It’s a cross-over! This week we joined Cody Wheat from the Shots of History podcast to talk about that one time that George Washington sent the army to deal to force some country bumpkins to pay their taxes – in other words, the Whiskey Rebellion. How did we become a nation of whiskey-drinkers, why was whiskey taxed in the late 18th century, and what kind of legacy did the Rebellion leave? Join Marissa, Sarah, and Cody to learn all about it.
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Show Notes & Further Reading
Lender, Mark Edward, and James Kirby Martin. Drinking in America: A History (New York: Free Press, 1987).
Slaughter, Thomas. The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).
George Washington, Covenanter Squatters Historical Marker
Just for funsies: “One Last Ride,” the song about the Whiskey Rebellion that was cut from Hamilton: The Musical
The Whiskey Rebellion
Produced by Marissa Rhodes and Sarah Handley Cousins in conjunction with Cody Wheats
Edited by Marissa Rhodes
Transcribed by Elizabeth Garner Masarik
Sarah: Today on the podcast we are talking about the Whiskey Rebellion- the conflict between rural Appalachian whiskey distillers and the federal government that took place in 1794 in western Pennsylvania, right around what is now Pittsburg, PA. This podcast is a collaboration with our friend Cody Wheats.
Cody: Hey everyone, my name’s Cody Wheats. I host a podcast called Shots of History, where I talk about the intersection of history and alcohol. So it could be something like this episode, where we talk about the Whiskey Rebellion, or it could be something a little bit more abstract. Like how alcohol consumption in New York actually influenced the growth of the Florida orange industry. I’m really happy to be collaborating with Sarah and Marissa today, I’m really happy that they agreed to do this. And you will be hearing from me a little bit later in the episode.
Sarah: So first we’ll talk a little bit about alcohol culture in America before the Whiskey Rebellion, in the 18th century. What kind of alcohol people drank and how it got to a place where we were drinking whiskey in the United States. Um, then Cody will tell us a little bit about the tax that was levied on whisky that fomented this whole rebellion, and then at the very end I’ll talk a little bit about the legacies and the situations after the Whiskey Rebellion, and then we have a really great conversation about this conflict and what it has meant for America and what maybe it can tell us about America today.
And we are the History Buffs.
Welcome to the History Buffs podcast, where history matters. After today’s show, go to iTunes, rate us, and leave a review. We hope you enjoy the episode!
Marissa: By the 1790s, whiskey held a special place in the hearts of American drinkers. I thought I’d take a few minutes to explain how this happened. Much like Americans are today, colonial Americans were into beer, as much for food safety reasons as for personal preference. Because basically it was safer to drink beer than it was water, which was full of microbes. Um, but most early American beer had a low alcohol content. Wine, a staple in the Old World, was generally unavailable for all but the wealthiest elites. I think Jefferson had like a huge collection of wine.
Sarah: He did but he went into huge significant debt importing it.
Marissa: Right, so it wasn’t what your average person could. There wasn’t enough demand for it to stimulate American viticulture until much later (like the 1980s). Gin, a staple of every British drunkard, was a grain-based alcohol flavored with the juniper berry. Gin became so popular in Georgian London that satirists like William Hogarth depicted debauched scenes of vagrants and lie-abouts, wasted out of their minds, and littering the London streets. I think one of his cartoons is called “Gin Lane” or something like that. This was called the “gin epidemic.” So, given the high numbers of English flocking to the colonies, one would think that gin would be popular there too. But no, gin never caught on. Some historians think this is because in England, gin was most popular in urban areas. And there were fewer of those in colonial America.
Besides, early Americans had plenty of options for making their own “hot waters” as distilled liquors were called. Colonists discovered new and exciting fruits that they quickly used to distill fruit brandies. Throughout the rest of the century, these remained popular and regional specialities emerged. New Englanders made pears into perry, Georgia became known for its peach brandy, and the middle Atlantic regions popularized applejack (also called Jersey lightning). And apples weren’t native to the New World, they just got really into them.
Sarah: Right, most apples were used for cider, not for eating.
