The Green Papers Commentary
 

WE THE PEOPLE
Who 'We' are and how 'We' got that way
(Part Five)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
TheGreenPapers.com Staff

The causes of what would come to be known as "Shays's Rebellion" were eerily similar to those of the (still ongoing as of 1786) dispute between that "14th 'commonwealth'", the self-proclaimed Republic of Vermont, and the now-"free and independent" State of New York (as recounted in Part Three of this series of my Commentaries. This should not be at all surprising, considering that those who populated western- as well as central- Massachusetts, where the Rebellion would first break out, were pretty much of the same stock as those who became- or at least supported- Ethan and Ira Allen's 'Green Mountain Boys' (or, for that matter, those who populated the Allen brothers' native northwestern Connecticut).

But there was one important, if not also crucial, difference (which I will reveal later on in this piece)- one that would have at least a side effect on events leading directly to the eventual creation of a document which would enshrine the very concept of "We, the People of the United States" that is the "principal character" ever "lurking behind the curtain" in relation to all that I have already written- and will further write- in these 'WE, THE PEOPLE' Commentaries of mine.

Shays's Rebellion was at once economic, but it was also political. As demonstrated by the historian Jackson Turner Main in his Political Parties before the Constitution, two principal political factions had already emerged throughout the colonies-become States: factions Main called Cosmopolitans and Localists, which would form the basis of the Two-Party System that would itself emerge during the Presidency of George Washington, particularly in his second term (for the Cosmopolitans would form the core of what became known as the 'Federalists', while the Localists would form the basis of what would become known as the '[Jeffersonian] Republicans'- the very two Parties that would first truly contest for the Presidency in the Election of 1796).

The Localists were the faction of the Frontier (which, even as late as the American Revolution, still meant places like Vermont and western Massachusetts-- the dispute between the Green Mountainers and the 'Yorkers' that had led to the establishment of an independent Vermont-in-limbo can well be seen as, at least in part, a 'Localist vs. Cosmopolitan' confrontation): it was the faction of the inland 'upcountry'/upriver farmer and can be discerned even back in the colonial period (in events such as, to take just one obvious example, the revolt of the 'Regulators' in inland North Carolina as early as the late 1760s into the early 1770s- before the American Revolution itself or even the emergence of the 'Green Mountain Boys'!)

The Cosmopolitans, meanwhile, tended to have their greatest support in and around the port cities along the Atlantic Seaboard and were, in the main, the pro-business (back when "business" was more mercantile and less corporate) Party of the urbanite (such as "urban America" might actually have been at the time [Boston (admittedly of smaller geographic size than today's city of the same name), for example, would count but 18,320- a population not much more than the North Jersey suburb in which I myself grew up around 40 years ago- in the Census of 1790; put another way: today's Boston suburb of Newton has nearly five times as many people living in it as Boston itself had at the time of Shays's Rebellion! Even more telling is New York City which, at the time, was already the entirety of the island of Manhattan-- in 1790, it would record a population of but 33,131 souls: in 2000? What is now New York County counted over 1.5 million! This should not, however, mask the quite clear differences- even then, back in the 1780s- between 'city' and 'country': New York City's population density in 1790 was some 1,500 persons per square mile; meanwhile, across the East River, Kings County- so very different, in that time, from its current existence as the Greater City of New York's 'Borough of Brooklyn', as it was merely a handful of small villages surrounded by farmland in 1790- recorded a population density of just 63 per square mile; out on Long Island, Suffolk County- today a region of sprawling outer Metro New York area suburbs-into-exurbs- recorded a population density of but 18 persons per square mile (there were rural counties out on the Great Plains that had higher population densities than that during the 1930's 'Dust Bowl'!)]-- let's not at all discount the fact that, by the 1780s, there were already discernable distinctions between "urban space" and "rural landscape" and the respective, often conflicting, needs of each!)

The War for American Independence had, for the most part, dampened such 'Cosmopolitan vs. Localist' divisions within the Patriot cause. For instance, merchants and the skilled professionals or tradesmen who made up the leadership cadre of Massachusetts Bay Province's 'Sons of Liberty' (responsible for the Boston Tea Party that was so much a catalyst for the events leading up to that conflict) such as John Hancock and Samuel Adams knew very well that the fate of the American Revolution they had fomented very much hung on the efforts of the likes of those- as Ralph Waldo Emerson described them in his Concord Hymn- "embattled farmers" of Middlesex County (population density in 1790: 51 per square mile) who "by the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to April's breeze unfurled" "fired the shot heard round the world"!

