Forget the Boston Tea Party...not that it isn't of historical significance...but we weren't a sovereign country yet. After the American Revolution, when this country was still in its infancy, a second "tea party revolt" took place, and the object of its ire wasn't the British Throne...it was the not yet coalesced government of We The People. Known as Shay's Rebellion, this uprising took place in rural Massachussetts. Six years later another uprising would challenge the first president of a young nation...George Washington, a national hero, found that his stature didn't cut him much slack in the (then) far flung region of Western Pennsylvania during the Whiskey Rebellion.
The last shots of the American Revolution were fired in 1781, more or less. It wouldn't take more than another year before Americans began to chafe again, not under the yoke of King George, but under the tax and fiscal policies of the States and nation they had fought to give birth to.
Immediately following the conclusion of the American Revolution, the newly independent States were deeply in debt. Their foreign creditors were uninclined to accept paper currency, and the nation was in the midst of a depression. In our country's first real taste of the theory of "Trickle down economics", foreign creditors demanded hard currency for trade goods. East Coast Merchants passed that demand on to their customers. The banks did the same. As this new economic reality spread into the hinterlands, which were still almost entirely getting by on subsistence agriculture and bartering for goods, the shit hit the fan.
Farms and personal possessions were being taken from debtors or those who couldn't pay their taxes, and the State became the enforcer for private merchants, banks, or simply "the tax man." People who had only a couple years ago set down their muskets in defense of of America began to grumble amongst themselves and say "WTF???" I fought the British, and I can damned well take care of the local IRS agent or sherrif.
And for a brief time, they did just that. They didn't occupy parks and pitch tents. They didn't hold drum circles or engage in face painting. They didn't waste their time with general counsels that couldn't agree upon anything of substance, or get high and party together in a sense of shared "experience."
They took the bull by the horns. Ultimately, they lost, or were at least defeated...but their was nothing symbolic about their actions.
It's an old saw that those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. I think the wisdom of that adage has never been more valuable than it is in this moment....this time.
In the Aftermath of the American Revolution, which was fought by State Militias, and not a federal army, it should be remembered...the individual states were left deeply in debt. Yeah...they won the war. But they did it by enlisting volunteers on what were largely promises of some future recompense. After the last shots were fired, and the British retreated, there was a moment of reckoning amongst the former colonies...how do we pay these soldiers who we enticed to join the cause? Another moment of reckoning came when foreign creditors, who had politically and philosophically supported our War of Independence, rubbed their hands together and said, collectively, "Now that that nastiness is behind us...there's just this little matter of the bill you have run up."
The States were completely broke.
The Shay's Rebellion officially occurred between 1785 and 1786. But its antecedents go back to 1782. Who was Shay? What did he do? And why did he do it?
Shay was a farmer, and a former Revolutionary soldier. He never got paid his due. He was just one of many. But when Massachussetts started foreclosing on simple people who couldn't afford to pay their debts...at least not in silver or gold...Shay stood up.
He raised a militia to fight back. And fight back they did. They occupied and shut down local court houses, whose officials were empowered with apprehending peoples property, farms and possessions in order to satisfy private debts. The State tax collector entered into central or western Massachussetts at his own risk. Chances were, he would be set upon and mugged. Badly beaten. Maimed even. It wasn't like tax collectors were paid much, so word quickly got around as to where one should and shouldn't go in the course of one's work.
But let's bang on some drums, shall we? That'll surely get their attention, and make them know that we are a force to be reckoned with.
Massachussetts was strapped by the American Revolution...as were most of tye Colonies. When Shay's Rebellion reared it's head, and challenged the 1% in America at the time...Mass. did what any Capitalist state would do...it turned to its Merchant Class and asked "Who will step forward to put these Ruffians down?" The Merchants did step forward, and put up a collective fund, since the State of Mass had no money, to hire goons to suppress Shay and his followers. And they did just that.
The ones they didn't kill, they injured. These were goons hired by private merchants. The beginning of the modern day police force. I wonder if their motto was "to serve and protect"?
Six years later, George Washington was president. What could go wrong with a national hero at the helm of the Ship of State? The same old shit.
