Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Furthermore: Shades of Washington

OK, I promised to deal with this one, even if Daisey mentions it in a later bit. Not seeing it in Zinn, but that's the job of the historian - to decide what stories get told. There are more than enough tales in the current narrative where the People decide to get frisky with all this freedom and stuff, and the Government decides to kick their teeth in, and here's one more.
This is the only statue I know of for the Whiskey
Rebellion. It is not where the actual fighting took
place, but rather in Washington, PA (also called
Little Washington), 20 miles south of us.

And it is important to us because it involves George Washington. And it is important to me because it is where I grew up.

I wrote last time about how my chunk of Western PA was the launching pad for the Seven Years War. And even afterwards there were competing claims about who owned the region - PA or VA. That was settled in 1784 with a survey. Things got better, right?

Well, then there was the Whiskey Rebellion. 1791-1794. It started two years into Washington's first term., and came to a head after his re-election.

OK, here's the short form: Early US Government was broke, needed to raise funds to pay for the revolution. Among other things, Hamilton pushed out a tax on distilled spirits. West of the Alleghenies this did not go over well. Whiskey was used as a modicum of trade, more stable than the government currency in places. Also it was easier and profitable to ship whiskey back east than the component parts. In addition to being a pain on the producers, the tax gave a break to big distillers as opposed to small operations, and there were a lot of small operations into Western PA.

And the guys who were most affected in this? White guys, with guns.

So from 1791 to 1794 there was a ratcheting up, with defiance to pay the tax, or the fines that came with the tax (you had to go to Philly to do that, which was way the hell and gone). Tax collectors were attacked, there were meetings about the degree of revolt, Moderates argued with Radicals. A lot of the tools of the Revolution were put into play - Liberty Poles and correspondence circles. Here was see the creation of Democratic-Republican societies, which would actually become the "other party" to oppose the Federalists. These whiskey rebels felt they were continuing the War of Independence many of them had fought in.

And seriously, if you tell a lot of people the war is about taxation by a distant government, they're going to get bent out of shape when the winner tax them from a distant government.

The Federal Government, finding their way out of the mess that what the Articles of the Confederation and the Panic of 1792, disagreed with this concept. From the Federalist standpoint, championed by Hamilton and with Washington's support, the Revolution had created a new sovereignty, and stuff that was OK during the revolution was no longer appropriate. Going with Daisey's note that the Revolutionary war was merely a change in the letterhead of management, that makes sense. All these frontiersmen threatening people was going too far.

And the strike of the point was the burning of the Neville house, up on Bower Hill, a couple valleys away from where I grew up, not far from the church I was baptized in. Walking distance, really. The whole process started when John Neville, put in charge of collecting the taxes, accompanied a federal marshal to serve writs against the rebels. They were fired upon at the Miller house and Neville returned home.

Later, a group of about 30 militiamen arrived to besiege the house. Shots were fired. Both sides retreated for reinforcements. About 600 rebels showed up the next night, Neville had fled at that point. The rebel leader, Major MacFarlane, was shot during an attempt at negotiations. The house eventually surrendered, the survivors within spared, and the building burned to the ground.

Neville was was a perfect example of the elite that Daisey talks about. Virginian. Wealthy. "As close to being an aristocrat as republican America west of the Alleghenies would allow", per his wiki entry. He had slaves who helped defend the household. When news of the attack reached back to the nation's capital at Philly, the new government had to decide whether they would negotiate or send in the troops. Washington did both - sent in some negotiation team and recruited militia from a few states and marched on Pittsburgh, along with Hamilton and Light-Horse Harry Lee. Only time a US President has led troops. Imagine Trump at the head of a tank corps rolling through Texas.

In the face of the armed forces of the Government, the rebels faded. Some lit out for further west (like Kentucky, which might as well be the back end of the moon in those days). A few were arrested. Fewer were tried. Two were convicted to be hanged. They were pardoned by Washington.

But this was a moment, one of those pivot moments where things could go many ways. Some saw this as betrayal of founding principles. Others put it as creation of a new nation that would not put up with this crap. For most people, it was a speed bump, forgotten in the wake of the Revolution, something that comes up in one of these Internet articles.

For me, it is local history. The house where the initial shots were fired is still there, in South Park (a large park known for picnics, county fairs, and the working model of Skybus, our monorail). Neville's house (sorry - Neville's OTHER house - he had one that is still around in  nearby Heidelberg) was replaced by a hospital and now by townhouses. Suburban sprawl has moved over the coal-dark hills and fog-shrouded creeks, so established the trees planted in the subdivisions have reached climax growth.

And yeah, I think George was done messing with us after this.

More later,