Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Rebellion - Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle
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The Rebellion - Lance Banning, Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle 
Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle, ed. and with a Preface by Lance Banning (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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Letter to General Lee from Alexander Addison
The excise tax of 1791 imposed significant hardships on farmers beyond the mountains. It was collectible in specie among a people who seldom saw much coin and who could export or barter their grain only by distilling it into a portable (and potable) form. Resistance was common along the whole frontier from Pennsylvania to Kentucky to North Carolina, fed by the revolutionary tradition of opposition to internal taxes, traditional Anglo-American hostility to intrusive revenue collectors (who had to travel around the countryside to measure the output of presses and stills), rising condemnations of the motives of the Federalist administration, and increasing western resentment of the lack of federal action to control the Indians or open the Mississippi River to American trade. Nowhere, though, was the resistance quite so fierce as in the western parts of Pennsylvania. As early as 21 August 1792, a convention of the western counties condemned the tax and advocated legal measures to impede its collection, leading Washington to issue a proclamation warning against illegal combinations. The trouble culminated in the summer of 1794 with intimidation of complying distillers as well as excise officers, an armed attack on the home of Inspector John Neville, a menacing assembly of perhaps six thousand armed militia near the town of Pittsburgh, Washingtonâ€™s second proclamation, and the march across the mountains of the militia army under Hamilton and Henry Lee.
You desired me to state to you my opinion of the late insurrection, the measures taken by government for its suppression, and the effects to be expected from those measures on the people of this country. I undertook to do so, at the same time cautioning you that you were to consider what I should say not so much as facts, or a solid system, as a mere opinion, though certainly a sincere one.
It is not uncommon to trace the origin of this unfortunate business to speculations on the subject of the excise law and on the administration of government in general, and to meetings and resolutions at various and distant times on these subjects; and these have not only been considered as having prepared the minds of the people of this country for the outrages which they afterwards committed, but as evidence of a deep and long formed plot, contrived by men who kept themselves out of view in its execution, to resist the excise system and the government itself, by violence.
Without undertaking to examine or contradict this opinion, I shall content myself with observing that I think it may well be said of it that, at least, more stress has been laid on it than it will bear.
In all countries, the introduction of the excise has been odious and its officers have been held contemptible. … Many now in the country talk of their having seen the riots and resistance against the excise in Ireland. In Ireland, the ordinary power of government seems incompetent to suppress riots, which have perpetual existence, from successive and varying causes. This country is in a great measure settled from Ireland. Being but a new settlement, and a frontier settlement, harassed by the danger, distress, and ravage of an Indian war, [it] did not consider itself, and was not considered, as a proper [object] for even equal taxation. Every frontier settlement at a distance from the seat of government … and in some degree composed of fugitives from justice, civil or criminal, must be supposed to be but little accustomed to the subordination [to] regular government. This natural untamedness of temper was increased by the peculiar circumstances of this country. The clashing jurisdictions of Virginia and Pennsylvania excited animosities in the minds of the advocates of each state, hardly yet healed by the mutual concessions of both, and an opposition to the government of Pennsylvania hardly yet overcome by the experience of its authority. The idea of a new state on this side of the mountains became so prevalent that an act of the Assembly declared it high treason to propose it. Under all these circumstances, an attempt was made to carry into execution the excise law of Pennsylvania. The officer, in his progress through Washington County, was seized by a number of rioters, collected from different quarters. His hair was cut off from one-half of his head. His papers were taken from him, and he was made to tear his commission and tread it under his feet. They then in a body, gathering size as it proceeded, conducted him out of the county with every possible mark of contumely to him and the government and threats of death if he returned. The same object, the removal of an excise officer from the country, was accomplished here as in the [case] of General Neville. If the violence and enormity was less, it was because more was not necessary to accomplish their object. If their madness had been excited by resistance, and if burning houses or even murder had then been necessary to suspend the operation of the law, I now believe they would have thought the crimes sanctioned by the cause. Yet there were then no men of great influence or passion for office or popularity who, for their selfish purposes, inflamed the minds of the people against the excise law; nor could the destruction of the federal government [have] been then in view; for the confederation was not interested in the law, and the Constitution of the United States did not then exist. The excise law of Pennsylvania continued, as to this county, to be a mere dead letter.
When the excise law of the United States came into operation, those people who, without reasoning and merely from prejudice, were its greatest enemies supposed that it possessed all the evils which they had ever heard ascribed to any excise law; and, without reflecting on the difference of circumstances, supposed its operation might be defeated by the same means by which they had defeated the operation of the excise law of Pennsylvania. Accordingly, they had recourse to riots, tarring and feathering, and carrying off papers. These things were done in Washington County and Fayette County. Unfortunately, the prosecutor for the state in Washington County was David Bradford, whose disposition inclined him to omit all prosecution of such offenses. In Fayette County, industry to collect testimony was wanting. The agents of the United States choose to bring all their complaints into the federal courts. The difficulties in the way of the marshall, a stranger in the country, were inevitably great. And there must have been an indisposition in the people of this country, hitherto accustomed to trials in all cases in their own counties, without evident necessity, to aid a jurisdiction which drew them for trial three hundred miles from home [in Philadelphia]. These circumstances contributed to impunity in delinquency and outrage; and impunity produced boldness and perseverance. Animated by their hatred to the law and their past experience of success, and wanting prudence to foresee the consequences, they imagined that they could compel the excise officer of the United States, as they had compelled the excise officer of Pennsylvania, to surrender his commission; and thus reduce the excise law of the United States, as they had reduced the excise law of Pennsylvania, as to them, to a dead letter. With this view they proceeded to General Neville’s to call for a surrender of his commission and papers; and, that they might accomplish all their objects at once as to past and future, a surrender also of the papers of the marshall. Probably they presumed their numbers sufficient to extort by fear alone, without actual force, a ready compliance. Irritated by refusal, resistance, and repulse, and too deeply engaged to retreat, in their frenzy they drew into their guilt all within reach of their terror and proceeded to the extremity of burning the house.
