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Bad as were the follies of petulant Rhode Island, they seem to have caused little dismay to the conservative men of other states, but events were at the same time taking place in Massachusetts which startled sober-minded and law-abiding citizens everywhere. The air of that state was heavy with the murmurs of the discontented.

It is not easy to say in a word what the trouble was; for though the taxes were high and the indebtedness of the state large, Massachusetts doubtless had at that very moment the foundation for reasonable prosperity. Crops were good, commerce, though in some respects disarranged, was reviving, manufacturers were growing in number and increasing their product. But the demon of depreciated money had left its curse upon the state, the old continental money was fit only for kindling fires, much of the specie had left the country, and good, hard money was kept in close confinement. There was real need of a circulating medium; at any rate, little medium of any kind circulated. "I go to church both parts of the day," confided William Pynchon to his diary. "Through the scarcity of cash, scarce a dollar is collected at Communion."

No one can say whether the cry of the scarcity of money had much foundation; at every industrial panic there is a demand for more money; people without money themselves believe that the effect is the cause and get hopelessly immeshed in the snares of argument. Naturally, amid all this industrial and financial disorder, the improvident suffered most severely, and they naturally raised a cry for more money. Men that had borrowed money or run into debt for goods when a day laborer on the highways received £7 105. a day might well wonder as to the possibility of paying their creditors when the wage of the common laborer had fallen to fifty cents.

In addition to all this, the Revolution had brought times of laxity and extravagance. It was easy enough, of course, for the old squires to mourn the virtue of bygone days and to lament the inroad of recklessness and presumption — to immovable conservatives the old times are always the better — and yet the laments were in part justified. The war had loosed from, the old-time restraint of the lower elements of society and had raised up the ignorant to places they were not fit to fill. Of this, there are many evidences besides the complaining of the time. Much of the trouble, too, must be attributed to the general state of uneasiness, which was a moral rather than an economic result of the Revolution, to a feeling of envy for the rich and successful. Many were looking anxiously for the golden fruit of the tree of liberty, and they found it not. "That taxes," said Knox to Washington, "may be the ostensible cause is true, but that they are the true cause is as far remote from truth as light from darkness. The people who are the insurgents have never paid any or but very little taxes. But they see the weakness of government: they feel at once their own poverty compared with the opulent, and their own force, and they are determined to make use of the latter in order to remedy the former."

The vicious, the restless, the ignorant, the foolish — and there were plenty of each class — were coming together to test the strength of the newly established government of Massachusetts. They did not determine in advance on breaking up the government, but they were restless and uneasy; they were advocating measures that if given free opportunity for development would have undermined government and liberty together. The cause of the trouble was declared by General Lincoln to be a want of industry, economy, and common honesty. It did not better matters that along with these dangerous malcontents were many honest citizens in real distress and in sore dismay and wonderment. Against the lawyers who took money for trying suits against the helpless debtors, or who made out the papers that cast the indigent into prison for debt, there was an especially bitter feeling; and from the lawyers the dislike was readily transferred to the courts themselves as a needless encumbrance on a free people. During the days of monetary inflation, when scrip was handed about in rolls or when debts could be paid according to the tender act in enumerated articles rather than money, some creditors had shrewdly not pushed their debtors for payment; and when under more normal conditions suits were begun to collect money, the shiftless, the improvident, and the unfortunate were in straits. They naturally detested lawyers and cherished no love for courts and judges. Some there were that found fault with the rich merchants of Boston, who, drinking costly wines and clad in imported stuffs, were the very vampires of the state. The wife and daughters of the governor, too, were living without work instead of toiling like common people; and money, moreover, stayed in Boston instead of being divided.^ Of course there was no reasoning with men talking such rubbish; some were too simple to see their folly; some were shrewd enough to hope for gain; others, normally sober-minded and not without sense, listened to the clamor and followed wistfully in the train of the talkers.

Even the law-abiding citizen began to wonder whether it would not be well to try paper money once again, whether remedies against the money-sharpers could not be found, whether it would not be wise to move the general court from Boston away from the contaminating influence of the well-to-do. Even in such a town as Quincy, where the hearts of the citizens were said to be "inflamed with true Patriotism," there were complaints of "numerous Grievances" and "intolerable Burthens," and the town's representative was instructed to favor the making of "Land a Tender for all debts at the Price it stood at when the debts were contracted," and to use his efforts to remove the legislature from Boston.

