Shays's Rebellion Questions and Answers

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How does Shays' Rebellion compare to recent economic events that have happened in the United States? 

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It is exceedingly difficult to objectively compare the economic situation surrounding Shays’ Rebellion with the economic problems that the US faced in 2008 and afterwards. At the time of Shays’ Rebellion, there were essentially no records kept of things like economic output. We have no way of knowing how much America’s GDP dropped after the Revolutionary War.  We have no way of knowing how concentrated the economic problems were in specific areas.  We have no measures of how many people were in poverty or were unemployed. Without these statistics, it is impossible to compare these two eras of economic trouble in a systematic and precise way. With that being the case, we will have to rely on less precise ways of comparison.

I would argue that the economic situation that brought about Shays’ Rebellion was more critical than the recent “Great Recession."  The reason for this is that the economic problems in the 1780s were more concentrated among one group of people in one geographic area. In the Great Recession, the economic pain was distributed around the country.  People in every region felt the effects of the recession. At the same time, however, there was no region of the country where everyone was devastated by the economic problems. Instead, we had generalized economic pain that hit a few people in each neighborhood, but did not hit everyone in any neighborhood or any region of the country.

This is in contrast to the situation at the time of Shays’ Rebellion. At the time of this rebellion, the economic pain was extremely severe, but it was also felt by practically all people in certain areas of Massachusetts.  In this crisis, the pain was felt much more by farmers than by anyone else. The farmers were the ones who were going deeply into debt and who were being told they had to pay their debts in hard currency.  City dwellers did not face these problems as much.  At the same time, there were many parts of the country where practically all of the population farmed.  Today, rural areas are no longer made up solely of farmers.  By contrast, rural areas in those days were made up only of farmers.  This meant that, when there was a crisis that hit farmers, everyone in a large area of country was badly affected.

What this meant is that the economic crisis after the Revolution was more likely to cause a rebellion.  It affected everyone in one area of the country while affecting very few people in another, more prosperous and powerful, area of the country.  This meant that all the people in one area would feel aggrieved and would be likely to rise up and rebel against the more prosperous and more powerful people.

Because our current economic problems are less concentrated and perhaps less severe, they are not as dangerous to our country as the problems at the time of Shays’ Rebellion.

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