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CHAPTER X

SHAYS'S REBELLION

(1786-1787)

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AD as were the follies of petulant Rhode Island,

they seem to have caused little dismay to the conservative men of other states; but events were at the same time taking place in Massachusetts which startled sober - minded and law - abiding citizens everywhere. The air of that state was heavy with the murmurs of the discontented. It is not easy to say in a word what the trouble was; for though the taxes were high and the indebtedness of the state large, Massachusetts doubtless had at that very moment the foundation for reasonable prosperity. Crops were good,' commerce, though in some respects disarranged, was reviving, manufactures were growing in number and increasing their product. But the demon of depreciated money had left its curse upon the state, the old continental money was fit only for kindling fires, much of the specie had left the country, and good, hard money was kept in close confinement. There was real need of a circulating medium; at any rate, little medium of any kind circulated. “I go to church both parts of the day,” confided William Pynchon to his diary. “Through the scarcity of cash, scarce a dollar is collected at Communion.” 1

'Mass. Centinel, December 23, 1786.

No one can say whether the cry of scarcity of money had much foundation; at every industrial panic there is a demand for more money; people without money themselves believe that the effect is the cause and get hopelessly immeshed in the snares of argument. Naturally, amid all this industrial and financial disorder, the improvident suffered most severely, and they naturally raised a cry for more money.

Men that had borrowed money or run into debt for goods when a daylaborer on the highways received £7 ios. a day might well wonder as to the possibility of paying their creditors when the wage of the common laborer had fallen to fifty cents.?

In addition to all this the Revolution had brought times of laxity and extravagance. It was easy enough, of course, for the old squires to mourn the virtue of bygone days and to lament the inroad of recklessness and presumption—to immovable conservatives the old times are always the betterand yet the laments were in part justified. The war had loosed from the old-time restraint the lower elements of society and had raised up the ignorant to places they were not fit to fill. Of this there are many evidences besides the complaining of the time. Much of the trouble, too, must be attributed to the general state of uneasiness, which was a moral rather than an economic result of the Reyolution, to a feeling of envy for the rich and successful. Many were looking anxiously for the golden fruit of the tree of liberty, and they found it not. “That taxes," said Knox to Washington,

* Diary of William Pynchon, February 12, 1786, p. 231. · Adams, Hist. of Quincy, 260, 261.

8 Lincoln, quoted in Hart, Contemporaries, III., 191; Am. Hist. Assoc., Report, 1896, I., 740; Boston Gazette, July 31, 1786; Mass. Centinel, September 20, 1786.

may be the ostensible cause is true, but that they are the true cause is as far remote from truth as light from darkness. The people who are the insurgents have never paid any or but very little taxes. But they see the weakness of government: they feel at once their own poverty compared with the opulent, and their own force, and they are determined to make use of the latter in order to remedy the former."2

The vicious, the restless, the ignorant, the foolish —and there were plenty of each class—were coming together to test the strength of the newly established government of Massachusetts. They did not determine in advance on breaking up the government, but they were restless and uneasy; they were advocating measures which if given free op

1

Adams, Hist. of Quincy, 265: Jameson, Introd. to the Study of the States (Fohns Hopkins University Studies, IV., No. 5, 202), 21; Boston Independent Chronicle, December 15, 1786.

• Brooks, Henry Knox, 194.

portunity for development would have undermined government and liberty together. The cause of the trouble was declared by General Lincoln to be a want of industry, economy, and common honesty. It did not better matters that along with these dangerous malcontents were many honest citizens in real distress and in sore dismay and wonderment."

Against the lawyers who took money for trying suits against the helpless debtors, or who made out the papers that cast the indigent into prison for debt, there was an especially bitter feeling; and from the lawyers the dislike was readily transferred to the courts themselves as a needless encumbrance on a free people. During the days of monetary inflation, when scrip was handed about in rolls or when debts could be paid according to the tenderact in enumerated articles rather than money, some creditors had shrewdly not pushed their debtors for payment; and when under more normal conditions suits were begun to collect money, the shiftless, the improvident, and the unfortunate were in straits. They naturally detested lawyers and cherished no love for courts and judges. Some there were that found fault with the rich merchants of Boston, who, drinking costly wines and clad in imported stuffs, were the very vampires of the state. The wife and daughters of the governor, too,

1 Hart, Contemporaries, III., 191.

: Minot, Hist. of Insur. in Mass., 14; Lincoln, Hist, of Worces. 1, 13.

VOL. X.--12

were living without work instead of toiling like common people; and money, moreover, stayed in Boston instead of being divided. Of course there was no reasoning with men talking such rubbish; some were too simple to see their folly; some were shrewd enough to hope for gain; others, normally sober-minded and not without sense, listened to the clamor and followed wistfully in the train of the talkers.

Even the law - abiding citizen began to wonder whether it would not be well to try paper money once again, whether remedies against the moneysharpers could not be found, whether it would not be wise to move the general court from Boston away from the contaminating influence of the wellto-do. Even in such a town as Quincy, where the hearts of the citizens were said to be "inflamed with true Patriotism," there were complaints of “numerous Grievances" and "intolerable Burthens," and the town's representative was instructed to favor the making of “Land a Tender for all debts at the Price it stood at when the debts were contracted," and to use his efforts to remove the legislature from Boston. The people wished the lawmakers to "crush or at least put a proper check ... on that order of Gentlemen denominated Lawyers the completion of whos modern conduct appears to us to tend rather to the distruction than the preservation

1 Diary of William Pynchon, September 18, 1786, p. 250. : Mass. Centinel, December 9, 1786.

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