John Hancock himself- already lionized as the chair of the Committee of Safety (itself, in effect, the temporary Executive of the de facto provisional government of Massachusetts Bay [which was the General Court-declared-Provincial Congress] in opposition to the de jure Royal Government in Boston as 1774 turned into 1775 and the Provincial Congress was out of session) that had first authorized the formation of a corps of so-called 'Minutemen' within the militias of each Town(ship), as well as the man who, as President of the Second Continental Congress, writ his name so large and so boldly underneath the words of the Declaration of Independence itself- had been elected the first Governor of the new Commonwealth of Massachusetts under its just as new popularly-adopted Constitution in 1780; he would be re-elected four more times (at the time, the Commonwealth's Governors were elected for one year only) until he was appointed to serve, once again, in what was- by the time of his appointment in early 1785- the Eleventh Confederation Congress (though he would never show up, as illness kept him away [he was even chosen President of the Twelfth Confederation Congress which first met in November 1785 (the meeting of the body having now been regularized, more or less, into annual sessions beginning the first Monday in November) but ended up having to decline to serve in that capacity]).

As Governor, Hancock- although a wealthy Bostonian- appeared to be sympathetic to the people of the Frontier (which also, back then, meant much of what is now the State of Maine as well as the westernmost areas of what is now Massachusetts), thereby remaining popular and was, thus, able to usually steer a "middle" political course between 'Cosmopolitan' and 'Localist'. Not so his successor, however: James Bowdoin (pronounced 'BOH-din': it is for him, by the way, that Bowdoin College in Maine is named)- elected in a rather close vote over Hancock's Lieutenant Governor, Thomas Cushing (who had been acting Governor as a result of Hancock's resignation), in April 1785- was a 'Cosmopolitan' to the core who wanted to shore up the financial condition, both public and private, of the Commonwealth in the wake of a growing post-war recession-pushing depression by aiding what today would be called "the Investor Class"- in many, if not most cases, the very creditors who were seeking to collect from farmer-debtors .

The economic situation of the time was badly squeezing the Frontier farmer-debtor: high relative taxes and the shortage of money (creditors refused to take payment of debts in either paper currency, which was becoming more and more devalued, or goods in exchange by way of barter-- but "hard money", specie [coins made from precious metals], was hard to come by for those inlanders who were "Land rich but Cash poor") were already taking its crude toll. But, when debtors were taken to court by creditors and lost, the court costs levied atop the debt itself to be repaid were themselves excessive-- as a result, many inland farms and homes went into foreclosure.

There was also the matter of representation in the General Court, the Commonwealth's legislature: in order to vote, one had to be a male at least 21 years of age owning a certain (admittedly, comparatively small) amount of real property; if one lost his home or farm, however, he was also effectively disenfranchised. So was his town(ship), by the way: for the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 provided that the lower house of the General Court, the House of Representatives, be made up of at least 1 member per town(ship) with at least 150 "ratable polls" (meaning: persons otherwise eligible to vote ["to be polled"]- based on age and gender- who were also "ratable" [that is, owned land that could be "rated"- that is, taxed]); town(ship)s would gain an extra member in the House for every 225 more "ratable polls" in had over the minimum 150 (thus, a town[ship] with at least 375 would be entitled to send 2 members to the House; a town[ship] with at least 600 "ratable polls" would be entitled to 3 members, etc.)-- if enough owners of property in the town(ship) lost their land (with said land in the hands of creditors from outside the town[ship]), the town(ship) itself could eventually lose at least some of its representation!

Representation in the upper house of the General Court, the Senate, was little better in this regard: for it consisted of 40 members chosen from no less than 13 districts (which were themselves based on the Commonwealth's then-14 counties, 3 in Maine and 11 in Massachusetts proper [since 2 of these, Dukes(=Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands off of Cape Cod, then as now) and Nantucket, were always to be combined per the Constitution, one already had the necessary 13 Senate districts!]), with no district choosing more than 6 Senators (this was clearly intended to offset the inherent advantage the area immediately surrounding Boston would have, based on a higher number of "ratable polls", in the House). The Senate districts- or, rather, the allocation of Senators to each such district- were, however, based on "taxes paid" (that is, the 40 Senators were intended to, as much as was practicable, each represent approximately 1/40 of the total taxes paid by a district's town[ship]s as revenue for the Commonwealth government... if more and more farms and homes foreclosed in a particular region of the Commonwealth, fewer taxes could be forthcoming from that region and the entire region would eventually be entitled to less representation in the Senate as well!

