Slaughter Slaughtering the Whiskey Rebellion?

This week’s reading of Slaughter’s The Whiskey Rebellion– to paraphrase the thoughts of several of my colleagues – was undoubtedly a work marked by thorough research and writing. While I agree with Ian, AJ, and CT in saying that Part II of The Whiskey Rebellion was indeed dense, I think Slaughter did this intentionally to demonstrate the complex narrative that culminated in the Whiskey Rebellion. This way he forces us to realize that the rebellion was not a mere short-lived affair often written off as an honorable mention in a list of the historical turning points of the United States. Rather, he argues that the Whiskey Rebellion was the product of continued and escalated tensions between various groups of people throughout the young nation, and – at least through the first two sections – that it was nothing short of a miracle that the country did not split amidst the conflict. This collectively contributes to his broader argument that the Whiskey Rebellion, particularly because of the conflicts harbored within the affair, should be thought about as a defining moment in the course of American history.

With that being said, I think Slaughter’s attempt to provide such a vivid, detailed account of the events preceding the Whiskey Rebellion ultimately leaves his work vulnerable to several criticisms. His writing, especially so in Part II, seems to become a pattern. As Slaughter begins to place every group, ideology, or concern into a contest with a conflicting group, ideology, or concern, the work quickly became monotonous for me and lost some persuasive value. His constant pitting of East vs. West, rich vs. poor, big business vs. small business, educated vs. uneducated, liberty vs. order, Federalist vs. Antifederalist, etc. dilutes the effectiveness of his argument. While revealing that the origin of the Whiskey Rebellion cannot be neatly pointed to a single cause, Slaughter’s constant pairings lead to a superficial understanding of each of the potential causes he emphasizes.

Moreover, the strategy pursued by Slaughter has made his narrative very dry, thereby losing some his argument’s persuasiveness. There are times when Slaughter hints at aligning with the frontiersmen at the time, as on page 112 when he writes “The excise constituted a unique threat because it embodied in one law so many evils.” However, instead of continuing this narrative and emphasizing the abuses the national government were making upon the West, Slaughter quickly turns away from this argument to present an objective account of what transpired leading up to the Whiskey Rebellion. I believe Slaughter’s book would have become more persuasive had he chose a side in his monograph. Rather, he leaves us with what might amount to an almanac of events and conflicts leading up to the rebellion with commentary, but no adamant opinions or analyses. His constant back and forth with pairings, people, and occasional scholarly interpretation only leads – as many of my colleagues are likely willing to agree – to confusion among his readers.

My last point of contention with Slaughter is that he seems to have a faint idea of the image he wants to portray of Alexander Hamilton. While Hamilton was one of the key figures of the Whiskey Rebellion, Slaughter fails to characterize Hamilton with respect to the context of his book. At times, Hamilton appears to be a man looking out for the best interest of the United States – a mediator of sorts – trying, as seen on page 145 “to avoid conflict between collectors and distillers who honestly misunderstood the law.” However, only pages earlier, Slaughter appears to write about Hamilton as something of an antagonist, a man who “In every respect…defined his views on taxation in opposition to the ideology shared by friends of liberty” (140). This is only exacerbated by the point made by Ian that men like Washington and Hamilton believed 80 percent of frontiersmen were disloyal to the American government. This leads me to question whether Slaughter intends to depict Hamilton as a hero, a villain, or perhaps if Slaughter even thought about how he to represent Hamilton at all. While I do not have the answers to these questions, I do think that in Part II of The Whiskey Rebellion Slaughter took on a project much too vast for the 81 pages he allotted for it.

There's More than East and West

I think one of the most interesting things I’ve taken from Slaughter’s book is the way that traditional methods of protest and petition carried over from prerevolutionary times. However, I think one thing we’ve oversimplified is the relative unity of the western United States. For instance, Eli’s post references the whiskey rebellion as more of a grassroots movement than the American Revolution and we’ve focused on the Eastern critiques of the West and adapted them into our interpretation of events. What we have seen in the lead up to the Whiskey rebellion is actually more complicated than this. The desire to appear legitimate in the eyes of the East was certainly a facet of the decision making process in western communities when they voted on republican committees to represent their grievances (111). Moreover, comments of Alexander Hamilton and others who felt as that the discontent in the West stemmed from the efforts of a few rogues leading the flock show the perception of the elites having a leading role in the lead up to the rebellion. Whether this was actually the case is unclear, easterners could have been projecting their experience in the American Revolution onto the West. Alternatively, perhaps it stemmed from the disbelief that a movement could succeed without elitist leadership, which is plausible given Hamilton’s belief that popular opinion had no value (123).

