Brady Crytzer is one of us. He teaches history at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania, and specializes in the study the imperial frontiers of North America, particularly Western Pennsylvania. He hosts Dispatches, the podcast of the Journal of the American Revolution. He’s written several strong books, including a volume on Fort Pitt, an account of George Washington’s Youthful mission to warn the French off of the Forks of the Ohio, and Guayasuta and the Fall of Indian America.
His next tome, which drops in May, takes on a hugely significant backcountry insurrection that almost always gets a mere sentence or paragraph or two in histories of the era and region — despite being the largest insurrection up to the Civil War, and the only time a president led troops in the field. Talking about the Whiskey Rebellion. Here’s the caper:
In March 1791 Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton shocked the western frontier when he proposed a domestic excise tax on whiskey to balance America’s national debt. The law, known colloquially as the “Whiskey Act,” disproportionately penalized farmers in the backcountry, while offering favorable tax incentives designed to protect larger distillers. Although Hamilton viewed the law as a means of both collecting revenue and forcefully imposing federal authority over the notoriously defiant frontier, settlers in Western Pennsylvania bristled at its passage. They demanded that the law be revoked or rewritten to correct its perceived the injustices, and begged their representatives to lobby Congress on their behalf.
As the months passed however the people of Western Pennsylvania grew restless with the inadequacy of the government’s response and they soon turned to more violent means of political expression. Treasury officers across the west were targeted for their involvement in the tax collection, and they were brutally attacked by armed bands of disgruntled locals. They were tarred and feathered, burned with hot irons, and whipped; their homes were ransacked and burned. Extralegal courts were established in a direct challenge to federal authority, and the frontier slowly drifted toward a state of rebellion.
In response President George Washington raised an army of 13,000 men, one of the largest forces he ever commanded, to suppress the rebellion. No major battle ever occurred, but weeks of arrests, illegal detentions, and civil rights violations rocked the west. The event polarized the nation, and highlighted the dramatic differences between Washington’s Federalist perspective and Jefferson’s emerging Democratic-Republican Party. Two centuries later the Whiskey Rebellion stands as the second largest domestic rebellion in American History, only outdone by the Confederate States of America in 1861.
In The Whiskey Rebellion: A Distilled History of an American Crisis, historian Brady J. Crytzer takes the reader on a journey through Western Pennsylvania following the routes of both the rebels and the United States Army to place this important event into context for the reader. Complete with images and maps, the author illuminates what visitors can still see from the period while providing a cogent and engrossing account of this crisis unfolded and how it was resolved.
National debt, tax laws that favor big business over small producers, rage and distrust at the federal government leading to hooliganism… Do I hear the echoing notes of resonance?
Allan Godsiff says
There is “nothing new under the sun “!
lane batot says
Firewater of one kind or another has shaped a lot of American history! Growing up in the South, and living in Southern Appalachia for so many years, it is little wonder I picked up some of the local whisky-making lore. A lot of people unfamiliar with homemade whisky making don’t realize some of the WHYS behind it(besides just a personal liking for whisky!). Farmers in remote areas of the Southern Appalachians had a hard, if not impossible time getting their extra corn crop to any market anywhere–the sheer bulk of the crop and distance they had to travel made it problematic. Besides, EVERYBODY was growing corn everywhere anyway! Not much chance of turning a corn crop into badly needed cash money….Unless! By distilling the extra corn into liquor, it was easily transported on horse or mule backs to some settlement, and an almost guaranteed sell! Hence one major reason why it became such an entrenched cultural tradition here–and still(ahem!) is to this day!
Crytzer does a very good job in research and story telling of early Pennsylvania history… I have several of his books and have enjoyed them all, and look forward to the release of this book…
Another author who is good at story telling with respect to Pennsylvania history (colonial through Revolutionary periods) is John L Moore [Sunbury Press]… He has produced a number of small booklets which each include small vignettes of frontier Pennsylvania… [and cover-art predominately by Andrew Knez Jr.]…
GAH [born and live in PA with interests in its frontier history]…
I’ve seen those and been tempted. Sounds like they’re worthy? Welcome to the campfire.
I’ve listened to Crytzer’s War Time podcasts for years. He always has good material presented in a clear and exciting way.