Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – I always look for historical angles to talk about these things that we discuss here on the program. I was wondering if all the people of all of Taxachusetts were as blindly and meekly following the orders of their state and city overlords on Friday. Would that translate to the rest of the state? Massachusetts does have a western part as well. Is there any historical precedent for this? It turns out that there is. Check out today’s audio and transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: I always look for historical angles to talk about these things that we discuss here on the program. I was wondering if all the people of all of Taxachusetts were as blindly and meekly following the orders of their state and city overlords on Friday. Would that translate to the rest of the state? Massachusetts does have a western part as well. Is there any historical precedent for this? It turns out that there is. I was reading in Jackson Turner Main — this is a very famous writer of the founding generation. His book is The Anti-federalists. You can find this in the library at MikeChurch.com if you click that Library button at the top of any page. He was writing about — this is an area that I cover in Fame of Our Fathers as well, when I covered Shays’ Rebellion. We have about 20 minute son Shays’ Rebellion in my docudrama Fame of our Fathers. I had used some of the material from Jackson Taylor Main’s book The Anti-federalists to flesh out the story of Shays and Shays’ Rebellion. I returned to it on Friday and Saturday just to glance through it.
It turns out that eastern and western Taxachusetts have always been divided. This goes all the way back to the 1700s. Western Taxachusetts viewed itself and acted in a much more libertarian, agrarian, republican fashion than did the mercantile class in Boston. For example, after the end of hostilities between Great Britain and the United States, there was a lot of debt that had to be repaid. Different states were choosing different manners to deal with the debt. Taxachusetts, after the war, elected a governor by the name of James Bowdoin. Bowdoin had decided that he and his boosters, which were mainly in the port cities in Massachusetts, Boston and what have you, had decided that it was a good idea to begin to tax the properties of everyone by acre in the State of Massachusetts.
You may say: Okay, so what’s the big deal with that? Think about it. If you’re a city dweller and you live in the Port of Boston, you probably don’t have very much acreage to be taxed. However, if you’re like Daniel Shays and you’re out in Pelham, Massachusetts, you have oodles and oodles of acres to be taxed. So they taxed them to the bejesus belt. Of course, the people out in the western part went: Wait a minute, we can’t afford this; we’re farmers. It was a major source of contention. They tried to deal with it without being violent. They tried to deal with it by having conventions and meetings. Turner Main writes about this.
A major solution offered by the discontented was to reduce taxes by curtailing payment of requisitions to Congress.
Mike: I only bring this up just to show that I don’t think that the events that happened in Boston and the way people react to the events of Boston are the same as people would react in other parts of the state, which is another one of the reasons why Maine today is the state that it is and why it is not part of Massachusetts, because it used to be. Mainers went: Yeah, we don’t want to be in bed with you guys anymore. We kind of want to go our own way up here.
Besides a federal impost, Congress in 1783 requested the grant of supplementary taxes which, in the case of Massachusetts, would return $224,427, to be paid into the federal treasury. [Mike: This may not seem like an awful lot but it was mostly repaid by western Massachusettsian, the same people who made up majority parts of the Massachusetts militia.] The request was overwhelmingly defeated in 1785. Even some of the eastern towns rejected it, although most of the support it did receive came from the east and from Maine. In June of the following year the grant was approved, but only after a provision for part payment in gold and silver had been eliminated.
Even more important was the question as to what taxes should be levied to support the domestic debt of the state. Although the House journals do not reveal the alignment on this issue, it is clear that most of this debt had fallen into the hands of merchants, who had secured it at half-price or less.
Mike: Meaning they had taken advantage of this and had bought the debt up so that they could have it repaid by the public. So who would pay the debt? It turns out that most of the debt would be repaid by taxes that were assessed on land. This is what led to Shays’ Rebellion.
Shays’s Rebellion further divided the state. The area in sympathy with the protest movement corresponded closely to that already defined as being “western.” The Connecticut River towns were, as before, eastern in their political outlook. Elsewhere in the west only a handful of towns failed to support the rebels’ principles, if not always the rebellion itself, and the disaffected included not only the less well-to-do but many of “property.” Southeastern Middlesex, most of Essex, Suffolk and Plymouth counties were not in sympathy with the westerners, yet even here exceptions were to be found, especially in the rural areas. [Mike: Then he cites a couple of votes that flesh the division out.]
The division is also indicated by the votes in the Bowdoin-Hancock election, which followed the uprising. Bowdoin’s activity in crushing the rebellion made him highly popular among the merchants and equally unpopular elsewhere. “Brutus” [Mike: This is one of the same Brutuses that invade against the ratification of the Constitution.] warned the people: “Rapidly you are dividing into two Classes-extreme Rich and extreme Poor”; the alliance of Bowdoin and Lincoln…
Mike: He’s talking about Benjamin Lincoln, who fired the shots that killed three of Shays’ men in the only skirmish that happened during Shays’ Rebellion, which happened at Springfield in November 1786. That’s part of Fame of Our Fathers, by the way. If you’re interested in the story, that’s a great place to get it.
…the alliance of Bowdoin and Lincoln represented a “Union of the Military and Monied interests”; [Mike: Gee, where have I heard this before?] and Bowdoin’s supporters were “Men of Property and Fortunes, who expect one Day to lord it over, impoverish and enslave, YOU.” [Mike: This is what Brutus was writing at the time.] Hancock’s popularity was so great that Bowdoin, even under favorable circumstances, would have had no chance, and he was overwhelmingly defeated. Yet he barely lost in Boston and made a respectable showing elsewhere in the eastern port towns, actually carrying Salem and Gloucester. In contrast, Hancock was almost unanimously favored by the Worcester County towns of Sutton and Harvard.
The events surrounding Shays’s Rebellion increased the antagonism of the farmers toward their eastern opponents, and it worked the other way with equal force and greater consequence.
Mike: My point in bringing it up is that in Massachusetts, like in many places in the U.S., you have two very divergent classes of people and different ways of looking at things. Your city dweller tends to look at things through the prism of: If it’s good for cities, then it’s good for merchants; it must be good for everyone. Whereas, the people who don’t live in cities tend to look at things: Well, we’re the people that produce the things that the people in the cities consume, so everything ought to be good, in some manner, for us. I have to wonder if there is still that spirit of liberty or of opposition to the State that was so alive and so prevalent in the 1780s. Of course, it was alive and prevalent in the 1770s as well in Massachusettsians. Or is the entire State reminiscent of what we saw on Friday in Boston, just out of curiosity?
End Mike Church Show Transcript