25 January

Shays Rebellion was an armed uprising in Massachusetts (mostly in and around Springfield) during 1786 and 1787. Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays led four thousand rebels (called Shaysites) in rising up against perceived economic injustices and suspension of civil rights by Massachusetts, and in a later attempt to capture the United States’ national weapons arsenal at the U.S. Armoury at Springfield.

Although Shays’ Rebellion met with defeat militarily against a privately-raised militia, it prompted numerous national leaders (including George Washington, who came out of retirement to deal with issues raised by Shays’ Rebellion) to call for a stronger national government to suppress future rebellions, resulting in the U.S. Constitutional Convention and according to historian Leonard L. Richards, “fundamentally altering the course of U.S. history.”

Traditionally depicted as a revolt of poor farmers embittered by land seizures and bankruptcies, recent research into the lives of Shays’ Rebellion’s participants suggests that Shaysites came from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and from different professions and states. Research shows that the Shaysites’ grievances extended beyond the specifics of Massachusetts’ economic situation to issues like: rule by a faraway elite; cronyism and corruption in government; and regressive tax policy.

The rebellion took place in a political climate where reform of the country’s governing document, the Articles of Confederation, was widely seen as necessary. The events of the rebellion, some of which occurred after the Philadelphia Convention had been called but before it began in May 1787, are widely seen to have affected the debates on the shape of the new government. The shock of Shays’ Rebellion drew retired General George Washington back into public life, leading to his terms as the United States’ first President. The exact nature and consequence of the rebellion’s influence on the content of the Constitution and the ratification debates continues to be a subject of historical discussion and debate.