In the 1780's in America, a crisis occurred for the farmers in most states. The country seemed very prosperous in 1783 when the peace treaty with England was signed. By 1786, an economic crisis appeared. Although other states went through economic problems, the crisis seemed to be the worst in central and western Massachusetts.
Some of the hardest hit were the soldiers of the Continental Army and other militia members. They had not received any or much pay. Therefore, after the war, they had no money to put into their farms or pay their taxes. Their farms were being taken for not paying their debts.
After the Revolutionary War, merchants in Europe and America felt they had loaned too much money and refused to give more loans. This hurt the farmers who needed money. They also began to call in previous loans and demanded difficult payment schedules. When farmers could not pay back the loans, the courts took over and demanded foreclosure. Foreclosure is the name for a process which a bank uses to take a person's property if he cannot pay his debts.
Daniel Shays was one of the property owners in Massachusetts who lost his possessions due to unpaid debts and overdue taxes. He had been a captain in the army and returned with little or no money to pay taxes. Therefore, he and other farmers organized protests against the courts who were allowing the foreclosures of property.
Daniel Shays ended up as the leader of one of the protests which were called later Shays' Rebellion. These protests occurred in 1786 and 1787. Shays' followers called themselves 'Regulators' based on a reform movement in North Carolina twenty years earlier. In August 1786, the Massachusetts state legislature took no action on the petitions for help in the debt crisis. In September 1786, Shays led a protest of several hundred men against the Supreme Court in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was forced to close down.
In December 1776, Governor James Bowdoin of Massachusetts gathered a group of 1,200 militiamen to try to put a stop to the protests. Continental Army General Benjamin Lincoln took command of this force. It was funded privately. In January 1787, Shays' force of about 1,200 men failed in an attack on the federal arsenal at Springfield. Lincoln's forces were waiting for Shays' group. Four of Shays' men were killed and twenty were wounded. They scattered after the battle.
After the rebellion settled down, Shays and about twelve other men were condemned to death by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. In 1788, however, he was granted a pardon by the court. He moved to Vermont and then New York State.
Shays was born to Irish parents. He served for eleven days in the militia in April 1775 at the Battle of Lexington. He served as a lieutenant from May to December 1775. In January 1777, he became a captain in the fifth Massachusetts regiment. He fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of that year. He participated in fighting at Saratoga, Stony Point, and Ticonderoga. He resigned from the army in 1780 and decided to live in Pelham, Massachusetts where he participated in local government affairs.
This rebellion brought to light the poor financial condition of the country. The Articles of Confederation were examined and found to be too weak. This situation led to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 and the writing of the United States Constitution.
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