While we may have undervalued the influence of the western elite particularly in the early lead up to the rebellion, I think that the grassroots element of this rebellion differentiates it from others. I think the increasing tendency to use extreme violence as a means to intimidate the opposition marks a new development in the types of protest in America. While the reasons this shift can be debated, the most important thing I draw from this change is the growing conflict between elites and the grassroots movement in the West itself. Each group began to differentiate themselves from each other, creating two separate, simultaneous, and competing movements to alleviate their problems. This new group was more willing to use violence as an initial and unrestrained tool rather than as the last link in the chain of a longer process and becoming more like the violence we associate with mobs in the modern world.

The West is Where You Don't Want to Go

The title is not a direct shot at my esteemed colleague’s, AJ Pignone, previous post, but I do disagree with the overall mentality of the post. Ian and AJ both hit the nail on the head by pointing out Slaughter’s incredible detail describing the Whiskey Rebellion. And at times, I’ll admit, I read over three or four pages, went to turn the page yet again, but I had to re-read those previous pages because I realized I had no idea what Slaughter was trying to say. The detail is a plus though. It’s better to have too much detail and force the reader to sift through the intricacies than to leave something out. Furthermore, Slaughter does do a decent job of summing up each of his chapters in the final paragraphs.

To address my explicit disagreement with AJ’s post and to continue the debate from class yesterday, the west is not where I would want to be during this time. Frontiersmen were poor and in a constant state of fear from Indian attacks. Furthermore, settlers were outside of the governmental protective reach. As Slaughter described, the government did send an army. However, due to the extreme distance, the forces were tired, ill-equipped, and unable to perform their duties. Albeit many of the forces were not the caliber of soldier able to truly be of assistance. That failure is attributed to the government, one-hundred percent. The attempt, however inadequate, to aid the frontiersman was there. Interestingly, Slaughter points out that after the slaughter (pun intended) of the American forces where 938 soldiers were killed, Indians were much less fearful of the American armed forces and became more aggressive with their attacks. So, the army’s aid turned out to be harmful instead. To quote a wise man, hindsight is always 20/20.

My favorite tid-bit of information Slaughter enlightens his reader with on pg. 169, “Treasury department reports showed that no revenue was collected in the entire state of Kentucky and that collections on domestic spirits from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia were far below the costs of enforcement.” This fact shows the lack of success of the tax because of the response from frontiersmen. The cost of protecting (or attempting to protect) the frontier constituted over 80% of the nation’s budget. Similar argument poised by the British following the Seven-Years War (once again caused by westward expansion): you started this war, so you help pay for it. The settlers in the west not only refused to pay the tax, but they protested violently against the tax collector, the middleman. Maybe the Whiskey Rebellion coined the term, “don’t shoot the middleman,” because that’s exactly what was happening during this time. The frontier was a violent place, there is no denying that claim. However, this violence overflowed to attacks against our own people, Americans attacking Americans, a truly despicable act. What separates the settlers of this time from those rebels in tumultuous countries in present day who attack their government officials because they feel their government’s treatment is unjustified? Without getting into a political debate, I’m simply trying to draw a comparison of internal strifes and how we as present day Americans view those other riotous countries with unfavorable opinions. I can speculate that those in the East viewed the Westerners with similar contempt during this excise fiasco.

Hamilton was willing to consider reasonable amendments to the law. However, this claim was a catch-22. As evident from the plain disregard for frontier petitions and pleas, eastern politicians, like Hamilton, did not respect frontiersmen opinions. Few easterners disagreed with the excise tax, so those who had a respected opinion, rarely dissented to the tax (frankly because the tax did not severely effect them). Hamilton did, however, recommend a “tax break” for domestic distilleries by increasing the tax on foreign distilleries. Furthermore, Hamilton sought to include this tax break to larger distilleries. Both of these ideas showed Hamilton’s business acumen. Larger distilleries were more efficient, and protecting domestic distilleries kept all American spirits more competitive in American markets, even those distilleries in Western Pennsylvania. I will not make the over sweeping claim that, as Slaughter quotes, Hamilton sought to remove all rural distillers. Hamilton simply knew that larger distillers effected the nation’s economy more than smaller, rural distilleries. To compare to modern times, why did Obama bail out the “big banks” and let them absorb the small town banks? Arguably, because the big banks were more vital to the nation’s economy.