Marissa: But serious drinkers everywhere sought new and exciting alternatives to fruit liquors. The eastern slopes of the Appalachians were home to America’s first grain alcohols. In the late 1600s, this area was truly a wild frontier with a sparse population. Corn, rye and occasionally potatoes were distilled on a small scale by back country yokels into potent grain alcohols. They didn’t catch on right away though. Rum was too popular. Rum production used the molasses by-product of the Caribbean sugar plantations so it was cheap and readily available in the 18th century. The first rum distillery opened in 1700 in Boston. Spiced rum and rum punch became staples in most regions, and by 1705 or so, rum became one of New England’s most important exports.
As the frontier expanded, settlers realized that rum was becoming harder to acquire. It was too costly to ship heavy vats of molasses, or crates of finished rum, into the dense backwoods of Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, etc. So frontiersmen, drawing on the wisdom of earlier Appalachian settlers, turned to grain whiskeys. Farmers usually harvested more grain than they could eat or sell so whiskey gave them a way to use their surplus. A bushel of corn made 3 gallons of whiskey. Scotch-Irish immigrants flooded the area in the 1730s, bringing their whiskey-distillation skills from the Old Country. (I should mention here that Americans were already familiar with whiskey. Mainland Britons and American colonists imported whiskey from Ireland, the whiskey center of the world, but obviously only wealthy people could afford it). Their skills improved the quality of American whiskey, making it a desirable commodity in other parts of North America. Whiskey was more marketable than grains anyway because it was easier to ship and it kept longer.
The whiskey industry benefited from the Revolution at rum’s expense. During the war, the British Royal Navy blockaded American ports. So imports from the Caribbean, like sugar and molasses, became rare. Rum production suffered as a result. At the same time, civilian and military demand for alcohol sored. Each Continental soldier was given 4 oz. of whiskey per day. In the French and Indian Wars, colonial troops were given rum rations.
What were they given in the Civil War?
Sarah: Nothing, absolutely nothing. No alcohol rations. One of the doctors that I study often talks about how difficult, because of temperance, how difficult it was to get whiskey to transport body parts back to the Army medical museum for study. And so sometimes they would try to transport a barrel of whiskey down to the front line to fill with body parts, and by the time it got there it’d be empty because people would be siphoning it off. And so he writes this memoir that he has this secret hope that people are siphoning it off on the way back and getting this alcohol tainted with human bodies.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s like his revenge.
Marissa: To get back at them?
Sarah: Yeah. It’s disgusting but it illustrates the fight over alcohol during the Civil War. The purposes that it served.
Marissa: Well at this point there was no fight. They were just like give the troops all the alcohol.
Sarah: Yeah, it was seen as necessary for morale.
Marissa: Right, spirits were thought to improve moral and to actually strengthen soldiers’ bodies as they suffered malnutrition, injury and illness. Since alcohol prevented food stuffs from spoiling, early Americans assumed that consuming alcohol would slow down the aging process and preserve their bodies from disease.
Why are you giggling?
Sarah: Because I hope that’s not true!
Marissa: Alcohol, whiskey specifically, was thought to cultivate virility in men, a quality that seemed particularly apt for young warriors. In June 1737, The Virginia Gazette printed a sensational story about an elderly Irish couple of 70 years old who conceived and birthed a child in county Omagh. The newspaper reported: “her pregnancy, ’tis thought, was entirely owing to the Quantity of Whiskey her Husband drank; they have had no child these 20 Years past, for in the Year 1715, the Husband took an Oath not to drink any of that Liquor for 20 years, but the Term being expir’d, he returned again to the Use of it, and did not drink of it above a month, when his wife was discovered to be with Child.”
The 70 year old lady got pregnant because her husband drank whiskey. Sure.
This substitution in military provisions mirrored what was happening in the civilian world. Whiskey quickly replaced rum as Americans’ drink of choice. Most of the Caribbean remained in British hands after the war, so the fledgling republic never got a healthy rum trade going again. The 1808 abolition of the slave trade was the death knell of the rum industry in North America. (#worthit). This paved the way for a robust American whiskey industry that is still going strong today.
