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Shays' Rebellion (1786–1787)

SHAYS' REBELLION (1786–1787)

The economic depression following the Revolutionary War fell especially harshly upon small farmers who relied on borrowed money to finance their crops. Falling prices led to default and foreclosure. Seven states resorted to deliberate inflation (through large issues of unsecured paper currency), stay laws, and other forms of debtor'srelief legislation.

The Massachusetts legislature, however, defeated all such proposals. Beginning in August 1786, mobs of impoverished farmers in central and western Massachusetts prevented the courts from functioning and ordering fore-closures. In September an armed force assembled at Springfield under Daniel Shays, a farmer and one-time Revolutionary army captain. On January 25, 1787, Shays attempted to seize the federal arsenal at Springfield, but his men were repulsed by artillery. On February 4, the rebels were routed and the leaders captured by the state militia.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts had applied to Congress for assistance. Although Congress authorized raising a small force to protect the arsenal, no aid was actually sent.

The effect of the rebellion was to raise the specter of disintegration of civil government and so to hasten the process of constitutional reform. Less than three weeks after the collapse of Shays Rebellion, Congress passed a resolution giving official sanction to the Annapolis Convention's call for the constitutional convention of 1787.

Dennis J. Mahoney


Szatmary, David P. 1980 Shays' Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

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