Book Review: The Whiskey Rebellion

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Book Review: The Whiskey Rebellion

Unread postby bourbonv » Wed May 31, 2006 7:38 pm

The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America's Newfound Sovereignty, By William Hogland. Scribner, New York, 2006. Contents, Maps, Notes Bibliography, Index, pp. 302.

The Whiskey Rebellion is a crisis that faced a very young American nation. Hogeland does a very good job explaining just how big a crisis the rebellion was and how it helped shape the America for the next two centuries.

The Whiskey Rebellion was about taxes and Hogeland does a very good job of pointing out both sides of the tax issue. The new nation needed income to pay taxes and even more importantly the new Federal Government needed to establish the right to collect taxes in its own name and not simply depend upon the generosity of the individual state governments for income. The excise tax on spirits was a test to prove that the government could collect taxes, not only from foriegn companies bringing goods into the United States, but also from the citizens of the United States. The other side of the story is that the whiskey tax was considered unfair to the people living on the frontiers of this new nation. The tax was to be paid in specie or bonds issued by the Federal government. Both of these items were scarce to the people living in the west. The unfairness of this tax also made other problems of the western people seem that much wore. These people were living with threats from Native American tribes, Spanish control of the Mississippi River and English troops in forts that were to be vacated after the treaty ending the American Revolution as outside threats. The problems from within included a lack of money leading to a barter economy, poor transportation and absentee land owners who collected rent from the people actually improving the land who might then sell that same land to someone else and evict the people who put their blood, sweat and tears into the land.

Hogeland sets the stage for this rebellion very skillfully. He starts with Shay's Rebellion in Massachusetts and a revolt by western settlers in North Carolina. Both of these events involved many of the same issues that were later part of the Whiskey Rebellion. He details Hamilton's plans to build a financial policy for the United States that favored the bond holders over the debtors. Policies that would inflame the people of the west because they were mostly part of the later class of people. He then points out that the spirit of revolution was still fresh in the memories of the people and since many of the people living in the west were veterans of the revolutionary armies, they were not the type to role over without a fight. They saw the tax and other issues as attacks upon their freedoms.

The book is very entertaining and informative. It is not footnoted but Hogeland does a very good job of discussing his sources, chapter by chapter, in his notes at the end of the story. He discusses his source and places them into the different schools of American History writers. The book is well researched and Hogeland does seem to understand the limitations when reading history from different schools of thought. His own school seems to be a bit of a progressive/economic historical school of thought.

This is a very good book to add to a bourbon library. The reader will not gain understanding as to how whiskey is made or what it taste like, but at the same time the reader will better understand the nature of the industry today. After all as Hogeland points out, Hamilton's plan to eliminate the small distiller in favor of big business distillers worked, even if it took about 150 years to do so.

Mike Veach
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Aug 03, 2006 6:24 pm

This week we have had an Assistant Professor from Northern Michigan as a Filson Scholar using our collection for a research project. His subject is economic history of the first northeast from 1760 to 1815. I was at his talk discussing the project and mentioned this book to him and showed him the review (see this site does make my life easier at work) and he is going to get the book himself. The Whiskey Rebellion plays an important role in his research. There are some other points from his talk I thought I would share with you as well.

1) The first western expansion really starts with the Ohio River Valley and once it hits the Mississippi River, it is only then that it starts spread north and south. The first settlers did actually consider "Kentucke" to be on both sides of the Ohio River, thus Strayed has some validity that he comes from Ohio occupied Kentucky.

2) The first settlers were more involved in the fur trade than farming and it was this change in economy that caused the greatest friction between native Americans and Eurpoean settlers. Many of the fur traders actually sided with the Native Americans in resisting this change. Of course the change to a farming economy is important for the growth of a whiskey industry since it was supplied byb the corn being grown.

3) Even in the 1790's the Mississippi River was closed to trade, not only by the Spanish, but also by Native American raiders destroying boats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

4) The myth that the Native Americans had better relations with the British thus the Canadian settlement was more peacefull just was not true. The Native Americans did not trust the British, they simply had even less trust of the new American Government. When Upper Canada was faced with the same change in economy, there was resistance and once again white fur traders often joined with the Natives.

5) It was the growth of the stronger Constitutional government and their taking on the responsibility and expense for campaigns against the Native Americans that allowed for the change in economy to take place. This change started before the Whiskey Rebbellion with a couple of expeditions against the Indians, but really became more effective after the Rebellion.

Mike Veach
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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