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Chapter Twenty-Six. One Cause, One Purpose, One Nation: George Washington, the Whiskey Insurrection, and Executive Authority

Carol S. Ebel

Subject History » Military History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics rebellion

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00028.x


“I am sorry to have to inform your Excellency that a civil War has taken place in this County. …” So began a narrative of General John Gibson of Pittsburgh, dated 18 July 1794 to Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Mifflin. Gibson sought to describe the angry reaction in Allegheny County when Marshal David Lenox tried to serve processes against noncompliance to a federal excise on domestic spirits. Gibson lamented, “God only knows where it will End” ( Hazard, et al. (1838–53) 4:58–60). Word of the attack officially reached President George Washington by the 26th of July. He knew that the governor's office had already taken measures to suppress the violence by sending orders to the state's attorney general and president judges to pursue a legal inquiry and bring offenders to justice. State militia troops stood by to support the judicial proceedings if necessary ( Hazard, et al. (1838–53) 4:65–66; PGW, Presidential , 16:440). But within a week Washington held a cabinet meeting to assess the situation and take additional action. He fashioned his response to what became known as an “insurrection,” based on his understanding and perceptions of the federal government and the role of the chief executive. While Washington sought mainly to suppress the uprising and protect the new republic, his actions during late 1794 as well as his earlier responses to the excise opposition helped transform ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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