The book, Shays’ Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection, is a historical account that provides an interesting perspective on the accounts of many struggling men, earning wages in the agricultural force, who were driven to form a rebellion against the government and the court system, because of a crisis of debt and credit that struck after the Revolutionary War in the years from1786 to 1787. The text as a whole provides a good analysis on the subject at hand and achieves its goal to the reader.
The source would be helpful to those who already have an understanding about this period in history; however, ecause of the lack of a decent timeline, for those who are new to Shay’s Rebellion, the book may be hard to follow. There is good evidence provided in the text to support his ideas, and from my knowledge on the subject I agree with these ideas. Author Szatmary, takes the stance that Shay’s Rebellion was an ironic, three-stage occurrence that just so happened to be one of the crucial factors leading to the formation of the United States Constitution.
The author starts by giving background information on the beginnings of this uprising. The first chapter mostly deals with numerical values explaining what New England farmers owned and could sell their crops for during the time period of the 1780’s. Although this information corresponded with the subject of the book it was not helpful in assessing the main aspects of Shay’s Rebellion. The American Revolution caused the British to cut off the Americans from the West Indies as a sort of “punishment” for their resistance (Szatmary 23).
The merchants, who were now doing poorly because of this British policy, looked to their agricultural counterparts for money to repay their debts. The farmers, used to paying in crop, were stunted by the new need for liquid capitol. Unable to attain the amount of cash they were being asked for, many subsistence farmers lost their lands or were thrown in jail. The author puts most of the blame on the merchants, but the merchants were in a crisis for money as well, and had no other choice but to push for payment in coinage on the farmers.
The growing number of farmers being thrown in jail, as well as having their land, crop, and livestock taken and sold for up to half their market price caused an infuriation in the agricultural community (Szatmary 33). This is what Szatmary publishes as being the leading factor in the first stage of the ebellion, which he filed under the category of protest. This stage was peaceful; the farmers were making petitions, conducting meetings and conventions, and staging protests.
This stage was not yet considered a rebellion to Szatmary, because they were not planning on overthrowing the government, but rather trying to find another form of payment they could use (Szatmary 42). Szatmary did a profound job in separating the stages of the rebellion and describing what it ensues an actual rebellion. After months of protest in the summer of 1786, and the constant refusal of payment in the form of paper money or ender (any non-coin form of reimbursement), the farmers abandoned their peaceful ways of dispute and turned to violence.
This was the second stage of the rebellion and was mentioned as the “regulation” stage, because the reformers called themselves regulators (Szatmary 56). The first known attack occurred in Massachusetts, led by Samuel Ely. This uprising against retailers was unsuccessful, and Ely wound up imprisoned (Szatmary 43). The riots were mainly ensued in the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont. It was helpful of the author to clearly state the areas in hich this was happening, because it gives the reader a visual they may not have grasped otherwise.
Although there was a growing number of planned attacks they weren’t cohesive enough to be called a rebellion and they still weren’t planned against the government. At this point in time the attacks were held against local or county courts to prevent the imprisonment of farmers who were in debt. The third and final stage that Szatmary pointed out was that of rebellion. This was led by a war veteran and Massachusetts farmer, Daniel Shays. Shays formed a group of men to get together and directly attack the overnment at Springtown in late 1786 and early 1787 (Szatmary 97).
It is not directly stated at this point, but inferred that it is now correct to call this portion of the upheavals a rebellion because it is now pointed straight at the government. Szatmary also portrays this to now be a rebellion because the attacks are well thought out, concise, and have order. Their attack in Springtown was a three pronged attack that was setup to ambush government officials from three ways. Unfortunately for the Shaysites, armed officials were stationed at the point of attack, and drove the farmers back home (Szatmary 100).
Shays does not end up being successful in any of his, or his group’s attempts to overthrow the government because of Lincoln’s army of militiamen, but his efforts do not go unnoticed. Szatmary finds Shays Rebellion to be ironic for two reasons, the first being that many of the farmers who were in debt, were veterans of the Revolutionary War, and the whole reason that there is so much debt in the first place stems directly from the war. He covers this aspect clearly throughout the book with references given to post war veterans such as Daniel Shays, Luke Day, Reuben Dickenson, and others.
The second being, he finds the reaction towards Shay’s Rebellion to be highly ironic, considering the fact America had just formed their own rebellion against Britain, it seems to be odd for the government to be opposed to a rebellion being formed in their own country. Lincoln even used measures that followed those that Britain had just used against them. The government issued the Riot Act, stating that militiamen had the right to shoot if more than twelve men were armed. This act was directly taken from the British reaction of rebellion against the colonies (Szatmary 83).
The author goes through all the key points of the book to finally make the point that all of the events that took place, proceed to build up to the beginnings of the Constitution. It is no coincidence that Shay’s rebellion ended in June 1787 and the Philadelphia convention met in September of that same year. Szatmary wrote, “Feeling the damaging consequences of a depressed postwar economy, they blamed losses upon an inefficient Confederation and cried out for a more powerful central government” (Szatmary 121). All of the evidence provided in the book points to a weak central government who ould not control the happenings of individual states.
The leaders of the convention adopting a new constitution, created requirements to protect against future local disturbance (Szatmary 128). In many ways the ideas of the book written by David Szatmary reflect those of which were talked about in class discussion. One difference in the two sources is that Szatmary makes is seem like the entire political system is against the rebellion of the subsistence farmers; whereas, Glass provided information that stated that Washington, a prominent political figure, not only was not worried about the outbursts, but ractically supported them.
Although there was that one difference they both agreed that Shay’s Rebellion was ironic after the Revolutionary War, and that it was definitely a contributing factor to the Constitution. The Author, David Szatmary, holds a Ph. D. in American History, has written multiple history related books, and has published up to 300 reviews on art or history related topics. Because of his qualifications, it is assumed under good context that the information he provides is legitimate. The author wrote in a thematic structure, going from one main point to another. It ould have been more accommodating had he been more chronological than he was.
Most of the book followed a timeline, but there were many times that the reading became confusing because of a conflicting date that went along with the theme, but not the timeline. It is reassuring that Szatmary has forty- three pages of sources, being both primary and secondary. The inclusion of so many sources gives him a higher rating of credit given to the information provided in his book. Overall, Shays Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection, is a book I would recommend to any individual interested in learning the eeper meaning behind Shay’s Rebellion, and why it was such an important series of events in history.
I would not recommend the book for an undergraduate or high-school student who has not yet learned anything about Shay’s Rebellion because the set-up can be difficult to comprehend. I also would not recommend the book to a historian because I do not believe it provides any information they don’t already know. Based on the context of his book I have a better defined understanding Shay’s Rebellion and how it correlates with the making of The Constitution.