Sarah: I never put that together before. That American taste for rum was pulled back because of this, that it was supplanted by whiskey. For some reason that never meshed in my brain.
Marissa: Well, it’s a combination of things, not just the end of slavery.
The first American whiskeys, again made along the eastern slopes of the Appalachians, was a predominantly rye whiskey mixed with corn and barley malt. Rye whiskey became the speciality of Pennsylvania and Maryland distilleries.
Corn whiskeys were more popular in the southernmost areas of the frontier– we aren’t talking about the deep south, we’re talking about Appalachia – Kentucky, southern Ohio, West Virginia. Corn whiskeys are 80% corn, with a birth of rye and barley. It was usually aged in oak barrels. These early corn whiskeys were easily eclipsed in popularity by bourbon (named after Bourbon county in KY), which used a smaller volume of corn and took on a dark color as it was stored in charred oak barrels. Kentucky found a niche in bourbon production and is still the bourbon capital of the world today. They have lots of Kentucky bourbon tours I hear.
America’s’ new love affair with whiskey meant that it became a lucrative commodity during and after the war. But in some areas, such as western Pennsylvania, still a sparsely populated frontier at the end of the war, distillers were struggling to eke out a living.
Cody: Awesome, thank you Marissa for kind of setting this up. I’m going to come back to a few of the points that Marissa made earlier but for now I’m going to dive a little bit into the history of the actual conflict itself.
Now, in 1790, just like what we have today, the United States had two major political parties. They were the Federalist party and the Republican Party. Now even though one of them is called the Republican Party there’s some big differences between that republican party and the Republican Party we have today, and the Federalist party has some big differences with what we would consider the Democratic Party today. But generally speaking the federalists were in favor of a more centralized government and more federally funded programs, while Republicans looked for more local, and state lead initiatives, so in that sense there are some similarities.
And again, the same as it is today, there are certainly more than two voices that represented each of these parties but for this discussion we’re going to focus on one voice from each side. One of these individuals has been made rather famous by a recent musical, Alexander Hamilton, and he’ll be the voice for the Federalist. The other will be Thomas Jefferson, representing the Republicans, and in the middle we have George Washington. Okay it’s 1790, at this point in our history the United States is in a lot of debt, which we had collected in order to pay for the revolutionary war. And one of the first big needs for our country was to figure out a way to balance the budget.
Hamilton debated a few different tax initiatives but ultimately proposed what he called a whiskey tax. The tax would start off at $.11 per gallon of whiskey, which was nothing even by the standards of the time, and he believed this tax would pay off the $45 million dollars worth of debt that we had. The fact that a tax that small was going to pay off a debt that large said something about how much whiskey we were drinking as a country, but Hamilton was hoping that this would fund other projects that he had in mind as well. Canals, roads, and the big one, a central bank. Ironically Hamilton borrows this plan, in most part, from England. To explain what I mean I’m going to quote a book called, “Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of American Whiskey.” Quote:
“Hamilton ironically took his blueprints for the whiskey tax from England, where small distilleries and government had long clashed, moonshining thrived, and big distilleries help the British government write tax laws. In return, Parliament offered commercial distillers tax rebates and banded stills under a certain size. This sort of arrangement had given the small island nation the kind of mighty industrial power and efficiency Hamilton wanted for America. He could only imagine what America, a land with much greater natural wealth could become if its resources were utilized in the same fashion.”
Ironic might be a bit of an understatement there, but nonetheless, Hamilton’s whiskey tax was really the first of its kind, that actually taxed an American made product and really supported larger organizations over smaller, individual operations just because of how the taxes collected. In cities distillers only paid taxes on how much spirits they produced, what they were actually put out for sale. It was relatively easy for tax collectors to monitor the output in cities and collect according, but in the rural countryside, distillers were paying according to their still capacity and it was assumed that the stills were running at full production, all the time. And that was the major problem, because most of these farmers weren’t running their stills anywhere close to full time. As Marissa mentioned, they would take some of their crop and turn it into whiskey. The reason for this was that the whiskey was easier to transport and it was much less likely that a bottle of whiskey was going to get damaged versus a bushel of wheat or rye. The trip to the city was a multiple day journey before farmers could try and sell their product so it’s much safer if you take at least some grains and know that you can make some profit. They also were able to make better margins on whiskey, which is another incentive for them to distill versus just selling the grains.