Yet here perhaps they might have stopped, and the rioters in this case, like the rioters in the case of the excise law of Pennsylvania, might have been prosecuted and convicted. But they unhappily mistook in their objects and their means and blindly rushed into measures that involved the whole country. Those subsequent measures I consider as really the insurrection of this country, and the authors of them, whoever they may be, as really the authors of this insurrection. From the ancient aversion of some to the government of Pennsylvania, perhaps some remains of the idea of a new state, which had long ago existed, yet continued to exist, in this country. Perhaps the distinction between a separation from the state and from the United States was not attended to. Perhaps even this last, a seizure of the western lands, a union with Kentucky, the navigation of the Mississippi, and a connection with Great Britain were thought of. Perhaps they never extended their reflections to any system or distant object, but acted from the blind impulse of the moment. Whatever might have been their ideas, measures were determined on which aimed at resistance to government in all its parts and open war. The public post was robbed of the mail, the militia of the country was called out for the purpose of seizing the garrison of Pittsburgh and possessing themselves of the arms and ammunition there. To obey this call many were compelled by fear, many were induced by usefulness in preventing mischief, many were seduced by wanton curiosity, and many were instigated by love of plunder and destruction. The appearance of their strength added ferocity to the ruffians, and a total contempt of the powers of the government and a general anarchy and confusion pervaded the whole country.
I shall here remark that none of those men whom I have heard considered as the distant and secret authors of those acts of violence seem to have been at all consulted in their contrivance or execution, or to have possessed any confidence of those who perpetrated them. All reprobated them, and one (I mean Mr. Gallatin) was the foremost at the public meetings to step forward to stem the torrent of popular rage, openly and at great peril to resist their mad delusions and, by arguments and eloquence the most ingenious and impressive, to expose to them the danger and effects of their conduct and the vanity and impracticability of their schemes. Whether any and what conclusion is to be drawn from this, I submit to you.
To quell the disturbances in this country and restore it to peace and government, the measures taken by the President were, in my opinion, the most prudent that could have been devised; and they seem to have been executed with a correspondent propriety and effect. The appointment of commissioners, by showing the awakened spirit of public exertion, gave a check to the spirit of revolution in this country and to the progress of disorder into other parts of the Union. A fair opportunity was given to men of sense and virtue here who, to guide the current, had seemed to run with it, to step out and change its course. And it gave a rallying point to all well-disposed men to flock to. The confidence arising from their supposed strength now began to abandon the violent; jealousy and distrust crept in among them; and the approach of an army far superior to all remaining ideas of resistance altogether broke their resolutions and, as it advanced, subdued their temper.
Previous to the advance of the army into the country, some attempts were made to stop its progress. At that time, the temper of the country was materially changed. The well disposed were recovering spirit and consistency; and they possessed the disposition, and they believed the strength, of gradually restoring energy to the laws and peace and subordination to the country. They knew the expense of maintaining the army was great, and, more than that, they regarded the labor and fatigue of their patriotic brethren, who, with the sacrifice of domestic interest and enjoyment, at the approach of an inclement season, had undertaken to traverse deep swamps and vast and rugged mountains to relieve them from anarchy and restore them to safety and peace. They blushed for an armed force entering their country to enforce submission to the laws. They feared also something for themselves; there were still among them disorderly men who talked wildly. These, without property to secure their attachment to the government or the country, unaccustomed to a regular industry, and trained to a rambling life, had the arms in their hands, were known and associated to each other, and could, without any sacrifice, remove to wherever they pleased. It was this kind of men that were the great terrors during all the troubles and now only remained to keep those troubles alive. The well disposed were more inclined to quiet, were not generally armed, and had as yet no complete system to bind them together. They believed that the turbulent would not then assemble, in any force, to oppose the army; but that, under the pretense of opposing the army, might plunder or destroy their fellow citizens and quit a country in which they could no longer remain. Some fears also existed, justly provoked as the army was, that it would not be possible to restrain all of them from some intemperate acts, which might provoke at least secret revenge and introduce general destruction. On all these grounds, representations were sent down to the President of the changed state of the country, and those who sent them were willing to give yet stronger assurances of sincerity and risk the peace of the country on its internal exertions. The propositions were honestly meant. Perhaps their rejection was wise. Consequences showed that it was. The army conducted itself with unexampled discipline and tenderness to an offending country and manifested a temper equaled only by the spirit which roused them in defense of the laws and constitution. The peace of the country and energy of the laws, which otherwise might have been the work of some time, were suddenly restored; and a precedent of the force of government and the danger of sedition has been set before the people of this country which, I trust, they will never forget and, I believe, will never need to be repeated.
Notwithstanding the settled malignity in the minds of several, perhaps many, individuals, considering the country in general, I believe there is a complete practical reformation produced among us.
Yet the plan of leaving part of the army for some months in this country appears to me a prudent one. Many of the turbulent spirits have fled from the settlement, thinking that their concealment would be but temporary and thinking that they might soon return without fear of punishment. But, as part of the army remains, they will be convinced that they must submit either to the laws or to permanent exile. And countenanced by this remainder of military force, not a hostile army, but a body of citizens armed to support the laws, the people of this country will acquire the habit of aiding and obeying public authority.
These are my sentiments. I may be mistaken, but I am sincere. This is a statement of opinions, not facts; and the opinions of different men on the same facts will vary from various circumstances. You will qualify my opinions by your own observations and the information of others.