Shays' Rebellion

Shays' Rebellion
Shays forces flee Continental troops, Springfield.jpg
An artist's depiction of the rebellion: Shays' troops repulsed from the armory at Springfield, Massachusetts in early 1787
DateAugust 29, 1786 – June 1787
Western Massachusetts
Caused by
  • Economic policy
  • Aggressive tax and debt collection
  • Political corruption and cronyism
GoalsReform of state government, later its overthrow
MethodsDirect action to close courts, then military organization in attempt to capture the U.S. arsenal at the Springfield Armory
Resulted inRebellion crushed, and problems of Federal authority linked to the Articles of Confederation spur U.S. Constitutional Convention
Parties to the civil conflict
Anti-government protesters

United States United States

  • Massachusetts state militia
  • Privately-funded local militia
Lead figures
4,000+ (largest force 1,500)
4,000+ (largest force 3,000)
  • 6 killed
  • Dozens wounded
  • Many arrested
  • 2 hanged afterward
  • 3 killed[1]
  • Dozens wounded

Shays' Rebellion was an armed uprising in Massachusetts in opposition to the state government’s increased efforts to collect taxes both on individuals and their trades;[2] the fight took place mostly in and around Springfield during 1786 and 1787. American Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays led four thousand rebels (called Shaysites) in a protest against economic and civil rights injustices. Shays was a farmhand from Massachusetts at the beginning of the Revolutionary War; he joined the Continental Army, saw action at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Battle of Bunker Hill, and Battles of Saratoga, and was eventually wounded in action.

In 1787, Shays' rebels marched on the United States' Springfield Armory in an unsuccessful attempt to seize its weaponry and overthrow the government. The federal government found itself unable to finance troops to put down the rebellion, and it was consequently put down by the Massachusetts State militia and a privately funded local militia. The widely held view was that the Articles of Confederation needed to be reformed as the country's governing document, and the events of the rebellion served as a catalyst for the Constitutional Convention and the creation of the new government.[3]

The shock of Shays' Rebellion drew retired General George Washington back into public life, leading to his two terms as the first president of the United States.[3] There is still debate among scholars concerning the rebellion's influence on the Constitution and its ratification.


Populist Governor John Hancock refused to crack down on tax delinquencies and accepted devalued paper currency for debts.
Artist's depiction of protesters watching a debtor in a scuffle with a tax collector by the courthouse at Springfield, Massachusetts. The insurrection was a tax-related rebellion.

The economy during the American Revolutionary War was largely subsistence agriculture in the rural parts of New England, particularly in the hill towns of central and western Massachusetts. Some residents in these areas had few assets beyond their land, and they bartered with one another for goods and services. In lean times, farmers might obtain goods on credit from suppliers in local market towns who would be paid when times were better.[4] Conversely, there was a market economy in the more economically developed coastal areas of Massachusetts Bay and in the fertile Connecticut River Valley, driven by the activities of wholesale merchants dealing with Europe and the West Indies.[5] The state government was dominated by this merchant class.[6]

When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, Massachusetts merchants’ European business partners refused to extend lines of credit to them and insisted that they pay for goods with hard currency, despite the country-wide shortage of such currency. Merchants began to demand the same from their local business partners, including those operating in the market towns in the state's interior.[7] Many of these merchants passed on this demand to their customers, although Governor John Hancock did not impose hard currency demands on poorer borrowers and refused to actively prosecute the collection of delinquent taxes.[8] The rural farming population was generally unable to meet the demands of merchants and the civil authorities, and some began to lose their land and other possessions when they were unable to fulfill their debt and tax obligations. This led to strong resentments against tax collectors and the courts, where creditors obtained judgments against debtors, and where tax collectors obtained judgments authorizing property seizures.[9] A farmer identified as "Plough Jogger" summarized the situation at a meeting convened by aggrieved commoners:[10][11][12]

I have been greatly abused, have been obliged to do more than my part in the war, been loaded with class rates, town rates, province rates, Continental rates and all rates ... been pulled and hauled by sheriffs, constables and collectors, and had my cattle sold for less than they were worth ... The great men are going to get all we have and I think it is time for us to rise and put a stop to it, and have no more courts, nor sheriffs, nor collectors nor lawyers.

Veterans had received little pay during the war and faced added difficulty collecting pay owed to them from the State or the Congress of the Confederation,[10] and some soldiers began to organize protests against these oppressive economic conditions. In 1780, Daniel Shays resigned from the army unpaid and went home to find himself in court for non-payment of debts. He soon realized that he was not alone in his inability to pay his debts and began organizing for debt relief.[13]

Other Languages
فارسی: شورش شیز
Bahasa Indonesia: Pemberontakan Shays
עברית: מרד שייז
Nederlands: Shays' opstand
Simple English: Shays' Rebellion
中文: 谢司起义