To sum it all up, the frontier was violent and expensive to maintain. I support the idea of manifest destiny (‘Merica!) and westward expansion. However, there will always be a cost to this expansion, and someone has to pay it.

The Lens of the American Revolution

I am fascinated by the so-called whiskey rebellion and the tax that it sprung from. For me, the most interesting part of learning about it is considering it within the context of the American Revolution. Slaughter seems entirely correct in his subtitle: “Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution.” The rhetoric regarding the exercise of excise taxes by the federal government, versus the rhetoric used by the founding fathers and later framers of the constitution, is a stark dichotomy. The elite of the period in which the whiskey rebellion took place seemed very willing to discount the ideological arguments of the frontiersmen concerning representation and fair treatment in favor of the practical consideration of money. Cynicism creeps into my perception here, as I wonder whether the ideological arguments made my the signatories to the declaration of independence were actually looking out for their own economic self-interest.

Furthermore, the revolution is apparently relevant in the founders concerns over the possibility that the confederacy and later the United States would crumble from east-west tension. In retrospect, it seems almost inconceivable that the United States would not have grown into the empire it became, but by reading this book I’ve realized that the elite of early America saw the existence of the new nation as highly tenuous, ready to shatter in a moment. “The Whiskey Rebellion” elucidates this fear even further, with the central government’s ability (not to mention right) to collect certain taxes in question.

Unlike Ian, I was not very surprised by the differences of loyalty leading up to the American Revolution versus the whiskey rebellion. To me, the rebellion seems like much more of a grassroots movement, boiling over from popular sentiment and spilling over into violent action, than was the American Revolution, which seems to me to have been a somewhat popular, but predominantly elite action taken to secure the rights and property of the owning class within colonial America from the elites of the British Empire. Additionally, from what I have learned recently, it seems like frontier settlers felt more aggrieved by the actions (or in-actions of the federal and state governments) than did colonists leading up to the American Revolution. Partially, I believe this to be the result of frontiersman believing that the new government would be more representative and receptive to their needs than the British government. Partially, however, I think that the frontiersmen felt cornered–stuck between the demand for taxes from the east, the threat of Indians to the west, and the difficulty of developing economically because of their lack of access to the Mississippi River, the last issue of which being particularly upsetting to many, because they felt that it was congress’ intention to limit their economic growth by not negotiating with Spain on that issue.

The West Is Where You Want To Go

First, I want to comment on Thomas P. Slaughter’s work, The Whiskey Rebellion, and pick up on what Ian stated in his post this evening. I agree with Ian and do tend to find, at least part two, to be very dense and hard to follow at times. Slaughter has done an incredible job and has packed tons and tons of historical research and insight into these pages, however, with that being said Ian makes a valid point that the onslaught of information makes it hard for the reader to follow what is going on. The information is very interesting yet difficult to consistently tie back to the overall picture of his message, so with regards to that claim, I do agree with Ian. What I want to add to that is the awesome picture that Slaughter paints by overloading us with information. I had yet to read something so extensive regarding the Frontier and the lead up to the Whiskey Rebellion. Even though it is so dense, Slaughter does give us amazing snap shots of Frontier life pre-Whiskey Rebellion.  I always thought that the revolution and freedom was fought and won in the East but Slaughter’s work leads me to second guess myself and rethink my stance. His information on the expansion of the West and those who were fighting for its freedom illustrates just the true Americanism and heroism of those sticking it out on the West.

What really caught my eye was the quote Slaughter puts on the first page of part two to begin the section, by Robert Penn Warren it reads,

For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and see the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that that’s gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.

From Warren’s work, All the King’s Men, this quote just caught my interest and intrigue because it views the West as almost the promise land; where everyone wants to go. This quote, along with the section of the book itself and the heated debate we had in class today is why I want to spend my last remarks asking why the newly created national government, headed by Hamilton’s policy, wanted to levy a tax primarily focused on frontiersmen? I understand the issue with the national debt and the need to promote American prosperity; however, I do not understand why it needed to be at the expense of the frontiersmen. The Whiskey excise needed to help pay back the debt was immediately controversial amongst many on the Western front. An excise clearly seen as a target on westerners, whiskey was often a popular medium of exchange and essentially the excise became an income tax that elites in the East didn’t have to pay. I don’t understand why after we just left Great Britain that we would do the same thing to our on people that forced us to revolt. The main complaint to the tax was that it was taxation without representation, exactly what they’d just fought the Revolutionary War to stop. Many of these westerners were veterans and in their view they were fighting for freedom, resisting the newly emerging central state. Along with larger distillers recognizing the advantage the excise and Hamilton gave them, westerners continually felt the government was ignoring their security and economic welfare. Adding the whiskey excise to other existing grievances only increased tensions on the frontier. To conclude, I wonder why our government would willingly take more and more from those who have less and less yet fight for our freedom on our fronts.

