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Issue 59 - Rebellious times

Whisky Magazine Issue 59
October 2006


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Rebellious times

Ian Buxton looks at turbulent times during whiskey's history

So begins William Findley's classic account of the Whiskey Rebellion, his History of the Insurrection, published in Philadelphia in 1796.

You have to admire his understatement.

“Interesting scenes” indeed. This of a country that had less than 15 years previously been fighting a war of independence against the (then) greatest power in the world; where settlers at the new country's western edge were subject to violent attacks by the native population (Findley refers to them as “savage tribes” and relations between them and the settlers were often brutal enough) and where it was far from certain that the constituent states of the new republic were ever going to live in harmony anyway.

As so often, the dispute centred around taxation which, after all, was a sore point in the mind of the America frontiersman. He lived a life not so very far removed from Hobbes' description some 150 years previously, in “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Having fought so hard to escape the yoke of the British crown, under the slogan ‘no taxation without representation' the westernmost settlers were more than sensitive to the demands of their new government.

Life in Western Pennsylvania was very far removed and very different from life on the settled and prosperous eastern seaboard, where the new central government was to be found.

Indeed, many in the western states sought self government, preferring the a...

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