The other component with this is that many farmers were using whiskey to pay for different goods and services that they needed because they didn’t have a lot of cash on hand. It wasn’t like they could go to ATM just withdraw whatever they needed. So whiskey, over time, actually became a means of exchange. When the whiskey tax went into effect in 1791 it was met with some harsh criticism, and between 1791 and 1794 things escalated pretty quickly.
Now I wish I could say that at this moment that the angry farmers decided to let cooler heads prevail and went to the local officials and wrote letters to their congressman and that ultimately this work got this tax repealed. Unfortunately that’s not how this went down. So, when tax collectors would come out to the western parts of the US, they were usually tarred and feathered, their homes were burned down, sometimes with them still inside. Or some times they were beaten just because they were tax collectors and leading into 1794 things were really starting to get out of hand.
And this is where we go back to Washington and the two voices that he has in his right and left ear. It was at this moment Hamilton said Washington need to go in with full force and stop the rebellion to show the power of the federal government. His rationale was that if Washington didn’t go, because we were such a new country and our authority was still somewhat question, if we couldn’t even control a skirmish like this, it would weaken the credibility of our country both for our fellow countrymen but also for the nations around the world that were looking on.
Jefferson on the other hand pointed out the hypocrisy of raising an army to go after your own people. After all this is what we’ve been fighting to get rid of just a decade or so ago. We’ve just gone through this, we got out freedom from unjust taxation, are you really going to do this again?
Washington, to his credit, tried to work with many of the leaders that came out against this tax to see if there was a way to peacefully resolve to conflict. But in the end those conversations proved to be unfruitful. The tarring and feathering continued, along with the burning of houses, and Washington ultimately decided to listen to Hamilton. He assembled about 13,000 men that he took out to the western edge of Pennsylvania.
Now thankful…at least I would say thankfully, many of these farmers who organized and swore that they would stay and fight, didn’t really back up their talk, and when Washington showed up with his forces, basically everyone dispersed. We don’t have this large bloody conflict to kick off our nation’s history, which I would say is a really good thing. This is also one of the first defining moments within the whiskey industry that really shifts it from from moonshining and small distillers, having a real sense of power and control to now larger distillers now having that power.
So when we talk about the divide between rural, agricultural interest and urban interest, the whiskey rebellion is one of the first strong examples we have in American history of this divide being so clearly demonstrated.
Marissa: Right, and I think that, surely there was this feeling of um, success after kind of kicking the British out, and feeling like hey, we stuck it to the man, and now there’s like a new man in town. And I’m sure there was a lot of resentment, especially by veterans, who thought, “I fought in this war for freedom and now I’m taxed unfairly just as I was before.”
I know among a lot of Quakers that, who were pacifists anyway- that’s what they said. That this new government is doing the same thing that Brits were doing, so whatever. They thought it was all the same.
So what may have begun as a bunch of unruly, ungovernable country bumpkins defying federal power ended up having a number of really important lasting legacies. First, the frustrated and thwarted frontiersmen of the rebellion picked up stakes and moved further inland, where they could better avoid contact with the federal government. I think, kind of as you both suggested, kind of upping the ante between rural and urban divide. Making themselves even more removed from the center of power. And as they left, in a way, they took the frontier with them – Western PA was no longer the frontier; instead, it moved inland to the Mississippi river region. This had other consequences, of course – the further west white settlers moved, the greater conflicts arose with Native Americans. In some cases, they live in those regions that become places of internal conflict later on in the 19th century: West Virginia, southern Ohio, Kentucky, etc. all places that have populations of poor, non-slaveholding whites and conflicted loyalties when it comes to slavery and support for the federal government. Places that become really interesting during the Civil War and the sectional crisis.