Add to this the fact that western and central Massachusetts- as well as much of Maine- were historically woefully underrepresented. Prior to the Constitution of 1780- both under the Royal Government and the Provincial Congress acting as a provisional government in the wake of the British evacuation of Boston- the General Court (which, prior to the American Revolution, was effectively the lower house of the legislature; the "upper house"- as it were- was the Royal Governor, his Deputy and his "Assistants") was made up of at least 1 "deputy" per town(ship)- with a town(ship) containing at least 120 freeholders in land entitled to but one extra "deputy" (Boston itself could send no more than 4 "deputies" to the old General Court). But "deputies" had to attend at their town(ship)'s own expense and, thus, a "land rich, cash poor" town(ship) might only choose and send 1 "deputy" east (the General Court always met somewhere near the seacoast- Salem, for instance, if not Boston) when they would be otherwise entitled to 2: indeed, some town(ship)s in outlying areas chose not to even send a "deputy" at all!

The concept of a 'General Court' itself was a product of the Commonwealth's earliest days; originally, it was a colony-wide "Town Meeting" which all colonists- so long as they were male and Sabbath-observant, etc., of course- were entitled to attend: only as the colonies- both Massachusetts Bay and New Plymouth, separate until 1691- expanded geographically did such a ' General Court', of necessity, become a purely representative body. The notion of such "voluntary attendance" at 'General Court', however, continued and, thus, a town(ship) choosing not to be represented in a particular session was treated much as someone not attending Town Meeting in parts of the New England of today... to quote political analyst Jay Severin: "You don't vote, you don't count!"... vaya con Dios!

This might have been all fine while Massachusetts Bay was still a British colony but it had no place in a self-governing polity! Thus, the Constitution of 1780 provided both a "carrot" and a "stick": it provided [the "carrot"] that "the expenses of travelling to the general assembly, and returning home, once in every session, and no more, shall be paid by the government, out of the public treasury, to every member" and also gave the body [the "stick"] the "power from time to time to impose fines upon towns as shall neglect to choose and return members". But the member still had to pay his own way- that is, if the town(ship) couldn't provide him with enough "living money"- while staying in the capital and this was a burden on someone chosen by his town(ship) to represent them but who was himself having trouble making ends meet while representing a town(ship) that was also having pretty much the same problem. As the economic hardship in outlying areas deepened, absences became more frequent- further reducing fair representation from those same areas.

As J.T. Main himself points out: "The legislature that met during the early summer of 1786 failed to take the rather drastic steps that would have been necessary to avert Shays's Rebellion. The lower house continued to appropriate more money and levy additional taxes. When the representatives did adopt a more popular policy, the senate interfered". The "popular policy" to which Main refers was to, among other things, reduce the amount of both debt and taxes that had to be paid in specie; Governor Bowdoin and his 'Cosmopolitans', however, would have none of it (Bowdoin had trounced former Governor John Hancock- who, as noted, had stayed home in Massachusetts rather than attend the Confederation Congress in New York City- in the election of April 1786 and was, perhaps, feeling his political "oats"). This only served to push things out in the "sticks" to the boiling point.

In early-to-mid-August 1786, conventions met in several outlying Massachusetts counties issuing protests against the inaction of the Commonwealth government; these, in turn, led to a larger convention of representatives from some 50 town(ship)s at Hatfield in the Connecticut River valley to issue a manifesto condemning the high rates of taxation, the lack of easily-obtained money with which to pay off debts and the excessive court costs being imposed on defendant debtors who had lost lawsuits brought by creditors as well as such things as the unfairness of representation in the General Court. This "Hatfield conference" strongly counseled against violence but, as things turned out, to little avail: by the end of the month, a mob in Northampton had already prevented a session of court from sitting (echoing very strongly the rather similar incident in Westminster, Vermont on the eve of the American Revolution itself [see Part Three]) and similar disruptions of court proceedings were occurring- or at least threatened- in other parts of the Commonwealth, as close to Boston as Concord itself!

No. it was not immediately called "Shays's Rebellion"- for the name 'Daniel Shays' was not yet widely known- but the rebellion that would come to bear Daniel Shays' name soon enough was already well underway as September 1786 began. This unrest in western and central Massachusetts, meanwhile, might have remained but a curious footnote to American History- and of rather little interest to someone interested in the development of the definition of "We, the People of the United States"- but for a curious chronological coincidence, the meeting of a conference of States in Annapolis, Maryland scheduled for that same September of 1786!

