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Shays' Rebellion



Daniel Shays, outraged by the denial of paper money to prevent foreclosure on the lands of  hardworking farmers, led a rebellion against the government to prove how serious the farmers of the time were.  They had lost all of their land and property because of the postwar depression and Shays was fighting not only for himself but for his friends as well.  Shays needed backup and Luke Day and his fleet were supposed to come and aid Shays during the attack, but because of a lack in communication, Shays was defeated and forced to flee.

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Daniel Shays was a Revolutionary War soldier.  He fought hard for his country.  He served in the revolution at Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, Saratoga and Stony Point where he was promoted to captain.  So what led him to rebel against the very government that he had fought and risked his life for?   Obviously, Shays felt strongly about an issue and felt as if he was being wronged by the government in some way.

After the war was over,  Shays settled in Massachusetts and at first attempted to be just a normal citizen and get back to normal life.  He became a very respected member of the community.  He served in several country positions, including town warden, and was active in the local militia.

Shays' anger began to fume during the postwar depression because the  Massachusetts  legislature denied the demands of farmers for paper money that would have prevented foreclosure on their lands.  So many farmers began to lose their farms and all that they had.  Shays was hit hard by the impact of the depression on not only himself, but seeing the effects that it had on his friends and family of the community.  His response?  Rebel and force the government to help out the people in the country for whom  he had just risked his life.  Shays took action immediately.  He took charge of the insurgents at Springfield and forced the Supreme Court to adjourn.  With these troops, he led a surprise attack on the government in January 1787.  The government was shocked by not only his efforts, but also the support behind his efforts.

Determined not to stop until he had what he wanted, Shays and his infantry  planned an attack on  the Springfield arsenal with Luke Day, who was joining to fight for Shays' cause.  However, there was a mix up and Day and his fleet weren't able to attack with Shays on the planned date so Day sent a letter to Shays explaining that they would not be there to support the rebellion.  Unfortunately for Shays, he never received the letter from Day.  It was intercepted by the government and when Shays' army attacked, they were forced to retreat.  They were finally forced to surrender at Sheffield.

Shays fled to Vermont, then to Canada, and then back to Vermont where he was sentenced to death.  The government was afraid of what Shays could have accomplished.  The fear of anarchy was strong, so they felt he deserved a strong punishment.  At first he was refused a pardon although others  involved received one.  He was finally granted a pardon in June 1788.

    Daniel Shays is an example of someone who believed so strongly that the government was in the wrong, that he was willing to risk his own life.  Who knows what could have happened if the letter from Day had not been intercepted.  One thing that can be  learned from Shays is his example of an expressive but ineffective way to bring attention to widespread economic and political grievances.


Garraty, John A.  “Shays, Daniel”.  Encyclopedia of American Biography.  Harper and 

            Row Publishers: New York, 1974  pp 989. 

Magill, Frank.  “Shay's Rebellion”.  Dictionary of World Biography-Volume IV: The

            17th and 18th Centuries.  Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers: Chicago, 1999  pp 1239.

 Whitman, Alden.  “Daniel Shays”.  American Reformers.   The H. W. Wilson Company:

            New York, 1985  pp 736.

Edited by: Kristin Wynn
Researched by: Emily Bangston
Written by: Jeri Ann Banks
March 26, 2000
Last Revised 15 December 2003


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