The people wished the lawmakers to "crush or at least put a proper check ... on that order of Gentlemen denominated Lawyers the completion of whos mode of conduct appears to us to tend rather to the destruction than the preservation of the Commonwealth." They also desired the court of common pleas and general sessions of the peace to "be removed in perpetuam rei Memoriam." Extreme measures were now advocated. A convention of fifty towns in the county of Hampshire (August 1786), after dwelling on the grievances of the time, passed a series of resolutions complaining of taxes, courts, lawyers, and scarcity of money, and asking "to have emitted a bank of paper money, subject to a depreciation," as legal tender in payment of all debts — a pleasant plan whereby it was to be arranged, presumably, that the money should decline by easy stages from par to nothing, in accordance with some predetermined requirements of descent.

A man might thus pay, perchance, $4 for a pair of boots in January, $6 the next July, and $8 in December, until finally if he wished to buy boots with scrip he must needs draw his money to market in the farm wagon. The acme of this style of reasoning was reached in a petition which declared that the advisable plan was to have a depreciation of a shilling per pound each year; thus the money would "go out of circulation in the term of twenty years." "By the quantity in circulation thus constantly lessening," said the petitioners, "... the credit of the money will be supported."

This is not far from saying that if the value of the money could only depreciate by agreement with sufficient rapidity its value would be maintained. Fantastic as these recommendations were, they were but the prelude to radical acts. A mob took possession of the courthouse at Northampton and prevented the sitting of the court. A similar occurrence took place at Worcester. There were likewise uprisings at Taunton and other places. At Concord, a band of merchants, headed by Job Shattuck and a man named Smith, paraded the streets in martial order and intimidated the judges into promising that no court should be held. Smith harangued the crowd of spectators, who were too wise or too timid to join the insurgents, declaring that " as Christ laid down his life to save the world," so he would lay down his life "to suppress the government from all tyrannical oppression." Those who would not fall into the ranks of the rebels were warned that after two hours they would "stand the monuments of God's sparing mercy." When Job Shattuck took his part in the harangue and announced that the time had come to wipe out debts, some disrespectful auditor shouted out, "Well said, well said. Job, for I know you have bought two farms lately which you can never pay for."

There were next serious uprisings in the western part of the state. At Great Barrington the jails were broken open, the courts were prevented from sitting, and all but one of the judges were compelled to sign a pledge that they would not act until the grievances of the people were redressed. Later in the year, even greater outrages were perpetrated, law-abiding citizens were hounded out of town, houses were searched, and citizens were fired on.

The condition was now nothing short of civil war. Fortunately, the governor, James Bowdoin, was no demagogue. He had already spoken in clear tones, and he was determined, if possible, to protect the courts and keep the peace. At Springfield bloodshed was narrowly avoided. The court was protected by the militia; but a mob of one thousand men with sundry arms and implements of war paraded the street under the leadership of Daniel Shays, a man of no great caliber, who had seen service in the continental army, and now looked for new fame as the leader of a popular uprising.

The situation was not materially improved by the acts and resolves of the general court, which now met at Boston. The governor was supported in his vigorous measures to sustain the courts and protect property, but there were members in the house who had much sympathy with the rioters and preferred soft words to strenuous action. A vote was passed granting pardon to all who within a given time would take the oath of allegiance. An address was issued to the people, showing that the whole annual expense of the government averaged only;£18,109, and did not amount to sixteen pence per ratable poll. Certain stringent measures were enacted, and others for the relief of the people, but the tone of the legislature was not decisive; the rioting continued in various parts of the state, and after the adjournment of the legislature in November there was even more turbulence than before.

The time for promises and parleyings was, in fact, long since passed. Nothing would now tell but force, and Bowdoin was not loath to use it. A riot again occurred at Worcester, and the court was once more prevented from holding its sessions. But when disturbances were threatened at Concord a company of cavalry was sent out against the rebels, and it captured the ringleaders, including the redoubtable Job Shattuck. Despite the cold of December weather and heavy snow, an army under Shays was gathering at Worcester and seemed to be threatening to attack Cambridge. When steps were taken to protect the city the rebels instead of advancing began a disorderly retreat. The cold was intense, the snow deep, there was a scarcity of provisions, and the insurgents suffered severely, some dying from exposure. This did not end the rebellion, however, and an army of four thousand four hundred men was now raised and put under the command of General Lincoln. So empty was the treasury that funds for the support of the troops had to be furnished by voluntary loans from wealthy citizens of Boston and other towns.