Just as- to again quote Professor Ramsay Muir (as seen at the head of Part Four of this series)- "[t]he difficulty and complexity of the problem of government in India dawned but slowly upon the minds of British statesmen, and reached an acute stage with unexpected suddenness", so it would also be with newly-independent American statesmen when it came to the "difficulty and complexity of the problem of government" in the still very young United States. Back in March 1785, "commissioners" (called such because, just as was the case with those who negotiated the Second Peace of Paris ending the War for American Independence, we here had a meeting between representatives of two separate, sovereign and independent, political jurisdictions) from Maryland and Virginia met at Alexandria, Virginia and then later (George Washington himself hosting) at Mount Vernon to work out arrangements between the two States regarding certain navigation issues along the Potomac and that part of Chesapeake Bay that separated them.

The navigation issues themselves rather easily dispensed with, the conferees ended up discussing a whole series of related, albethey ancillary, topics- including the need for centralized regulation of interstate commerce and even the maintenance of a uniform currency. The conference ended with a suggestion that other States be invited to join their navigation pact and, perhaps, also join a future conference to at least consider some of these other issues discussed.

In January 1786, James Madison successfully pushed a resolution through both houses of the Virginia General Assembly calling for another conference to meet at Annapolis, Maryland (a gesture to the neighboring State which had been party to the original navigation conference the year before) on the first Monday in September of 1786. By the time of this resolution, the uneasy fabric of Union under the Articles of Confederation was clearly fraying, where not also in grave danger of shredding altogether: New Jersey had already flatly refused to pay off its "requisition" (the money, collected in the form of property taxes by the State, that was- per Article VIII- supposed to be turned over to the Confederation Congress for its own operation); in other States, the issue was not whether to pay its "requisition" but, rather, how it should be collected from the People (disagreements between 'Cosmopolitans' and 'Localists' over this very issue- arising even while John Hancock was still Massachusetts Governor and further exacerbated by the Bowdoin Administration- also contributed no little to what would become Shays's Rebellion).

Clearly something now had to be done:

The Twelfth Confederation Congress, then meeting in New York City, tried to do something itself but failed. In July 1786, appointed a "grand committee" to draft necessary amendments to the Articles of Confederation which reported out 7 such additional Articles- which would have brought the total of Articles up to 20- a month later, under the leadership of Charles Pinckney of South Carolina. The proposed new Articles would have, among other things, given the Confederation Congress power to regulate interstate commerce through its own legislation on the subject that would pre-empt the field re: the States, to- where a State failed to pay its "requisition"- levy taxes directly on the People of the recalcitrant State (after giving that State an appropriate time, after due notice, to pay up) and even would have set up a crude Federal court system...

the proposals were certainly far-reaching-- too far-reaching! In a mirror of delegates to the Congress being brought around to accepting Independence only in stages a decade earlier, the delegates of the States to the Confederation Congress was not immediately ready to commit to such a thing (besides, the Articles could only be amended by unanimous consent of all 13 States and what were the odds of that ever taking place?). The Confederation Congress simply laid the proposed additional Articles on the table, never to ever be considered by that body...

if constitutional reform was going to come before it might prove too late, it would now have to come from elsewhere!

It was in the wake of this failure on the part of the Confederation Congress itself that conferees began gathering in Annapolis on 4 September 1786 per the invitation put forth by Virginia, but it would not be until the 11th, a week later, that- with the attendance of delegates from but 5 States (besides Virginia: Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania were represented- Maryland, even though the conference was in its own state capital, was strangely absent!)- the conference decided to do at least some work. As it did so, however, the first news of all that was going on in western and central Massachusetts arrived (a good post rider could- utilizing the so-called "Upper [Boston] Post Road" to New York and then the "[old] York Road" down to Baltimore- get from Springfield, Mass. to Annapolis in far less than two weeks even in those days).

One conferee in attendance- Alexander Hamilton of New York- immediately saw the portents: an astute student of History (as anyone who has ever perused his later contributions to The Federalist should know), he knew full well that Revolutions had a tendency to only end up turning on themselves-- that the Revolution would give way to anarchy, or at least near-anarchy, that could only be ended by the accession of either a benevolent Despot or malignant Tyrant (whether Prince, King or Emperor)-- later on, in his own lifetime, Hamilton would witness this anew as the initial promises of the French Revolution devolved into a Reign of Terror which, in turn, would lead to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. So far, the United States of America's experimenting with Republicanism had not yet done so, but it always could.

