Shays' Rebellion, uprising in Massachusetts in 1786 and 1787 caused by excessive land taxation, high legal costs, and economic depression following the American Revolution. This rebellion was only one of many protests that took place during this period. The insurgents, who were mainly poor farmers threatened with loss of their property and imprisonment for debt, were headed by Daniel Shays, a former captain in the American Revolution army. They demanded protective legislation, the abolition of the court of common pleas, and a radical reduction of taxes. In 1786, armed mobs prevented the sitting of the courts at Northampton, Worcester, Great Barrington, and Concord; and Shays, with his followers, broke up a session of the state supreme court in Springfield. On January 25, 1787, Shays and his men marched into Springfield to seize the federal arsenal, but they were repulsed by a force of militia under the American general Benjamin Lincoln. The rebels fled toward Petersham, where they were finally defeated. Most of the men were pardoned later in the year; Shays, condemned to death, escaped to Vermont and was pardoned a year later. Shays' rebellion and the other protests forced the leaders and politicians of the young nation to take note. The existing Articles of Confederation, which provided for the basic laws of the nation, were not an effective means of governing. The protests helped push the nation's leaders closer to formulating and ratifying the Constitution of the United States.
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Shays' Rebellion, 1786-87, armed insurrection by farmers in W Massachusetts against the state government. Debt-ridden farmers, struck by the economic depression that followed the American Revolution, petitioned the state senate to issue paper money and to halt foreclosure of mortgages on their property and their own imprisonment for debt as a result of high land taxes. Sentiment was particularly high against the commercial interests who controlled the state senate in Boston, and the lawyers who hastened the farmers' bankruptcy by their exorbitant fees for litigation. When the state senate failed to undertake reform, armed insurgents in the Berkshire Hills and the Connecticut valley, under the leadership of Daniel Shays and others, began (Aug., 1786) forcibly to prevent the county courts from sitting to make judgments for debt. In September they forced the state supreme court at Springfield to adjourn. Early in 1787, Gov. James Bowdoin appointed Gen. Benjamin Lincoln to command 4,400 men against the rebels. Before these troops arrived at Springfield, Gen. William Shepard's soldiers there had repelled an attack on the federal arsenal. The rebels, losing several men, had dispersed, and Lincoln's troops pursued them to Petersham, where they were finally routed. Shays escaped to Vermont. Most of the leaders were pardoned almost immediately, and Shays was finally pardoned in June, 1788. The rebellion influenced Massachusetts's ratification of the U.S. Constitution; it also swept Bowdoin out of office and achieved some of its legislative goals.
See G. R. Minot, History of the Insurrections in Massachusetts in 1786 (1788, repr. 1971); R. J. Taylor, Western Massachusetts in the Revolution (1954, repr. 1967); M. L. Starkey, A Little Rebellion (1955); D. P. Szatmary, Shays' Rebellion (1980).
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