The Whiskey Rebellion


The Whiskey Rebellion was a series of disturbances in

1794 aimed against the enforcement of a U.S. federal law

of 1791 imposing an excise tax on whiskey. The burden of

the tax, which had been sponsored by the Federalist leader

and secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton, fell

largely on western Pennsylvania, then one of the chief

whiskey-producing regions of the country. The grain

farmers, most of whom were also distillers, depended on

whiskey for almost all their income, and they considered

the law an attack on their liberty and economic well-being.

Organized resistance to the tax, even including the tarring

and feathering of federal revenue officials, rapidly assumed

grave proportions. Warrants for the arrest of a large

number of noncomplying distillers were issued by the

federal authorities in the spring of 1794; in the riots that

followed a federal officer was killed, and a mob burned the

home of the regional inspector of the excise. In a

proclamation issued in August 1794, President George

Washington ordered the insurgents to disperse and

requested the governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, New

Jersey, and Virginia to mobilize contingents of militia. The

president also dispatched three commissioners to

Parkinson\'s Ferry, Pennsylvania, to negotiate with

delegates representing the western section of the state, but

the negotiations proved fruitless. On October 14, 1794,

Washington ordered the militia to proceed to the western

counties. They met little resistance. The troops seized a

number of people, most of whom were soon released for

want of evidence. Two offenders were convicted of

treason, but they were pardoned by Washington. The

so-called Whiskey Rebellion is important in U.S. history

mainly because it provided the first real test of the federal

government\'s prerogatives and law enforcement power,

including the president\'s right to command the use of state

militias.