George Washington became the first President of the United States in 1789 to a nation in debt from the Revolutionary War. Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of Treasury, proposed the first national internal revenue tax to reduce the national debt. Congress passed a tax on distilled spirits in 1791.
Frontier citizens living in Western Pennsylvania violently opposed the tax. Dangerous roads made it difficult for farmers to haul corn and rye to eastern markets. They often distilled their grain because it was easier to preserve and store.
The excise officers only accepted cash as payment, which was out of the ordinary for the time period. Many refused to pay the tax.
Others resorted to violence. They threatened excise officers, which was enough to make some leave. Other officers were tarred and feathered before deciding to leave.
In July of 1794, about 400 rebels burned the home of a regional tax collection supervisor near Pittsburgh.
Washington responded by leading 12,950 men in a militia force to Western Pennsylvania. Perhaps the former general enjoyed wearing full military dress once again.
The rebels had scattered when the forces reached Pittsburgh. Out of about 150 men tried for treason, only two men were found guilty. President Washington pardoned them.
This historic event marks the only time that a United States President directly commanded ground troops.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Kotowski, Peter. “Whiskey Rebellion,” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 2017/04/18 http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/whiskey-rebellion/.
Logsdon, Chris. “Wills Creek,” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 2017/04/18 http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/wills-creek/.
“Ten Facts about Washington’s Presidency,” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 2017/04/18 http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/the-first-president/ten-facts-about-washingtons-presidency/.
“Whiskey Rebellion,” Encyclopeadia Britannica, Inc., 2017/04/18 https://www.britannica.com/event/Whiskey-Rebellion.
“Whiskey Rebellion,” National Park Service, 2017/04/18 https://www.nps.gov/frhi/learn/historyculture/whiskeyrebellion.htm.