A Reflection of the American Revolution

From our second section of reading on Thomas P. Slaughter’s The Whiskey Rebellion, a certain by the frontiersmen caught my attention. This quote is; “the government was competent to every end but that single one by which alone it can benefit us, the protection of our territorial rights” (163). This seemed like a very strong assertion by frontiersmen towards the United States government but, was not something new to the American people. Only a few decades earlier, a great number of colonists were making similar statements regarding the oppressive rule by the British government. I noticed one striking difference between the two revolutionary statements, that in support of the government.

Throughout most of the lead up to the American Revolution, the colonists remained loyal to the King of England. For Ben Franklin, it took his utter embarrassment at the hands of the British nobility in 1774 to sway his allegiance, but until that point he was a loyal subject. Quite differently, Slaughter points out how he believes that both George Washington and Alexander Hamilton probably believed about 80 percent of frontiersmen disloyal to the American Government (156). This is a shocking difference in support for the government but, it goes to show the type of spirit that was in the air. The frontiersmen had learned from past events that mere petitions and acts of civil disobedience were not enough to implement change. Instead, one must revolt against the country that had abused their allegiance, partaking in violence to secure their liberties. Except, the only problem with this mindset lay in the fact that the country these frontiersmen wished to split from was not an ocean away but, was right next store, ready to maintain an intact nation.

Though I do enjoy Slaughter’s book a lot, after reading the second section I have noticed a continual problem in the piece. As a side- effect of Slaughter’s exuberant amount of research, his work becomes too dense. I have found myself countless times trying to remember who was who in terms of people, or where this event fit into the overall picture. It became quite a taxing practice for the first two sections and I can only imagine it will continue. As a result of this issue, one gets lost in trying to identify the significant number of characters and events, rather than understanding the ideas that are being argued for in the piece. Though great detail is generally a good thing to have in a piece like this, the use of it in the way Slaughter has actually takes away from understanding his specific arguments.

Rather than responding to a fellow classmates post today, I would actually like to respond to our heated debate that took place in class. A specific point I would like to answer would be Mr. Christopher Talevi’s regarding his statement about frontiersmen invading Native American land. I do see his point regarding how it was wrong for frontiersmen to continue pushing westward but, the issue was not the morality of the issue at the time but, how to deal with it. These frontiersmen were a part of the United States regardless of their actions, which meant it was the country’s duty to protect them. Instead of adequately protecting them from hostile natives, as many were, the government proposed an excise tax that would only weaken the already struggling western folk. This action only goes to support the frontiersman’s quote above regarding the failures of the national government in their protection. It was no longer a matter of right and wrong in terms of invasion but, how was the newly constructed government going to defend its people from a threat.

The Whiskey Rebellion, and the Birth of Partisanship

By the end of 1791, the farmers of the frontier and the Washington administration were at each other’s throats. Earlier that year, Congress had passed an excise tax on domestically produced spirits, known colloquially as the Whiskey Tax. The tax was especially hard on western frontiersmen, who often ran stills with the grain they cultivated. This tax lay on top of an already contentious relationship between western counties and the federal government, mostly concerning the government’s failure to sufficiently protect frontier towns from Indian assaults. From the government’s perspective, however, the western counties sucked up undue resources without contributing back to the country. The attempted enforcement of the excise was met by firm violent and nonviolent opposition, with grandiose rhetoric on both sides: the western farmers proclaiming their defiance in the name of Revolutionary values, and the supporters of the government insisting their supremacy in the name of law and order. By emphasizing this political context and rhetoric concerning the Whiskey Tax’s enforcement, Thomas Slaughter reveals how the Whiskey Rebellion provided a significant impetus for the division of American politics into a multi-party system.