Another factor after the Whiskey Rebellion is that just in its very existence, it brought attention and money to Western PA. In order to have that number of soldiers in the area, the government had no choice but to pay local residents for food, lodging, and other necessities. Ironically, this influx of cash boosted the local economy – which I think is so bizarre and fascinating; this conflict arises over the refusal of these frontiersmen to pay the whiskey tax, and then in order to force them to pay, the army has no choice but to pay *them.*
Marissa: To patronize them, their villages.
Sarah: Right, and another interesting aspect of this who came out to quell the rebellion fell in love with the rolling hills of Western PA, bought tracts of land, and moved to the area to settle. So as a result of this bitter conflict, the population of the area increased and economy improved. So there were these unexpected consequences.
Marissa: Right but at the same time they were still growing apart. These kind of rural areas- I read a lot about 1790s Philadelphia and I know that they were pissed that Philadelphians had to leave in 1794, what was it June? And head out and kind of take care of these backwoods “a-holes.” They were kind of like, really resentful of that.
Sarah: Right, so the locals, now having cash in hand, used it to invest in more land; land prices went up by 50% after 1794. This had one beneficiary in particular and that is George Washington himself, who had extensive land holdings in Western PA, that he’d had for a long long time. I don’t want to venture what the actual number was but the land he owned around modern Pittsburg was really enormous. He had decided just before the rebellion itself to start selling off this land and his plans were placed on hold by the rebellion – afterwards this idea became even more lucrative. He held on to his land until 1796, when he began to sell most of it off, partly because of the market, and partly because he was so frustrated with his irritating Western PA tenants! Which is an ironic twist is that George Washington ends up profiting off of this land boom that happens after the Whiskey Rebellion. So there are some really strange things happening here.
The event also had larger consequences. I think as both Marissa and Cody suggested. One is the fairly obvious tensions that it reveals: the tensions between the rural and the centers of power, specifically the cities along the east coast; as well as the tension between liberty and order. The conflict between rural and urban, agricultural society and industrialized society, the yeoman farmer and the man of finance, of course reflects the very conflict between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. And indeed, the Whiskey Rebellion actually drove constituents to Jefferson’s Democratic party – it seemed to prove to frontiersmen that the federal government was grasping at too much power, bordering on the tyrannical, making Jefferson’s Democrats or Anti-Federalists more appealing. I mentioned also the conflict between liberty and order – the Whiskey Rebellion brings to a head an internal fissure within the founding fathers’ ideology: they had wanted a society based on independence and liberty, but they also wanted a society that was not ruled by mob-law. If there was one thing the founding fathers were afraid of, it was the “mob.” The Whiskey Rebellion forces that contradiction out into the light. It doesn’t necessarily heal that fissure, but rather reveals that it’s there, lurking under the surface. It does, however, prove that the federal government has the ability – and sets the precedent – to use the military against its own people when it feels that it’s necessary, thereby demonstrating the power of the federal government over its own people.
One of the experts on the Whiskey Rebellion is a historian by the name of Thomas Slaughter. And at the end of his book he leaves with one last point: that the Whiskey Rebellion reveals the level of disillusionment with Revolutionary principles even in the 1790s, not very long at all after the conclusion of that war. Right? A decade? Not even… Here we are in 1794 doing the very same thing that we were doing 20 years prior. As he states, “And yet, they were still fighting about taxes, still burning politicians in effigy, still tarring and feathering tax collectors, planting liberty poles, circulating petitions of protest, and against forming political action societies to defend the cause of liberty against its enemies in government.” So replicating almost exactly the things happening before the American Revolution. If you didn’t know better, you might think this was an episode from before the Revolution, not after. So in a sense, the Whiskey Rebellion is a moment where the founding fathers are forced to face the reality that governing is harder than they might have believed, and that they – when themselves are in positions of power – might recreate the very systems of power that they had railed against during the Revolution.
Marissa: Exactly, yeah. I don’t know.. So I mean Cody wanted us to sort of…
Sarah: Well now it makes it sound like he was cracking the whip…
Marissa: Cody is bossing us around…
Cody: I’m just dropping the hammer guys.