A country still mired in Depression, and a newly formed national government that took upon itself the debt that each colony had incurred in fighting the Revolution. That relieved the States, but made the federal government the grim reaper.
One of the first things it occurred to Washington, and the Congress, to do was tax whiskey. Yeah...that's the ticket. But they miscalculated, a little bit. People living in Western Pennsylvania, mostly Germans but also a hell of a lot of Scots Irish, grew rye. It was an old world grain that grew well in Pennsylvania. They knew how to grow it from before they came here, and they continued to grow it after they arrived. Only problem was that, in 1790, Western Pennsylvania was far away from the Eastern Seaboard and the major markets. It took a long time to get your rye crop to market. Some of it didn't make it.
It didn't take them long to figure out that you could distill your rye into whiskey, and transport it in barrels to the East...and it never lost it's market value or deteriorated en route. In fact, it was worth more than if you shipped it as pure grain.
Frontier farmers routinely turned their rye crops into whisky, and sent it on down the river. Enter George Washington. "We gotta raise some revenue, here."
GW decided to tax whisky. It is just the first cut in a death of a thousand cuts for anyone who enjoys a sip of whisky...it was a tax born of both necessity and America's Puritan immigrants. "Fuck 'em...they drink whisky? Fuck 'em. And tax their ass." Except for the Big Guys in the East...the Big Distillers, and importers of whiskey...we'll cut them some slack, sense they are friends and associates, and stick it to the rest of those yokels out in the hinterland.
In 1791, the Whiskey Rebellion unfolded. Washington was ensconsced in the White House, and this was his first challenge to the new federal government. He sent in the army. It might have been circumvented had the rules been equal across the board, but as is always the case in capitalist studies...the rules are never applied equally.
The Whisky tax was levied upon Eastern, commercial whisky producers, and importers, at half the rate that it was upon individual, Western distillers. Or farmers.
If you belonged to the class that, already at the early date of 1791, had purchased and controlled the new federal government...Eastern Merchants and Banks...you were okay. If you lived on the frontier...the writing was already on the wall. This government doesn't represent you. Just shut up and fall in line.
Washington sent in federal troops and eventually put down the Whisky Rebellion. Thomas Jefferson, who was then Governor of Virginia, had an untintended influence upon the course of American Spirits and mixology. He recognized the rabble rousing Scots Irish firebrands behind the Whisky Rebellion and Shay's Rebellion for what they were...a cantankerous lot, largely accumulated in Western Pennsylvania.
His solution was to offer the veterans of the Revolution free land in Kentucky, then a part of Virginia. The only stipulation was that you had to plant corn. Hundrteds of Revolutionary vets took the offer up, and moved to Kentucky, and planted corn, in accordance with the terms of the land grants.
It didn't take them long...not long at all, to figure out that you could make whisky from corn just as you could from rye.
Thus, Kentucky Bourbon Whisky was borne. The Scots Irish who relocated from PA, upon Jefferson's behest, and others who immigrated from North Carolina, had a tradition of making whisky from grain. A still is a still.
In Kentucky's case, two things intervened to influence the birth of "Bourbon". First, Virginia named a major area of Kentucky after the Bourbon Family of France, in recognition of its support during the Revolution. Once sufficient numbers of Scots Irish had immigrated to Kentucky, and taken to making whisky from corn, instead of rye...they still had to get it to market. That was always the impetus to turning grain into alcohol...the length of time it took to get the product to market, and the bulk.
Bourbon County, Kentucky was originally a huge county area. Almost all of the small time corn farmers turned their crop into pot stilled whisky, which was sent by wagon down to the Ohio River port of Louisville. Merchants would take old barrels, that had held who knows what beforehand...and they would burn and char the insides as a way to clean them and remove any remnant of whatever the barrel once contained. They would then fill the charred barrels with clear, Kentucky corn whisky...and send them on down the Miss River towards New Orleans. The barrels were stamped "Bourbon County Whisky." That quickly became abreviated to just Bourbon.
And Thomas Jefferson is at least partly to blame or thank for this most American of spirits. But at the time, I suspect he was just trying to disperse a bunch of rabble rousers, and send them forth in directions that would dilute their voice, and render them less potent. To which, they came up with Wild Turkey 101.