The Pennsylvanians’ response to the excise echoed that of colonial Boston. One group of objectors, with an interest in law and civility, organized an official assembly to petition against the tax at Redstone and Pittsburgh. Another group saw little need for niceties and decided to treat tax collectors like British tea agents. In many parts of the country, such as Kentucky and the Carolinas, tax collectors did not even attempt to enforce the excise, much to the chagrin of Washington and Hamilton. While swift reprisals against the tax scared off collectors for much of 1791 and 1792, the federal government was not ready to simply keel over. Hamilton saw the insurgency as not only an embarrassment, but a threat to the American ideals of federalism under a strong, capable federal government. The “spirit of disobedience” as portrayed by the Pennsylvanians would diminish national order and cause “the authority of the government to be prostrate” (121). However, in the opinion the frontiersmen, fighting the enforcement of a perceivably unjust tax was as American as apple pie. Neither side saw any reason, ideological or pragmatic, to step down. Max’s earlier analysis of the North Carolina Stamp Act riots can certainly be applied to the escalation of the excise conflict in 1791: “Each side raises the stakes further until the other one folds or a victor eventually emerges”. In this case, after three years of defiance, Washington was forced to utilize the threat of open military conflict, the highest stakes at his disposal. The rebels quickly, and wisely, folded.

Slaughter’s most effective chapter in Part II, Liberty, Order, and the Excise, emphasizes how the Whiskey Rebellion was a critical, if not defining, moment in the identity of the American political process. The argument of Hobbes versus Locke, Whig versus Tory, or order versus liberty, was hardly new; they just fought a war over it. The western frontiersmen viewed the question as definitively settled by the Revolution, while the Hamiltonians viewed governmental order as the prerequisite to freedom. The heroes of the Constitution, such as Madison, Hamilton, Jay, and Jefferson, had little common ground remaining. The opposing poles on the political spectrum of the early 1800s were developing at this time, and the conversion of these men from allies to rivals was only precipitated by the excise conflict. As Slaughter put it, “the excise produced a simultaneous challenge to (republican) ideology and (national) interest and thus created a truly volatile situation” (142). In other words, the Whiskey Rebellion was the very first grand, divisive partisan debate. The zero-party state’s veil of harmony could not endure any longer.

"The Whiskey Rebellion:" Irrational Fears

In The Whiskey Rebellion, Thomas Slaughter outlines the events that circulated around perhaps one of the most deadly civilian rebellions in America’s history.  The central issue revolved around taxation and the role of the central government in enforcing such taxes on its citizens. Alex Salvatierra, in his blog post, mentioned that the response of farmers to the new tax was in some ways, an irrational fear as they believed if they were to accept these new taxes without objection, it would lead to the demise of the union they fought so hard to attain. In my post, I wish to examine the fears that Slaughter mentions, which he notes were not all rational, as they were the fuel behind the anxieties and tensions of the farmers.

On page 23, Slaughter explains, “Americans still differed about the ideological significance of internal taxes and about the localist description of divided sovereignty.” He goes on to mention that these differences were put aside, as in 1774, “Americans united to confront more pressing threats to their liberties.” (23) In many ways, the Revolution acted as a gause, through which all the different frustrations and anxieties that muddled the lives of the colonialists would be solved. But as the Revolution ended, these differences were not reconciled, and the focus transferred over to the issue of taxation, rather than revolution. So the fears that Salvatierra is referring to,  for example of”the disbandment of the Union” are rooted in the central conflict of internal taxation. When the threat to the British waned, these tensions intensified. With the increasing isolation of westerners by the governing body, in 1786, George Mason had predicted that these anxieties would “occasion another war in less than six years.”(30) Through the perspective of the westerners, the new tax asked by the government, stood in conjunction with the other anxieties in their life such as the “widespread economic distress” in 1786 so while their fear that internal taxation would lead to the disbandment of the union is not entirely rational, it is key to examine the environment in which these fears formulated, as early Americans were “not purely rational men and women, immune to fears and tensions of social life.” (7) Ultimately the Whiskey Rebellion was an event that defined a crucial time of America’s young republic, as disputes between westerners and the governing body threatened to tear the nation apart.






Clash of America

In Thomas P. Slaughter’s The Whiskey Rebellion, he recounts the context and progression which ultimately resulted in one of the most violent civilian events in the nation’s history, the Whiskey Rebellion. It is amazing to look back on the norms of the western frontier at this time. They were so far removed from the eastern city hubs that they never received consistent information regarding the revolution and endured intermittent raids from their hostile native American neighbors. It was this space, literally and figuratively speaking, which allowed the rural peoples of the frontier to distance themselves further from the alien peoples of the east who attempted to tax, manipulate and exile them. 