In addition, perhaps because he- after all- represented New York, Hamilton also well appreciated that one important, crucial difference between his own State's dispute with still-rump Vermont and what was happening in Massachusetts that I mentioned at the start of this piece and which I will only now reveal: that Vermont had formed its own popular self-government out of fear of what living under another, more distant government might mean; Massachusetts, on the other hand, had already formed an even-more popularly-based system of governance than was even then available in Vermont had and still people were in rebellion against it.

Hamilton did not- and, indeed, could not- accept the validity of the argument that the Vermonters had been putting forth for pretty much a decade and a half by then, but one of Hamilton's strengths (one also readily apparent in any careful reading of The Federalist) was an innate ability to conceive the reasonableness of his opponent's arguments even while he was, at the same time, seeking to deny their validity. Thus, he could certainly clearly see that the rationale behind what was becoming what would soon be called Shays's Rebellion was, in fact, far less rational than what had been fomented by the Allen brothers and their 'Green Mountain Boys'; Hamilton could also see that the core question was: what would it mean to the concept of Liberty if at least reasonable Law, itself enacted by the clear Will of the People, could not even be enforced?

Put another way: the way to properly redress grievances in a popular republic was to win the next election (or, as was a common cliche of the time, quoted often by James Madison in his letters to Thomas Jefferson: "Even sedition itself might someday make the laws" [that is, if those behind such sedition could someday get themselves elected to the legislature]); thus, Hamilton felt that what was already developing into Shays's Rebellion was merely an abject abuse of Liberty, the grievances of the disaffected far different from the earlier grievances of Lexington and Concord's "embattled farmers"--

and he also saw that the current state of the Confederation/Union "styled" the United States of America had no real power to do anything at all about it and that was the more clear and present danger in Hamilton's mind!

Accordingly, with so few in attendance, this "Annapolis conference", on 14 September 1786, issued a document under the name of its chairman, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania (yes, the same John Dickinson who chaired the very committee that had drafted, and then reported out, the original version of the Articles of Confederation itself ten years earlier [see Part Four])- though it was largely penned by Hamilton himself, which suggested to the several States "the appointment of Commissioners to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday of May next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States, to devise such other provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and to report such an Act for the purpose to the United States in Congress assembled, as when agreed to by them, and afterwards confirmed by the Legislature of every State, will effectually provide for the same". A copy of this was also transmitted to the Confederation Congress itself as, ostensibly, a courtesy.

But Hamilton was also hoping (as was James Madison of Virginia) that the Congress would, at the very least, stamp its own imprimatur upon what the Annapolis conference had just proposed. Indeed, that very "dawn[ing] but slowly upon the minds" of American statesmen was already well underway... and none too soon, to boot!

For the name 'Daniel Shays' was now entering the arena of events in western and central Massachusetts. By the time the Confederation Congress had received the suggestions of the Annapolis conference, Shays- once a captain in the Continental Army that had fought the British but now a bankrupt ex-farmer- had gathered a force of "irregulars" (militiamen who were no longer willing to be part of the Commonwealth's militia) from the towns in and about Worcester County, Mass. under his command and, on 26 September 1786, led them against a force of regular militia raised on order of Governor Bowdoin and commanded by William Shepherd to guard the Hampshire County courthouse in Springfield, Mass. while court was in session there handing debtor/creditor proceedings and farm and home foreclosures. Shepherd's militia managed to thwart Shays's rabble but not until the court proceedings were forced to summarily adjourn nonetheless: for all intents and purposes, this was a "victory" for the "rebels" and was the very reason the rising would now come to be known as Shays's Rebellion.

When news reached the Confederation Congress in New York City about the attack on Springfield, there was high alarm: for there happened to be an arsenal, specifically dedicated to the use of any army raised by the Confederation Congress (thus, it was- in effect- a "federal" arsenal), in Springfield. What would happen if, somehow, the Shaysite rebels should get their hands on all those weapons?

After some debate during October 1786, the Congress quietly authorized Henry Knox- the same man who got all those cannon from Ticonderoga down through the wilderness so that they could be mounted overlooking Boston Harbor and, thereby, force the British to evacuate that city but a decade before (as recounted in Part Two)- to raise a small force of militia from Connecticut and Massachusetts to operate close to the border between the two States (by not really all that much a coincidence, very close to Springfield itself): officially, the force was to be handling potential Indian attack on settlements in the region but the Congress was taking no chances. There was worry, however, about whether the ordinary New England farmers making up Knox's "army" would, if necessary, be so willing to fire upon those of whom they could honestly say "There but for the Grace of God go I"... the American statesmen in Congress assembled were clearly hoping they would never ever have to find out!

