The main issue that concerned William Hogeland in his nonfiction book The Whiskey Rebellion involved the nascent country's ability to function like an actual unified political entity -- in short, like a country. The United States was just coming off of the revolutionary conflict that gave it life, but continued to struggle with violent hostility from the British Crown. In addition, as usually happens with wars, the revolution had bankrupted the newly-established United States, and the infant federal government was powerless to constrain the actions of its individual parts, the former colonies and now states. The presidential administration of George Washington, especially its secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, was desperate to find ways of raising the revenue needed to enable the federal government to exert its will over the states. One such effort was the excise tax imposed upon domestic distilleries. One of Hogeland's points is that this tax fell disproportionately hard on smaller distilleries as opposed to the larger ones the author suggests were favored by Hamilton for their greater efficiency.
The potential hardships that could befall those small distillers of whiskey prompted what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion. While Hogeland emphasizes the roles in this revolt against the authority of Hugh Henry Brackenridge and Herman Husband, two citizens of the western Pennsylvania region most affected by the proposed tax, his larger theme is the fragility of the central government in those early years of the nation's independence and its efforts at exerting its authority over the states that comprised the union. Another major theme covered in the book is the perception of economic inequality spurred by Hamilton's ill-considered attempt at forcing into effect a form of industrial policy that directly targeted small business to the advantage of large business. The proposal of an excise tax that favored large over small business would prove an enduring issue in American economic policies, and that was certainly one of Hogeland's motivations in writing his book.