The Whiskey Rebellion
George Washington's Proclamation calling Out The Militia To Occupy the Western
Counties of Pennsylvania
As It Appears In the August 11, 1794 issue of Claypoole's Daily Advertiser
Angered by an excise tax imposed on whiskey in 1791 by the
federal government, farmers in the western counties of Pennsylvania engaged
in a series of attacks on excise agents.
The tariff effectively eliminated any profit by the farmers from the sale
or barter of an important cash crop, and became the lightning rod for a wide
variety of grievances by the settlers of the region against the federal
While citizens in the east did not find it difficult to abide by the concept
that individual states were "subservient to the country," people west of the
mountains were less accepting of decisions made by the central government.
The rebel farmers continued their attacks, rioting in river towns
and roughing up tax collectors until the so-called "insurrection"
flared into the open in July of 1794 when a federal marshal was attacked
in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Almost at the same time several hundred men
attacked the residence of the regional inspector, burning his home, barn and
several outbuildings. Pittsburgh was another scene of disorder by enraged mobs.
On August 7, 1794, President Washington issued a proclamation, calling
out the militia and ordering the disaffected westerners to return home.
Washington's order mobilized an army of approximately 13,000 — as large
as the one that had defeated the British — under the command of General
Harry Lee, the then-Governor of Virginia and father of Robert E. Lee. Washington
himself, in a show of presidential authority, set out at the head of the troops
to suppress the uprising.
This was the first use of the Militia Law of 1792 setting
a precedent for the use of the militia to "execute the laws of the union, (and)
suppress insurrections," asserting the right of the national government to enforce
order in one state with troops raised in other states. Even more importantly,
it was the first test of power of the new federal government,
establishing its primacy in disputes with individual states. In the end, a dozen
or so men were arrested, sent to Philadelphia to trial and released after pardons
by George Washington.