Meanwhile, Shays's Rebellion was fomenting imitation elsewhere: in New Hampshire, a mob surrounded a meeting of the Granite State's General Court and threatened violence if an act authorizing the payment of debts with paper money were not immediately considered and adopted (the crowd was dispersed, but their point was well taken); in eastern Massachusetts, there was a similar rising under the leadership of one Job Shattuck (though it was crushed by the end of that November); the rebellion threatened to spill into Maine (again, a part of Massachusetts at the time)-- and there was ever the prospect that the rebels could always flee prosecution into the self-proclaimed Republic of Vermont (after all, not part of the Confederation/Union) and, through there, up to that post-Revolution remnant of British North America known as Canada... indeed, Vermont was not at all above using their constitutional limbo as something of a bargaining chip in this regard: it is certainly no accident that the Congress beginning to put serious pressure on New York to resolve its differences with Vermont dates back to this very same time!

By December 1786, Shays was in the process of gathering an even larger rebel force in Worcester County which he would march, again, over to Springfield to meet up with a similar group headed by one Luke Day-- this time, the target was the federal arsenal! Governor Bowdoin quickly replaced Shepherd as commander of the militia with General Benjamin Lincoln, while Henry Knox's troops waited and watched from south of the Massachusetts/Connecticut state line (if Lincoln- acting on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts- failed, they would then likely have to act in the name of the Confederation/Union).

On 25 January 1787, the Shays/Day forces took on the militia guarding the arsenal (Shepherd was still in command-- Lincoln had yet to arrive with reinforcements); the militia held the rebels off until Lincoln finally arrived and routed them. Lincoln's forces now began a week-long chase up the highway that bears the very name 'the Daniel Shays Highway' (most of today's US Route 202 through central Massachusetts) until a final skirmish at Petersham, on 4 February 1787, finally ended the insurrection. Shays fled to Vermont (though he would later be captured and tried for sedition) and, by the next Spring's Town Meetings throughout the Commonwealth, Shays's Rebellion and all its imitative mini-rebellions elsewhere in the northern tier of New England had petered out.

By then, Governor Bowdoin was himself hugely unpopular: despite his heavy-handed tactics in suppressing the rebellion being justified, his policies had actually fomented the rebellion. In the Gubernatorial Election coinciding with Town Meeting in 1787, John Hancock returned to the Governor's chair of the Commonwealth by trouncing Bowdoin with over 3/4 of the vote (in effect, returning the "favor" of Bowdoin's own lopsided re-election victory over Hancock the year before): Hancock (who, thereby, proved the adage that the most popular politician will almost always be the one who manages to avoid serving in public office while all the bad stuff happens to be going down) would be re-elected Governor of Massachusetts six more times in a row, dying in office in October 1793 (he would be succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Samuel Adams who himself would be elected Governor three times: Hancock and Adams, the old radical firebrands and propagandists who had fomented the American Revolution itself might have been shut out of governing the new United States of America as a whole by a moderating political retrenchment shortly- come 1787- to be embodied in the Nation's new Constitution but they were still a major force in the Commonwealth they largely created out of that Revolution until almost the end of the century!)

Those more sympathetic to the grievances so forcefully expressed by the Shaysites- the 'Localists', as opposed to Bowdoin's 'Cosmopolitans'- gained control of the General Court in Massachusetts and pushed through (with Governor Hancock's blessing) most of what the economically embattled farmers of Massachusetts most needed. By June 1788, in fact, Daniel Shays himself would be pardoned by the Commonwealth [!?!]...

sedition had, indeed, finally made the laws!

Meanwhile, back in New York City, and despite the news arriving from Massachusetts that Shays's Rebellion had been crushed, the now-Thirteenth Confederation Congress decided it was, by now, high time to do something about the so obvious weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation before another, perhaps more onerous, such insurrection could break out. On 21 February 1787, therefore, the Congress adopted a resolution embodying the essentials of what had been proposed by the previous September's Annapolis conference- "that in the opinion of Congress it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several states be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union".

Americans were, indeed, on the verge of becoming "We the People" of a "more perfect Union"... but it would yet take more than a little "sleight of hand" to completely pull off the "magic"!

to be continued...

 


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