1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Whisky Insurrection, The
WHISKY INSURRECTION. THE, an uprising in Western Pennsylvania in 1794 against the Federal Government, occasioned by the attempted enforcement of the excise law (enacted by Congress March 1791) on domestic spirits. The common prejudice in America against excise in any form was felt with especial strength in Western Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, where many small whisky stills existed; and protests were made almost immediately by the Pennsylvanians. Albert Gallatin (q.v.) took a leading part in expressing their resentment in a constitutional manner, but under the agitator David Bradford the movement soon developed into excesses. The attempt to enforce the law led to stormy scenes and riotous violence, the Federal revenue officers in some cases being tarred and feathered; but in September 1794 President Washington, using the new powers bestowed by Congress in May 1792, despatched a considerable force of militia against the rebellious Pennsylvanians, who thereupon submitted without bloodshed, the influence of Gallatin being used to that end. Bradford fled to New Orleans; some of his more prominent supporters were tried for treason and convicted, but promptly pardoned. In American history this so-called “rebellion” is important chiefly on account of the emphasis it gave to the employment by the Federal Executive of the new powers bestowed by Congress for interfering to enforce Federal laws within the states. It is indeed inferred from one of Hamilton's own letters that his object in proposing this excise law was less to obtain revenue than to provoke just such a local resistance as would enable the central government to demonstrate its strength.