Essay on Daniel Shays Rebellion

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Sewanee University of the South
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Shays Rebellion was an armed revolt in the state of Massachusetts that occurred between the 1786 and 1787 led by radical war veteran Daniel Shays. According to Burgan (2009), before the revolt, in the rural areas of central and western Massachusetts, the main economic driver was subsistence agriculture unlike the more economically developed coastal regions of Massachusetts where the economy was market driven. The state administration was subjugated by the merchant class who were declined lines of credit which forced them to extend the payment of goods with hard currency to the local business owners despite the shortage of that type of currency. The rural farmer population was not able to meet these demands that imposed high taxes on business which adversely affected them (Burgan, 2009). Many of the farmers who could not meet the demand ended up in debt and lost their lands. This action caused more hatred for the tax collectors and the authority in charge of taxes. On top of the economic grievances, the soldiers of the revolutionary war had received insufficient wages throughout the war and faced problems gathering the rest of their wages from the State Congress of the Confederation (Burgan, 2009). Among the war veterans was Daniel Shays who started to mobilise protests to deal with the oppressive economic conditions which consequently sparked the historic Shays Rebellion. Burgan (2009) mentions that Shays led some 4000 rebels who were often referred to as Shaysites in a strong revolt against the economic and civil rights injustices. Despite the struggles the rebellion faced, the ultimate result was the removal of the Articles of Confederation and the establishment of the new Constitution of the United States of America. During the events of 1786, the position established by Thomas Jefferson seems more agreeable since it is necessary for the people to resist harsh elements and fight for their liberties. However, there should be a better way of airing their grievances and fighting oppression that does not involve fighting and bloodshed.

The events leading to the Shays rebellion can be considered to have some significance, especially when observing some of the oppressive contemporary legislations that curtail liberty. Carroll (2007) states that one such legislation is the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 that established some important variations in an attempt to make it harder for some traders to file bankruptcy. The bills provisions were designed by the Congressional benefactors who can be perceived to have sought to oppress the liberty of the people by preventing them from freely filing for bankruptcy. The law mainly meant to prevent some borrowers from filing for bankruptcy under the Chapter 7 act in which many arrears are pardoned or cleared. This forces the debtors to file bankruptcy under Chapter 13 under which debts are only removed after a certain amount of the debt is repaid. About the 1786 events that led to the revolt, the new bankruptcy legislation can be perceived as a curtailing of the liberty of the people to freely do business. The congressional sponsors are in this case comparable to the 1786 European Business Partners of Massachusetts who made it difficult to conduct business in the state by refusing to extend lines of credit to merchants and business owners and forcing them to use the hard currency which limited their operations. The law, when applied in the situation of the 1786 revolt, could be considered by the rebels including Daniel Shay among the things that led to the rebellion. This is because the law can be perceived as an oppression of the right of the people and in particular the disadvantaged business owners who cannot afford some provisions under that law.

Another legislation that can be compared and applied to the rebellious environment of 1786 in Massachusetts during the Shays revolt is the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007. This act of Congress provides liberation to homeowners who would have due taxes on pardoned mortgage arrears after facing foreclosure. According to Petrovich (2008), the law extends relief for three years which applies to debts discharged from the year 2007 to 2009. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which is the body in charge of the collection of taxes in the United States, pardoned housing debt is considered as income. This means that in case the legislation that provides relief to homeowners expires then the pardoned arrears would be regarded as taxable revenue. The law applies to primary homes and not rentals which according to the Daniel Shay perception would be considered as an oppression to the people who cannot afford their own homes and therefore have to rent. The ones who own their own homes have the upper hand under the law since they can afford their own homes. Based on Shays perception of liberty, if this act were existent in 1786 then it would be determined by the rebels as a cause of the revolt. This is because Shays rebellion was focused on helping the disadvantaged people who could not afford some things under the provisions made by various legislations. The enabling of permanent homeowners to benefit more from the legislation while others dont acquire any assistance, in this case, renters, can be considered oppressive to the liberty of those people acquiring equal provisions under the law. If the law were passed in 1786, then it would possibly be among Shays list of grievances.


Burgan, M. (2009). Shays' Rebellion. Minneapolis, Minn: Compass Point Books.

Carroll, S. (2007). The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005: evaluation of the effects of using IRS expense standards to calculate a debtor's monthly disposable income. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp.

Petrovich, D. (2008). Fight foreclosure!: how to cope with a mortgage you can't pay, negotiate with your bank, and save your home. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons.


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