US history has been characterized by the idea that the people should rise up when the government is overstepping its bounds or infringing on the rights of the people. This is clearly seen in the periods of uprisings and riots that expressed opposition to the actions of the governments. However, these uprisings continue throughout the early history of the United States marking the lack of a radicalization of the American Revolution. This can be seen in the Knowles Riot, Boston Tea Party, Shay’s Rebellion, and Whiskey Rebellions.
In 1746 the British government banned impressment in the West Indies. Due to the connected nature of sailors and port cities, many people came to know about the outlawing of the practice in the West Indies, making impressment even more unpopular. In 1747, a British Commander, Commander Knowles, and his crew docked in Boston to gather supplies. In addition, they were looking for 50 men to replace those that had left his crew. Seeing this as colonial overreach, working-class Bostonians began a riot – starting with a few individuals but reaching up to hundreds of individuals as the riot progressed. A group of these protesters carried a boat, thought to be Commander Knowles’s, from the harbor to the center of the city and burned it in a protest against impressment. The riot got so unruly and out-of-hand that the Governor of Massachusetts had to step in, and Commander Knowles and his press gang were made to withdraw. This was seen as one of the first uprisings against colonial power leading up to the Revolution, was seen as a fight to end government overreach and impacted those who viewed the uprising the disparity between republicanism and popular democracy.
In addition to the Knowles Riot, the Boston Tea Party also showed the disapproval of policies that the American colonists believed to be colonial overreach on the part of the English. The Sons of Liberty were formed in 1765 in response to the Stamp Act. They were a radical organization that coordinated resistance against the British Crown. One of the acts that they organized was the Boston Tea Party in response to the Tea Act. On December 16, 1773, a group of colonists dressed up as Mohawk Indians, boarded British ships and dumped chests of tea into the harbor. Due to the losses of the Boston Tea Party, the British placed into effect the 1774 Coercive Acts that closed the port of Boston that put a huge economic burden on Boston, quartered troops in private homes and disbanded local juries. These events lead to the increase in the want of the colonists to gain independence of the British because they believed that ‘taxation without representation” was an example of colonial overreach.
However, the uprisings did not end with the American Revolution. After the war, there were still several rebellions that occurred. One of these uprisings was Shay’s Rebellion. Daniel Shays was a Revolutionary war veteran and farmer from Western Massachusetts and faced high debts. After the war, Massachusetts began foreclosing on farms making the farmers feel as though the foreclosures were unjust. In the fall of 1786, Shays rallied 2500 veterans to protest the foreclosures. Their demands soon moved beyond debt relief to removing property restrictions for voting and more. In January 1787 Shay’s army marched into Springfield, Massachusetts to get arms from the Federal Arsenal to lead an armed rebellion against the national government. The rebellion was not successful, however, as the Massachusetts Governor sent 4000 militia to suppress the rebellion ending it in February 1787. This rebellion highlighted working class critiques of the new government structure that they believed favored the elites. For the elite class, this rebellion increased the need for a stronger, more centralized government. For both groups of individuals, this rebellion enlightened them about concerns they had about the government.
The Whiskey Rebellion, also, shows the people’s discontentment with the government and its policies. By the 1790s, the United States’ government had drastically changed from the government set up by the Articles of Confederation, but the nation was still in a lot of debt. In order to increase government revenue, a new tax on whiskey produces was passed in 1791. This tax hit poor, rural distillers really hard and in 1974 these distillers rebelled believing the government to be biased toward the elites. In the end, Washington himself put down the rebellion showing the increased power of the federal government under the new constitution. In addition to the power of the new government, this rebellion also showed that people were willing to take up arms and fight the government for what they believed was right, especially during times of government overreach.
The continuation of revolts and uprising through the change in government structures shows the lack of a radical change of the American Revolution. The rebellions leading up to the revolution and those that occurred after the revolution were undertaken because the people of the United States felt that it was their responsibility to question the government when it was acting unjustly. The ongoing uprisings expressed popular sentiments about government actions and overreach as seen in the examples presented above. Thus, over the course of centuries and the American Revolution, history shows – through these rebellions – a lack of radical change to benefit the people.
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