Shays' Rebellion and The Articles of Confederation

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Words: 988 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: May 14, 2021

Words: 988|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: May 14, 2021

Shays rebellion is usually not viewed as having a pivotal role in the course of American history and how we got to where we are today, but in more than one way it changed America forever. The rebellion started with just a group of unhappy poor farmers, but turned into massive protests with thousands of men, which led to the proclamation of the articles of confederation and started the creation of the constitution. After the revolutionary war ended in the 1780s, many soldiers had to turn to farming as a source of income to live, and were not receiving any compensation from the government for fighting in the war. Also, after the war the government was forced to raise the taxes higher than they had ever been to account for the debt from the war. Not being able to make much or any money off farming, the farmers began to fall into debt. Boston authorities started to arrest farmers and foreclose on the farms for not being able to pay their taxes. Many families were left without providers. Also veteran of the revolutionary war Daniel Shays saw many poor farmers like himself being sent to rot in Debtor’s prison, and he knew it would soon be his fate. Shays began to meet with his supporters and discuss self-government and rebellion, and after a while had a sizeable group of farmers protesting against the state government. These meetings were called county conventions.

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The first attempt to settle their issues peacefully didn't go anywhere. In the summer of 1786 conventions were held to determine a list of demands to be sent to Boston. The document included a proposition of reforms and grievances for Boston to enact. The demands were sent in, but instead of being acknowledged, the poor farmers were ignored by the state government and taxation continued to raise money to pay off the debt. A legendary patriot Samuel Adams, who was now a state senator for Boston, called for an end to county conventions. He called them useless, but the irony is that acts of the county conventions were exactly like his rebellion against the British in the 1770s. Now that Shays had tried to reach justice legally, they had to take it into their own hands. In 1786 Shays began to train an army, mostly veterans of the revolution. September 29, 1786, in Springfield Massachusetts, the rebels marched on the courts with muskets and clubs. Shays had his men load their muskets and charge toward the courthouse to shut down the courts. As long as the courts were shut down, the farmers in debtors couldn’t be sent to jail.

Rebel army closed courts in North Hampton, Concord and Worcester. As word of the attacks reached Boston, Samuel Adams, who also called the county conventions useless, stated that leaders of the rebellion had to be seized and hanged. Boston stated to MIlitia Act which said that if you were in the militia you could be sent to death and also if 12 people got together for a negative purpose they would be punished. This was the breaking point for the Shayzites and his army, and the rebellion continued to escalate. Even the former president George Washington sent in a letter to the government saying that if the rebels have real problems the government should address them. Samuel Adams ignored Washington and focused on ending the rebellion, and sent 300 troops to hunt down the leaders of the rebellion. The troops captured many of the leaders but in doing so also injured many of them, and rumors went wild. Instead of quieting down while being hunted down, the rebels became even more united, the state of Massachusetts asked for federal governments help, but was powerless because of the articles of confederation.

Commercial elite created a mercenary army to go against the rebels. January 20th, 1787 Lincoln's army went west through deep snow to go to battle. When Shays and Lincoln's army met, Lincoln’s army had much better supplies and had cannons shooting down the advancing rebels causing them to flee. Rebels retreated and regrouped, Shays sent a messenger with a call of help, but his plea was never answered. General Lincoln surprised Shays army and captured most of them leading to the end of the rebellion.

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In the aftermath of the rebellion, more than 150 imprisoned rebels were sent to hang, but at the last minute 138 of them were pardoned, the remaining 12 were marched to the gallows but were also pardoned last minute. In the end only 3 of the rebels in the army ended up getting hanged. Captain Park Holland summed up the state of the union “I would observe that there are many things to be considered before we condemn the misled followers of Daniel Shays, our government was a new untried ship with many joints that needed oiling to say the least, with no chart of experience to guide us, nor a map of the past by which to lay course.” The rebellion led to many nationalists to proclaim the articles of confederation inadequate and started more support for the constitution. In 1788 Shays was pardoned for his actions and went home to Vermont. The events leading up to and during the rebellion alarmed many of the young nations’ leaders like George Washington, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. Which led to them meeting and discussing changes to the articles of confederation in 1786. Even though Shays army was unsuccessful the rebels actions changed the course of America, they showed how the Articles of Confederation were not adequate for this country, and led to the creation of the Constitution.


  1. “Shays' Rebellion.”, Independence Hall Association, Accessed 28th, October 2019
  2. “Shays's Rebellion.” Khan Academy, Khan Academy,
  3. “The Shadow of Shays' Rebellion.” Center for the Study of the American Constitution,
  4. “On This Day: Shays' Rebellion Was Thwarted.” National Constitution Center –,
  5. Shay's Rebellion - Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center,
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Shays’ Rebellion And The Articles Of Confederation. (2021, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 28, 2024, from
“Shays’ Rebellion And The Articles Of Confederation.” GradesFixer, 14 May 2021,
Shays’ Rebellion And The Articles Of Confederation. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Feb. 2024].
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