Throughout the rise of the American state there became a divide, often present among large nations, between the rural westerners focusing on farming and the urban easterners benefiting from mercantile trade. There was a complete clash of interests which demonstrated itself on a micro-level of the problems the fledgling nation had previously endured with Britain. The Americans hoped to engage in British politics and have a greater say in how their country was administered while the frontiersmen did the same with the new state, hoping to have a local government to represent their own needs and grievances more appropriately. Wade brought up a good point last week in his post when he said, “these colonial governments were not oppressive as much as they were disconnected or aloof to colonists’ demands.  It was this disconnectedness moreover which fostered such tensions-often going unnoticed-between the east and west. Slaughter then states how the crux of the problem was the implementation of an excise tax which effectively taxed anything and everything that was produced internally and through which the government hoped to raise the most revenue (and boy was it effective).

As one might expect, the wealthier urbanites and politicians advocated for the excise taxes because they catalyzed a powerful central government and boosted the potential for merchants. This group would of course soon call themselves Federalists. The Westerners would have none of it though, hoping that they could somehow break off and create their own state or at the very least conduct a governing body which could voice their specific concerns and not fall privy to the national politics. The frontiersmen felt completely detached from the body politic which levied taxes and controlled much of the land out west without actually having a personal stake in the community. The illogical conclusions of some people and the influence of group thought led many people to assume that being tied to a hypocritical nation (not following the virtues it set forth in it’s Declaration of Independence), would eventually result in the downfall of their way of life. Many melodramatically believed that their human liberties would be revoked and that they would be consigned to a life of slavery which is a bit hyperbolic for me. It all seems a bit irrational when you look at it now, but you must remember that these were real people with real problems. They experienced the oppressive presence of the easterners who wielded the vast majority of power and dictated the path of politics, and felt threatened. What would you do?

The Great Chasm: Disconnect on the Frontier

Through his frontier analysis The Whiskey Rebellion, Thomas Slaughter argues that the largest internal American conflict between 1780 and 1860 was more than just a scuffle about an alcohol excise; it was a culmination of years of turmoil between two distinctly different Pennsylvanian groups. The politically powerful “easterners” who occupied the halls of power in Philadelphia and the “westerners” who lived precariously on the fringes of American society had been at odds for decades, from the Paxton Boys to the Westsylvania movement. Even the Revolutionary War did little to ameliorate the political divide between the two groups, as they had entirely different views on what the new Republic should look like. After a decade of conflict and tension over land, Indian wars, and taxes, the westerners decided to take up arms and dare the federal government to challenge them. Rather than being an idealist uprising against despotic taxes and abuse, the Whiskey Rebellion was instead a manifestation of years of frontier frustration that reached its tipping point after the passing and attempted enforcement of a whiskey excise tax in 1791.

By the time of the American Revolution, the men of the frontier from North Carolina to New York had established themselves as a separate entity from the elite interests in state assemblies and landed commerce. Bacon’s Rebellion solidified this distinction and exemplified the power that the united frontier could display when aggravated. Many of the grievances expressed by the Westsylvanians in 1775 remained unchanged from those expressed by Bacon: little state support in defending against Indians, overrepresentation of the rich and corruption public offices, and unfair property laws. While viewed by many easterners, including George Washington, as unkempt, troublesome, and “as ignorant a set of people as the Indians,” the westerners viewed themselves as the defenders of American borders and the expansionists of civilization (79). The Paxton Boys exemplified this disparity, with some treating them as frontier saviors and others declaring them bloodthirsty outlaws. In reality, it’s all about perspective.

“By 1790, the chasm appeared…wider than ever before” (30). The chasm, of course, refers to the detachment in identity from the urban and frontier peoples of America. The majority of frontier concerns, even requests for greater autonomy and statehood, were generally ignored or denied by the state and federal legislature. While the east was concerned about the big picture (continental Indian peacekeeping, paying off war debts, and international diplomacy), the west was more concerned with daily survival. As their voice in legitimate politics dissipated further, the frontiersmen saw mass organization, or even illegitimate self-government, as their final option. As Wade pointed out on September 12, “Riots were one of a few ways communities could unite behind a common cause and…assure camaraderie amongst themselves”. The westerners found their only political allies to be themselves, and this united identity likely strengthened their resolve to openly challenge the state of Pennsylvania, as well as the federal government and George Washington himself. The uprising was the kind of popular political action that makes Occupy Wall Street look like kindergarten recess.