The center of the trouble was now shifted to Springfield, where an army of rebels commanded by Shays, Eli Parsons, and Luke Day was posted. Before Lincoln could reach the town an attack on the arsenal was beaten back by the militia under General Shepard. On Lincoln's arrival, Shays retreated with his forces in great disorder. Lincoln pursued relentlessly. Negotiations begun by the rebels for a time delayed him at Hadley; but discovering that negotiations were only a pretense and that Shays had moved on to Petersham, he set out from Hadley in pursuit, and, not deterred by cutting winds, deep snow, and bitter cold, his soldiers marched thirty miles in a single night and utterly routed the rebel army. The most painful results of civil conflict followed. Little bands of the demoralized insurgents preyed on the country. Some of the rebels were intent on continuing the struggle, and Eli Parsons, deploring that he had not "the tongue of a ready writer," begged them not to give up and "see and hear of the yeomanry of this Commonwealth being parched, and cut to pieces by the cruel and merciless tools of tyrannical power." But before spring the insurgents either were safe at home trying to look as if they had spent a placid winter in the quiet of their own chimney corners, or had retreated across the border into neighboring states.

Thanks to the firm hand of James Bowdoin, to whose dignity, steadfastness, and right-mindedness much praise is due, the insurrection was at length suppressed. But let us not suppose that the people of Massachusetts, startled by grim-visaged war, hastened to pay honor to the man who had done so much to save and redeem the state. On the contrary, at the next election Bowdoin was badly defeated and John Hancock, a popular favorite, who loved nothing better than sunning himself in the smiles of the crowd, was elected governor. As a final outcome, the rebels were not punished, and even Shays was allowed to retire into merited obscurity. Shays had not proved a successful leader, but probably Napoleon himself would have been at a loss to lead such a rabble of independent spirits. In later years he told of asking a man to stand guard. "No, I won't," was the response. "Let that man; he is not so sick as I be."

While the rebellion was in progress Congress had begun to raise troops, ostensibly to quell the Indians on the frontier, really to assist Massachusetts if necessary. But though "not only bound by the confederation and good faith, but strongly prompted by friendship, affection, and sound policy," to help the troubled state, and though the arsenal at Springfield was the property of the Confederation, Congress did not dare say that the troops were to be used to restore order and support government in Massachusetts. Moreover, in reaching its conclusion to raise troops. Congress thought it wise to inscribe on its secret journals the statement that it "would not hazard the perilous step of putting arms into the hands of men whose fidelity must in some degree depend on the faithful payment of their wages, had not they the fullest confidence ... of the most liberal exertions of the money holders in the state of Massachusetts and the other states in filling the loans authorized by the resolve of this date." Here, certainly, was the faintest shadow of self-respecting government — afraid to let it be known that it intended to protect its own property or assist in suppressing the rebellion, afraid also to put arms in the hands of men lest the soldiers turn upon it and demand their pay. It dared to take the step of calling for troops only because it had been assured that "money holders" would take up a loan of $500,000 at six per cent., for the payment of which it pledged the hoped-for returns from a new requisition on the states.

Shays's rebellion merits attention, not because it was the only evidence of social disturbance, but because it was the conspicuous uprising that startled the thoughtful men of every state and made them wonder what the end of their, great war for independence might prove to be. "There are combustibles in every State," wrote Washington, "which a spark might set fire to." "I feel," he declared, "... infinitely more than I can express to you, for the disorders, which have arisen in these States. Good God! Who, besides a Tory, could have foreseen, or a Briton predicted them?" The rebellion, therefore, by disclosing the danger, helped to bring about a reaction, strengthen the hands of the conservatives, discredit extreme democratic tendencies, and aid the men that were seeking to give vigor to the Union. The reaction immensely helped the establishment of new institutions and the creation of a government capable of insuring "domestic tranquillity."

The paper-money craze, the tender acts providing that produce rather than money could be offered in payment of debts, the opposition to Congressional authority, the restlessness, and uneasiness in the land, the mobs, and riotings, the desire of the poor to enjoy the goods of the rich, the notion that debts should be canceled, were all a part of the war which did not lose its momentum at Yorktown. Its impulse as a social upheaval, as an expression of individualistic sentiment, went on. And here again, we see, too, not only the philosophy that had been shouted by orators from the house-tops, but the results of an early idealism from which the cooler heads were now turning away, the notion that men would naturally be good and would instinctively be law-abiding, that government was needed only for occasional restraint. But all these mishaps were bringing men to their senses. "We find that we are men," wrote Knox, " — actual men, possessing all the turbulent passions belonging to that animal, and that we must have a government proper and adequate for him."