The Whiskey Rebellion
The Whiskey Rebellion tested Washington as president - and the sovereignty of the Constitution.
It’s exactly what you might think – it involved whiskey, and it certainly involved a rebellion. Oh, and don't mess with the Constitution.
It all began in 1791, during Washington’s presidency, when Congress legislated an excise tax on whiskey and distilled spirits. The revenue from these taxes was intended to help lessen the federal deficit.
In parts of western Pennsylvania and western Virginia, however, the law and its tax inspectors were not met kindly. Farmers in these areas converted substantial portions of their grain into whiskey to make it easier to convey to seaports. So enraged by this display of federal power, protestors burned the revenue inspector’s house and assembled a crowd of six thousand angry protestors ready for action. Even one individual, emboldened by the ongoing French Revolution, pressed for guillotines.
Washington’s earnest attempts at peaceful diplomacy were thwarted by these angry displays. He and his cabinet grudgingly decided that the militia should quell any uprisings if the mob further refused to quietly disband.
His final caution ignored, Washington donned a general’s uniform, tailored to look just like the one he wore during the Revolution. He had every intention to quash these “self-created societies” who failed to recognize that the tax had been voted on by their elected representatives. To Washington, their actions were a “treasonable opposition” - and the Constitution needed to be defended.
As you might imagine, the presence of Washington and his thirteen thousand troops marching upon the Pennsylvania countryside was duly impressive. It must have been, for the mere sight of them encamped in full martial splendor silenced the rebellion.
By 1794, law and order was restored in the land and Washington’s position was resolute - even to the censure of his most trusted supporters and cabinet members. The new federal system was not, in any instance, to be thwarted.