Marissa: Think about that decision to quell the rebellion, to kind of use your own troops against your own countrymen, whether that was worth it, or the right thing to do, or an effective thing to do. I mean it was pretty obvious that it was effective.
Cody: Yeah. If it’s okay Marissa, I kind of want to go back to something that you and Sarah had talked about with the hard cider. I don’t know, do you know how hard cider is made?
Marissa: No, no I don’t.
Cody: What ends up happening when you create any type of alcohol is separate ethanol and water. And the way that’s commonly done today is through heat. And heating up the substance. So alcohol will burn off, water will remain, and you sort of collect that condensation. You can do the same thing at the other end of the spectrum. If you don’t have access to a still and to a heat source, what you do instead is you will take hard cider, set it outside and let it freeze during the winter. The liquid that you’re left with is actually that higher alcohol content that you want. So you end up with these chunks of water, essentially ice, and you ring those out, and then over time you repeat this process and you end up with 30 proof hard cider.
Marissa: That’s smart!
Sarah: That’s so interesting.
Cody: Now the reason we don’t do this today, and the reason it’s not very common, is because you’re not getting rid of a lot of the impurities within ethanol and within alcohol that you want to get rid of. And so, the reason that we heat things up is to get rid of all the impurities and one of the main issues with this cooler method is that you don’t get rid of them. The reason that is relevant, the Whiskey Rebellion as a whole really shapes the alcohol industry and it becomes much more federally regulated and I think that was ultimately a good thing. Um, because at the end of the day alcohol is a substance that people can abuse and uh, you know, misuse, and so it’s just interesting to me that the Whiskey Rebellion is really the first time that we see alcohol being regulated at this federal level. And sort of the impacts that it had long term for that.
Sarah: That’s a really interesting point, and I’d never thought of the Whiskey Rebellion in those terms. As the federal government exerting it’s right to regulate a domestic product. One other thing that you made me think of- even though I think all of that is accurate, one of the areas where you continue to have a culture of individual alcohol production is Appalachia. Right, with uh moonshine. They do continue to make alcohol on their own and specifically try to hide it from regulators and government control.
Marissa: Well that’s funny though because one of the most highly regulated states, when it comes to alcohol sales at least, is Pennsylvania.
Sarah: Today. Yeah. Can’t buy beer in the grocery store and it’s annoying.
Marissa: And you have to get it from a state store and they close at 8pm…
Cody: Wait hold on, I’m really curious about this. I live in Utah and we have a lot of regulations as well. So we have state stores and all that stuff. Can you go into all the regulations that you guys have in Pennsylvania?
Marissa: Yeah state stores you can’t buy beer in any old place. But in Pennsylvania you can go through a drive-through and buy beer in a drive through, which is so weird to me. But you can’t buy beer after 8pm on a Saturday. It’s a very strange- it’s so interesting that every state has its own culture.
Sarah: Right like in Main you can buy liquor at the grocery store. In New York State you can only buy beer and wine coolers at the grocery store. How much more convenient would my life be if I could buy wine at the grocery store?
Marissa: Right super convenient.
Marissa: That’s like one reason to live in Florida. You can just buy wine wherever you want.
But that’s just sort of interesting- there is in Pennsylvania there is this strict overbearing control over alcohol sales but at the same time there is in backwoods areas there is that same culture.
Sarah: I would say that the people that fomented the rebellion are the ones moving inland later. Because today, Western Pennsylvania does not consider itself part of Appalacia. But if you go over the border into West Virginia, that’s where you will start to see more of that culture around moonshine. Not in Pennsylvania. My husband’s from Western PA and he is certainly not a moonshine culture type.
Marissa: No, but at the time they were sort of the yokels I was mentioning in the 1790s.
Cody: Ok, so I’m kind of interested to get you guy’s thoughts on taxation. Different ways that people protest. Maybe your thoughts on the rights of individuals to protest taxation. The rights of the government to quell a protest. I know, maybe this is an area that you can speak a little bit more to. Can you share your perspective on that?
