USA 2020 Elections: Thread
grarpamp at gmail.com
Mon Feb 1 22:22:45 PST 2021
How George Washington Responded To "Insurrectionists"
Authored by TJ Martinell via Tenth Amendment Center,
The recent protests and storming of the US Capitol building on Jan. 6
produced a hysterical reaction from both pundits and the federal
government. This contrasts wildly with the response to an actual
rebellion during the Republic’s early days.
The new federal government didn’t respond to the so-called Whiskey
Rebellion with crackdowns on civil liberties to "prevent another
rebellion" as many seem to want to do today. In 1794 Kentucky and
Pennsylvania farmers took up arms in opposition to a federal whiskey
excise tax. The Whiskey Rebellion concluded with President George
Washington calling up the militia to suppress the rebels, who
dispersed before any real fighting occurred.
Interpretations of the rebellion vary. Some view Washington’s decision
as a vital move to preserve the then-fledgling federal government’s
legitimacy after Shay’s Rebellion eight years prior had prompted the
founders to replace the Articles of Confederation in favor of a
stronger central government. However, others consider the rebels as
patriots resisting an unjust tax on whiskey, which was frequently used
as a means of exchange in frontier areas where coinage was scarce.
To be sure, Washington reacted initially in a manner utterly
restrained compared to what we could expect today. Even after invoking
the Militia Act of 1792 allowing him to call up state militiamen, he
sent state officials to the rebels and tried to reach a peaceful
resolution, without success.
However, a separate issue to look at is the aftermath of the
rebellion. Roughly 150 men were arrested and tried for treason. Yet
only two men were found guilty, and they were later pardoned by
In his seventh state of the union address Washington defended his decision:
For though I shall always think it a sacred duty to exercise with
firmness and energy the constitutional powers with which I am vested,
yet it appears to me no less consistent with the public good than it
is with my personal feelings to mingle in the operations of Government
every degree of moderation and tenderness which the national justice,
dignity, and safety may permit.
As historian Carol Berkin noted in a 2017 lecture, "not a single
person really ever served a jail term. Everybody was given amnesty.
Nobody was cruelly beaten or destroyed. But the power, the authority
of the federal government was upheld."
Perhaps Washington and other Founders holding office realized the
appearance of hypocrisy for condemning men as traitors who acted as
they had just a few decades earlier.
The Whiskey Rebellion occurred in western Pennsylvania in 1794. Via
At the same time, it’s not so much what Washington and Congress did as
what they didn’t do or even propose to do. Reading through diaries,
letters, and correspondence from founders ranging from George
Washington and Alexander Hamilton to Thomas Jefferson written during
the rebellion, there is no instance I could find in which they
advocated or suggested the civil rights restrictions such as firearms
ownership or freedom of speech and assembly. There was no call for a
permanent standing army. This is on top of the fact that nothing was
actually proposed and then enacted.
In fact, Jefferson wrote sympathetically of the rebellion in a Dec.
28, 1794 letter to John Adams, calling the whiskey tax "an infernal
one. The first error was to admit it by the Constitution."
He wrote further that hatred of the law in those states was
"universal, and has now associated to it a detestation of the
government; & that separation which perhaps was a very distant &
problematical event, is now near, & certain, & determined in the mind
of every man."
Not surprisingly, Jefferson would later repeal the excise tax when
Even federalists like Alexander Hamilton in ways sought to avoid
violence that might have demonstrated the power of the new government,
albeit he did advocate hanging some of the rebel leaders. In an Aug.
29, 1794 letter to Maryland Governor Thomas Lee, he wrote of avoiding
"the necessity of using force now & at future periods" by keeping the
militia deployed in good morale.
In all the correspondence Hamilton had with George Washington, not one
advocated for the confiscation of firearms from the regions where the
rebellion had occurred. Nor was there a call to restrict firearm
ownership of any type among the general population to prevent similar
rebellions in the future. The federal government didn’t use the
“crisis” as an excuse to enlarge itself, as some sought with the Alien
and Sedition Act passed four years later
While Washington’s best opportunity to make himself a military
dictator occurred just after the War of Independence ended with him
still in charge of the continental army, the Whiskey Rebellion
theoretically could have afforded him another chance – one that he
likely never even contemplated.
The comparatively restrained response by Washington to the rebellion
demonstrated that it is not necessary to take away liberties to
maintain civil order or "keep us safe."
Writing in reaction to Shay’s Rebellion, Thomas Jefferson wrote a
letter to James Madison saying rebellions were a "medicine necessary
for the sound health of government" and that "honest republican
governors" should be "so mild in their punishment of rebellions, as
not to discourage them too much."
What many people fail to grasp is that rebellions and insurrections
aren’t always found in physical confrontations, and the "medicine
necessary for the sound health of government" can be applied just as
effectively through the nullification of unconstitutional federal
acts. Incidentally, Jefferson referred to nullification as the
The histrionic and totalitarian rhetoric coming from the federal
government today over a handful of people storming the US Capitol
demonstrates how fragile its perceived legitimacy is today. It is a
government that overreacts to minor incidents because deep down its
members are terrified of any meaningful defiance or resistance to
They realize how easily D.C. tyranny could end if the American people
were united in common opposition to unconstitutional actions in a
manner that reduced their power, rather than give the largest
government in the world the further pretext to expand it.
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