On this day in 1786, a popular uprising began in Massachusetts. Shays’
Rebellion was one of several critical events that led to the calling
of a Constitutional Convention the following year in Philadelphia.
Daniel Shays, a former Continental Army captain, led a group of upset
western Massachusetts residents that clashed with the state government
over the forgiveness of wartime debt and high taxes. In some cases,
Army veterans who had never received pay for their service saw their
On September 2, 1786, Massachusetts Governor James Bowdoin issued a
proclamation recapping the scene on August 29, when Shays’ group
arrived at the Court of Common Pleas in Northampton.
“A large concourse of people, from several parts of that county,
assembled at the Court-House…many of whom were armed with guns,
swords, and other deadly weapons, and with drums beating and fifes
playing, in contempt and open defiance of the authority of this
Government, did, by their threats of violence and keeping possession
of the Court-House until twelve o’clock on the night of the same day,”
Bowdoin called on “all Judges, Justices, Sheriffs, Constables, and
other officers, civil and military, within this Commonwealth, to
prevent and suppress all such violent and riotous proceedings.” He
also appealed to the residents of the Commonwealth to “aid and assist
with their utmost efforts the aforesaid officers, and to unite in
preventing and suppressing all such treasonable proceedings.”
The protesters also seized several other local courts after the state
government refused to consider debt-relief provisions. Shays then led
a force of about 1,500 men in an attempted raid of the Springfield
armory on January 26, 1787. The group was intercepted on the day
before its planned attack; four protestors died in a brief conflict
with the militia and the group dispersed.
The tax protest showed the federal government, under the Articles of
Confederation, couldn’t put down an internal rebellion. It had to rely
on a state militia led by General Benjamin Lincoln and sponsored by
private business people. With no money, the central government
couldn't act to protect a “perpetual union” guaranteed by the
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