On This Day: Washington Pardons Whiskey Rebels
In January of 1791, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton proposed an excise tax “upon spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same.” The vehement rejection of this tax by Americans living in Western Pennsylvania challenged the authority of the nascent American government. By 1794, the so-called Whiskey Rebellion led President Washington to personally command the United States militia westward to stop the rebels. On this day in 1795, Washington pardoned the two whiskey rebels convicted of treason.
Western farmers viewed the tax as an abuse of federal authority that targeted individuals who relied on crops such as corn, rye, and grain to earn a profit. Shipping this harvest east was dangerous because of poor storage and inadequate roads, leading many farmers to distill their grain into liquor which was easier to ship and preserve. Large-scale farmers could easily absorb the financial strain of an additional tax. Poorer farmers were less able to pay the tax without falling into a dire financial position.
Washington initially sought to resolve the dispute peacefully, issuing a national proclamation in 1792 admonishing westerners for their resistance to the law. Two years later, however, protests became violent. In July 1794, nearly 400 whiskey rebels set fire to the home of John Neville, a regional tax collection supervisor located near Pittsburgh. In response, Washington organized a militia force of 12,950 soldiers and led them towards Western Pennsylvania.
The calling of the militia effectively ended the Whiskey Rebellion. By the time American forces reached Pittsburgh, the rebels had dispersed and could not be found. The militia apprehended approximately 150 individuals and tried them for treason. Only two–John Mitchell and Philip Weigel–were convicted. All others were freed, resulting from a lack of evidence and the inability to obtain witnesses. On July 10, 1795, with the rebellion quelled, President Washington signed a pardon for the two convicted individuals. It was the first time that the President utilized the constitutionally derived power of pardon. Most notably, under Washington’s watch the new republic survived the first significant challenge to the authority of
You can read the rest of this article at:: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/GeorgeWashingtonWired/~3/yAwhacSo6Fs/
Short URL: http://thepresidency.us/?p=18084