The actions of the Bundys, in Nevada and Oregon, are not the first time that arms have been taken up against agents of the Federal Government because someone didn’t want to comply with the law and pay what they owed. The Constitution defines such acts as treason and in the past the perpetrators have been charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.
The Whiskey Rebellion, also known as the Whiskey Insurrection, was a tax protest in the United States beginning in 1791, during the presidency of George Washington. The so-called “whiskey tax” was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government. It became law in 1791, and was intended to generate revenue to help reduce the national debt. Although the tax applied to all distilled spirits, whiskey was by far the most popular distilled beverage in the 18th-century U.S. Because of this, the excise became widely known as a “whiskey tax”.
Throughout counties in Western Pennsylvania, protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax. Resistance came to a climax in July 1794, when a U.S. marshal arrived in western Pennsylvania to serve writs to distillers who had not paid the excise. The alarm was raised, and more than 500 armed men attacked the fortified home of tax inspector General John Neville. Washington responded by sending peace commissioners to western Pennsylvania to negotiate with the rebels, while at the same time calling on governors to send a militia force to enforce the tax. With 13,000 militiamen provided by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, Washington rode at the head of an army to suppress the insurgency.
President Washington, confronted with what appeared to be an armed insurrection in western Pennsylvania, proceeded cautiously. Although determined to maintain government authority, he did not want to alienate public opinion. He asked his cabinet for written opinions about how to deal with the crisis. The cabinet recommended the use of force, except for Secretary of State Edmund Randolph, who urged reconciliation. Washington did both: he sent commissioners to meet with the rebels while raising a militia army. Washington privately doubted the commissioners could accomplish anything, and believed a military expedition would be needed to suppress further violence. … the state militias were called up by the governors of New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The federalized militia force of 12,950 men was a large army by American standards of the time, comparable to Washington’s armies during the Revolution. Because relatively few men volunteered for militia service, a draft was used to fill out the ranks. Draft evasion was widespread, and conscription efforts resulted in protests and riots, even in eastern areas. Three counties in eastern Virginia were the scenes of armed draft resistance. In Maryland, Governor Thomas Sim Lee sent 800 men to quash an antidraft riot in Hagerstown; about 150 people were arrested.
On 7 August, Washington issued a presidential proclamation announcing, with “the deepest regret”, that the militia would be called out to suppress the rebellion. He commanded insurgents in western Pennsylvania to disperse by September 1.
In October 1794, Washington traveled west to review the progress of the military expedition. According to historian Joseph Ellis, this would be “the first and only time a sitting American president led troops in the field”.
The insurrection collapsed as the army marched into western Pennsylvania in October 1794. Some of the most prominent leaders of the insurrection, like David Bradford, fled westward to safety. After an investigation, federal government officials arrested about 20 people and brought them back to Philadelphia for trial. Eventually, a federal grand jury indicted 24 men for high treason. Most of the accused had eluded capture, so only ten men stood trial for treason in federal court. Of these, only Philip Wigle and John Mitchell were convicted. … Both men were sentenced to death by hanging … Pennsylvania state courts were more successful in prosecuting lawbreakers, securing numerous convictions for assault and rioting.
The episode demonstrated the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws.
John Fries’ Rebellion, also called the House Tax Rebellion, the Home Tax Rebellion, and, in Deitsch the Heesses-Wasser Uffschtand, was an armed tax revolt among Pennsylvania Dutch farmers between 1799 and 1800.
Fries’ Rebellion was the third of three tax-related rebellions in the 18th century United States, the earlier two being Shays’ Rebellion (central and western Massachusetts, 1786–87) and the Whiskey Rebellion (western Pennsylvania, 1794).
In July 1798, during the troubles between the United States and France now known as the Quasi-War, the US Congress levied a direct tax (on dwelling-houses, lands and slaves; sometimes called the Direct House Tax of 1798) of $2 million, of which Pennsylvania was called upon to contribute $237,000. Pennsylvania auctioneer John Fries organized meetings, starting in February 1799, to discuss a collective response to the tax. … Many advocated resistance in response to the tax. In Milford township, particularly, assessors were unsuccessful in completing their tax assessments due to intimidation. At a meeting called by government representatives in an attempt to explain the tax … some armed and in Continental Army uniforms, shouted them down and turned the meeting into a protest rally. In early March, a local militia company and a growing force of armed irregulars met, marching to the accompaniment of drum and fife. About a hundred set off for Quakertown in pursuit of the assessors, whom they intended to place under arrest. They captured a number of assessors there, releasing them with a warning not to return and to tell the government what had happened to them.
Federal warrants were issued, and the U.S. Marshal began arresting people for tax resistance in Northampton. Arrests were made without much incident until the marshal reached Macungie, then known as Millerstown, where a crowd formed to protect a man from arrest. Failing to make that arrest, the marshal made a few others and returned to Bethlehem with his prisoners.
Two separate groups of rebels independently vowed to liberate the prisoners, and marched on Bethlehem. The militia prevailed and Fries and other leaders were arrested. Thirty men went on trial in Federal court. Fries and two others were tried for treason and, … were sentenced to be hanged.