The Whiskey Rebellion was a reaction to a tax that was imposed on whiskey sales in the United States in 1789. Many farmers sold their corn crops in the form of whiskey and were required to pay an extra tax on the product. The money was to be used to pay the national debt and was collected by federal officials. The tax was strongly opposed by the farmers who refused to pay and used violence and intimidation to prevent the collection of the tax.
What caused the Whiskey Rebellion?
The resistance of the tax came in a variety of forms. Many on the western frontier opposed the tax and lobbied against it. Once it became law there were extralegal conventions organized to repeal the law. The legal efforts did nothing to ease the tax and the residents of the western frontier began to resist in more violent ways. Tax officials were captured, whipped, tarred and feathered when trying to deliver court warrants. Other violent acts also followed this and radical militia groups were set up to oppose the collection of the tax and the prosecution of those who would not pay. Investigations were carried out by the federal government into the extent of the issue and further tension resulted.
One federal tax inspector made it his mission to ensure that the tax was collected in his state of western Pennsylvania. General John Neville, who was also a large scale distiller, originally opposed the tax and then changed his mind and began to strongly support it. This angered many of the western Pennsylvanians. The violent opposition of the tax began to take a more serious turn with anyone who paid the tax or supported the federal government being targeted. In June of 1793 an effigy of Neville was burned by over 100 people in Washington County. Another tax inspector was held at gunpoint until he resigned his position. The violent opposition continued to escalate through 1793.
In 1794 the resistance came to a climax when the federal district attorney William Rawle issued subpoenas for over 60 distillers who had not paid the whiskey tax. Most of these were delivered without incident. On July 15 Federal Marshal Lenox, the man delivering the subpoenas, was joined by General Neville as a guide. Warning shots were fired at the men and they both retreated. Neville returned to his fortified home, known as Bower Hill. The following day his home was surrounded by members of the Mingo Creek Militia. Neville was asked to surrender to which he responded with gunfire that hit and wounded one of the rebels. The rebels opened fire on the house. When the militia returned the next day with 600 men they discovered 10 men from the U.S Military who were opposing them. Shots were again fired at the house. A white flag of surrender was believed to have been raised in the house. When this happened the leader of the militia ceased fire and stepped out into the open. At this point he was shot by someone inside the house. The Mingo Creek Militia were outraged by this incident and the house was set on fire. This incident incited what is now known as the Whiskey Rebellion.