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The Whiskey Rebellion, less commonly known as the Whiskey Insurrection, was a tax protest in Pennsylvania in the 1790s, during the presidency of George Washington. Americans not only produce whiskey, but drank the majority share of it. So any tax burden enforced upon whiskey production and distribution will affect the public negatively. President George Washington and his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton in 1791, moved to counter civil commotion to the astonishment of the country, that the US should meet fully and promptly its financial obligations and part of the money was to be raised by the states by laying an excise tax upon distilled spirits (Carson). The tax was a part of treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton's program to centralize and fund the national debt. The above law greeted with immense protest by the public and the so called Whiskey rebellion started across America. This paper briefly analyses the winners and losers of the Whiskey rebellion.
Winners and losers of the Whiskey rebellion
The state governments tried to suppress the agitations of the public against the tax enforced upon whiskey, using force. But it was difficult for the government to keep a complete silence towards the public agitation. Congress forced to modify the severity of the excise tax law in 1792 and again in 1794. Moreover, "to ease the hardships of the judicial process, Congress gave to the state courts jurisdiction in excise offenses so that accused persons might be tried in their own vicinity" (Carson). In short, we cannot conclude that the Whiskey rebellion gave political or moral victory either to the public or to the administrators. Public succeeded in forcing the Congress to liberalize the rules whereas the Congress succeeded in suppressing the public unrest by giving only few incentives. But the whiskey revolt again proved that the organized power of the public can even defeat the military or political power of the government.
The Whiskey Rebellion ended with a moral victory to the government rather than the public. It proved that the national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws even though the government failed to collect the whiskey excise adequately. The suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion prompted anti-Federalist westerners to finally accept the Constitution, and to seek change by voting for Republicans rather than resisting the government. Federalists, on the other hand, came to accept that the people could play a greater role in governance.
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The Whiskey Rebellion raised many questions like what kinds of protests were permissible under the new Constitution. Even after ratification of the Constitution, there was not yet a consensus about sovereignty in United States and the Whiskey rebellion forced the government to think in terms of establishing new laws with respect to sovereignty of the state. Federalists believed that the government was sovereign because it had been established by the people, and so radical protest actions, which were permissible during the American Revolution, were no longer legitimate. But the Whiskey Rebels and their defenders believed that the Revolution had established the people as a "collective sovereign", and so the people had the collective right to change or challenge the government through extra-constitutional means.
Whiskey rebellion ended with no absolute victories either to the public or to the government. Public have once again proved that their organized power is more than the military power of the government whereas the government succeeded in suppressing the public agitation by giving only little liberalization in the whiskey tax rule. In short, the 1790 whiskey rebellion ended in a stalemate with neither the public nor the government succeeded fully in preserving their interests.
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