Marissa: Right. Well for me I’m originally a British historian, so I’m thinking of it- there’s a long complicated in France and in Britain in protesting taxation. Especially excise taxes, and protesting against local magistrates and people like this- the whole tarring and feathering, that’s not like obscene in any way. There is a long culture of protest that was seen as an acceptable way to voice your opinion and your desires in a government that didn’t necessarily have direct representation. So for me, there actions make sense in a very European kind of way.
Sarah: The government’s actions or the actions…
Marissa: No, the actions of the Western Pennsylvanians. And then George Washington’s reaction is then sort of a new way of thinking about the federal government. I think. That’s how I think of it, coming from my British background.
Sarah: I think this is also, this is not my time period- I study later in the 19th century, but later it’s- it becomes, I don’t want to say common, but the United States used the Army against it’s own people multiple times, usually during labor disputes or during riots. Even during the Civil War, the New York City draft riots, the military comes in to quell that. The Homestead Strike, the military is sent in by the president to put down that strike. Um, so to me looking maybe backwards it seems like in-line.
Marissa: I agree, it seems like it set a precedent for what was an acceptable way for the American military to interact with civilians who were protesting.
Sarah: And I also see this, I don’t know as much about George Washington as I do about Alexander Hamilton, it doesn’t surprise me at all about Hamilton. As much as we’d like to think of Hamilton as a populist, he wasn’t right, he was an elitist. And the founding fathers hated the idea of mob rule and the people being able to choose what laws they were going to follow, so to me it makes sense. Although I do think it sets a troubling precedent.
Marissa: Perhaps, but compared to the French Revolution which is gearing up right when the American Revolution is ending- the French made a lot of mistakes because they didn’t understand how dangerous mob rule could be. And they didn’t understand delegating sovereignty to your representatives, and things like that. They tried to apply democratic principles to society in a very literal way that did not work and devolved into chaos. So really, I tend to think that-
Sarah: Which was terrifying to the Americans.
Marissa: Terrifying. So I think that, I mean, it seems like the right decision at the time. It seems like the effective way to lead the fledgling Republic. But you’re right, it’s a problematic precedent.
Cody: Yeah, I mean obviously- typically we don’t want the government to be acting up in this way. Sarah as you mentioned Hamilton really did want this to be the response. He kind of set the precedent for the way that we handle domestic issues within our country. I just think it’s interesting- Hamilton’s gotten a lot of love recently, I don’t know if Jefferson or any of these guys would necessarily get the same amount of love and respect from Broadway.
Sarah: Although I do think it’s interesting that there’s no Whiskey Rebellion portion of Hamilton the musical. They leave that out.
Marissa: It’s not sexy.
Cody: Oh, have you seen it?
Sarah: I haven’t seen it but I’ve listened to it many many many times.
Marissa: I’ve listened to it.
Cody: Got cha.
Marissa: Well, it’s not a very sexy topic. But it kind of is though, because it has to do with Whiskey.
Sarah: You know, to me it’s a very very American story. Not only does it include all of our favorite characters but it’s also a conflict that goes to the very heart of America. Agriculture vs business, rural vs urban, what kind of country are we going to be? All these big debates that were happening during this time are sort of encapsulated in this one flashpoint.
Marissa: And most of them are happening today.
Sarah: Sure. Yeah. Conversations between rural and urban.
Marissa: Right, look at Red vs Blue on this map. It’s still…
Cody: Yeah, yeah, it’s um…it’s interesting that it’s something that just has not gone away. It’s something that we’re facing today.
Marissa: Yeah, this was a fun episode. Thank you so much for contacting us and doing this with us.
Cody: I want to say thank you guys and we’ll talk soon. Cheers!
The Division in America – History200section01 · December 12, 2021 at 1:48 pm
[…] Sarah Handley-Cousins stated on the Whiskey Rebellion Podcast, “First, the frustrated and thwarted frontiersmen of the rebellion picked up stakes and moved furth…You see the farmers are starting to move more south and inland, creating a group of people moving […]