The Whiskey Rebellion

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Book Review
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The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution. By Thomas P. Slaughter. (New York: Oxford University Press, l986, 291 pp.)

In October of 1794, in response to a popular uprising against the federal government, President Washington sent an army of nearly 13,000 men across the Allegheny Mountains into the frontier regions of Western Pennsylvania. This event marked the greatest internal crisis of Washington's administration and was probably the most divisive event that occurred in the United States prior to the Civil War. The significance of this event has often been overlooked and forgotten in popular historical accounts. Thomas Slaughter's thirteen-chapter chronicle of this event in American history takes great steps toward correcting that oversight.

The Whiskey Rebellion was a violent uprising against an excise tax placed on liquor, much like the tax revolt against the Stamp Act that ignited the American Revolution. Of course, the Whiskey rebels saw themselves as upholding the spirit of the Revolution and believed that the politicians in the federal government had forsaken those principles for the quest of personal gain.

Slaughter does an outstanding job of telling each side of the story without portraying a strong bias toward either. He paints the rebellion as a massive communication failure between all involved. The conflict illustrated a deep divide between the eastern and the western regions of the country, setting urban interests against rural interests, localist philosophy against nationalist beliefs, and all of the disparities that are inherent among different social and economic classes.

The author describes the federal government and its supporters as having "generally shared a Hobbesian-type fear of anarchy as the starting point for their consideration of contemporary politics," while he says that the Whiskey Rebels and their friends "took a more Lockeian-type stance,"...
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