Glenn Beck’s new book, “Miracle and Massacres“, is about helping people connect with the true, untold history of America. In chapter two, Glenn tells the story of Shays’ Rebellion, a conflict that crystallized the flaws of America under the Articles of Confederation and led to the Constitutional Convention.
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Anarchy and tyranny — two radical extremes on the scale of government control. Each side has its lures and traps, and each has its advocates among those naïve or power-hungry people who still haven’t learned the hard lessons of history.
One of those lessons — an event we now remember as “Shays’ Rebellion – threatened to explode into something big enough to tear our new nation apart at the seams.
The end of the Revolutionary War was only the beginning for the young United States. There were many troubled years between 1783 and the day the final draft of the Constitution went into effect.
The foreign debt we accumulated during the revolution was enormous and, unlike today, that debt had to be paid … on time and in cash. But there was a big problem: the Articles of Confederation had created a central government so weak that it was unable to collect or even regulate taxes. That left it up to each of the 13 individual states to decide how to extract their share of what was owed from its citizens.
Massachusetts was hit particularly hard, and the farmers of that state, many of whom were veterans of the very war that had freed them from British tyranny, took the brunt of it. At the same time they were losing their homes and their land to rising taxes and foreclosure, some lacked the qualifications to even cast a vote in protest. Now, facing ruin and debtors’ prison, they felt powerless to fight back against the government policies that were bankrupting them.
When all else failed, a leader emerged to give his fellow citizens a voice — a farmer and a veteran named Daniel Shays. He organized a group of 1,500 like-minded men, and together they marched on the Springfield Courthouse, clubs and pitchforks and muskets in hand. Without firing a shot they sent the judges home and put a stop to that day’s foreclosure hearings.
It was a victory for anarchy, but it was short-lived. As word of this action spread, other pockets of resistance sprang up and similar scenes took place across western Massachusetts. As the confrontations escalated, the government responded, meeting force with force.
A final confrontation was still to come – a bloody battle that cost lives, and changed everything. But that was only a short-term consequence. The lasting impact of Shays’ Rebellion was the Constitution itself.
Designed to be strong enough to stave off anarchy, yet balanced enough to keep tyranny at bay, the Constitution handed citizens the greatest power of all — a vote in a representative republic.
Now, thanks in part to the warning triggered by a simple farmer in Massachusetts, we all sit here today with every bit of power we need to change our country … if only we’d remember how to use it.