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Shays's Rebellion

Shays's 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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