did not object to Congressional action, but before any of the soldiers voted by Congress could reach the scene, local militiamen repulsed an attack on the Springfield Arsenal led by Daniel Shays in late January 1787, and a few days later a large reinforcement from the eastern part of the state arrived at Springfield and put an end to the disorders. Recruiting for the force authorized by Congress continued until the following April. By then about 550 men had been enlisted and the question of expense was becoming bothersome. Congress therefore directed the states to stop recruiting and to discharge the troops already raised, except those in two artillery companies retained to guard West Point and the Springfield Arsenal. Shays' Rebellion was thus responsible for the first augmentation of the federal Army. Hastily organized militia levies put down Shays' Rebellion in New England, but this rebellion helped persuade many Americans that a stronger government was needed.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:35:11 Zulu