Whiskey Rebellion

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The Washington administration's suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion met with widespread popular approval.[95] The episode demonstrated that the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws. It was therefore viewed by the Washington administration as a success, a view that has generally been endorsed by historians.[96] The whiskey excise remained difficult to collect, however, having been largely unenforceable outside of western Pennsylvania, and even there never having been collected with much success. The events contributed to the formation of political parties in the United States, a process already underway.[97] The whiskey tax was repealed after Thomas Jefferson's Republican Party, which opposed Hamilton's Federalist Party, came to power in 1800.[98]

The Whiskey Rebellion raised the question of what kinds of protests were permissible under the new Constitution. Legal historian Christian G. Fritz argued that, even after ratification of the Constitution, there was not yet a consensus about sovereignty in United States. 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.[99]

Historian Steven Boyd argued that 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, for their part, came to accept that the people could play a greater role in governance. Although Federalists would attempt to restrict speech critical of the government with the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, after the Whiskey Rebellion, says Boyd, Federalists no longer challenged the freedom of assembly and the right to petition.[100]

Soon after the Whiskey Rebellion, actress-playwright Susanna Rowson wrote a stage musical about the insurrection entitled The Volunteers, with music by composer Alexander Reinagle. The play is now lost, but the songs survive, and suggest that Rowson's interpretation was pro-Federalist. The musical celebrated the militiamen who put down the rebellion, the "volunteers" of the title, as American heroes.[101] President Washington and Martha Washington attended a performance of the play in Philadelphia in January 1795.[102]

In L. Neil Smith's alternate history novel The Probability Broach (1980), Albert Gallatin convinces the militia not to put down the rebellion, but instead to march on the nation's capital, execute George Washington for treason, and replace the Constitution with a revised Articles of Confederation. As a result, the United States becomes a libertarian utopia called the North American Confederacy.[103][104]

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