Shays’ Rebellion, 1786-87

After the Revolutionary War, many of the returning soldiers were without pay and few received the promised land-grants. In an attempt to make a living as farmers many borrowed money from city creditors. Poor prices for agricultural goods, due to the economic depression, led to many farmers defaulting on these loans. The creditors, to whom these funds were owed, pressured the State Governments to open debtors’ courts, the most prominent of these being in Massachusetts. The courts had powers to enforce the payment of loans and if this was not achieved they could seize property and jail offenders. Many who fought in the Revolution saw this as an offence, they had higher taxes than ever and less representation as the property requirement to vote was raised.

Daniel Shays was a captain in the Continental Army who became a farmer in western Massachusetts after the war. In 1786 his property was seized by a debtors’ court. He joined fellow farmers in protesting against the recovery policy of the Massachusetts State Government. They employed tactics that were used in the prelude to the war by Samuel Adams. They distributed pamphlets, had meetings and in September 1786 several hundred men marched on the court at Springfield, closing it. Daniel Shays continued to gather supporters in what grew into a rebellion threatening Boston. There was no national army to suppress unrest and thus Boston merchants paid to have a militia formed to fight the rebels. This gave a precedent for the formation of a stronger central government, to solve economic problems and protect against social unrest.