George Washington and the Whiskey Rebellion

As president, George Washington believed that the federal government needed to remain strong enough to prevent state or regional interests from gaining too much power. He demonstrated this belief in his reaction to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. In this incident, the people of western Pennsylvania staged a violent protest against the federal government's enforcement of a tax on whiskey production. (You may be asking yourself, “Why were farmers so interested in whiskey”? Good question. Whiskey is an alcoholic drink made from corn. The farmers grew the corn to make the whiskey.) Anyway, Washington ordered nearly 13,000 federal soldiers into western Pennsylvania to crush this rebellion. In his 1796 Farewell Address, Washington restated his objection to the rise of powerful state and regional interests and to political parties. In this lesson, you’ll read an except from his Sixth Annual Address to Congress in November, 1794 (right after the Whiskey Rebellion) and another from his Farewell Address.

Directions: Read the following excerpts and answer the questions on your own paper using complete sentences.

1. According to Washington, how did most regions of the country react to the new taxes?

2. Who did Washington believe was responsible for starting the rebellion in western Pennsylvania?

3. How did Washington explain the government’s decision to use force against people rebelling in western Pennsylvania?

From Washington's Sixth Annual Address to Congress on November 19, 1794

During the session of the year 1790, it was expedient [important and useful] to exercise the legislature's power, granted by the constitution of the United States, 'to lay and collect excises.' In a majority of the States, scarcely an [hardly any] objection was heard to this mode of taxation. In some indeed, alarms were at first conceived; until they were banished [gotten rid of] by reason and patriotism. In the four western counties of Pennsylvania, a prejudice, fostered and embittered by the artifice [the use of tricks and lies] of men who labored for an ascendancy [a position of power] over the will of others by the guidance of their passions, produced symptoms of riot and violence.

… while the greater part of Pennsylvania itself were conforming [accepting] themselves to the acts of excise [tax]; a few counties were resolved to frustrate them. It was now perceived, that every expectation from the tenderness which had been hitherto pursued, was unavailing, and that further delay could only create an opinion of impotency [a lack of strength or power to do anything] or irresolution [the lack of ability to solve any problems] in the government. Legal process was, therefore, delivered to the Marshal, against rioters and delinquent distillers [the people who made the whiskey].


From Washington's Farewell Address of 1796

4. How did Washignton feel about political parties?

5. Was he in favor of them or against them?

6. What did Washington believe people should do about politcal parties?

7. Washginton does not mention western Pennsylvania or the Whiskey Rebellion in this passage. Based on what you have learned about the Whiskey Rebellion, what evidence do you see in this passage that Washington had this rebellion in mind as he wrote and delivered his Farewll Address?

… the common and continual mischiefs [trouble] of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble [reduce the strength of] the public administration. It agitates [stirs up and disturbs] the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles [creates] the animosity [a feeling of hostility and resentment] of one part against another, foments [to cause or stir up trouble or rebellion] occasionally riot and insurrection [rebellion]. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption [dishonest behavior for personal gain], which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.