What was Shay's Rebellion and why was it important?

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shays’s Rebellion was a rebellion among farmers in Massachusetts that began in 1786.  The rebellion is important because it is seen as one of the major factors that led to the writing of the new Constitution.

When the United States first became independent, its constitution was called the Articles of Confederation.  This constitution set up a government in which the states had essentially all of the power and the federal government had very little.  During that time, the economy of the US was not very strong.  The weakness of the US economy led to a situation in which many farmers ended up in debt.  As their debts got bigger, their creditors (usually rich bankers from the cities) tried to get back the money they had lent by foreclosing on the farmers.  In Massachusetts, this process caused farmers, led by Daniel Shays, to rebel. 

This rebellion, along with other factors, helped to persuade rich Americans that a new constitution was needed.  They were afraid that the state governments were being dominated by poorer people who would institute bad policies such as the debt forgiveness that Shays and his people wanted.  They wanted a stronger national government and one that would be more insulated from the desires of the masses.

This is why Shays’s Rebellion ended up being very important.  It scared American elites enough that they pushed for a new constitution.  That is how we ended up with the Constitution that we now have.

Here's a good video that explains and contextualizes Shay's Rebellion:

aelfraed | Student

The Shays rebellion was an armed opposition to the government raising taxes and foreclosing on people. Foreclosing allowed the taking of what the farmer owned and selling it for what hard currency could be gotten, which wasn't a lot since there was so little circulating. Deadbeats, one might be tempted to say. Actually, there was an economic downturn after the war which is not unusual and both people and government needed money to pay debts. During the War, governments had paid their soldiers in scrip, which was a promissory note, not actual cash as we think of it today. When the soldiers went to spend it, they found that it had lost value. Not only that but speculators who bought scrip for discounted prices demanded full price from the government in hard cash, gold and silver coin, so that they could pay their taxes and buy whatever else they needed. Farmers could grow what they needed but city dwellers had to have money. Not like today where everybody shops at Wal Mart. The wealthy controlled government and could have things their way, whereas the farmers of western Massachusetts were hard pressed to afford sending a representative all the way to Boston. The other colonies had the same problems but handled them differently. Out of this, a need for strong central government was recognized. Footnote: The second amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms was not simply for the purpose of defending against government, but of supporting it against insurgency since the rebels had come close to capturing the arsenal at Springfield.

Yojana_Thapa | Student

Shay's Rebellion was sparked by the frustrations of Massachusetts farmers who were losing their farms because they could not pay debts in hard currency. It was provoked by foreclosures on the mortgages of backcountry farmers. An armed group of poor rebel farmers led by Daniel Shay in response to crushing debt and taxes. It is significant because it convinced many Americas of the need for a stronger central government.

michuraisin | Student

As the name suggests, Shays' Rebellion was a rebellion led by Daniel Shay, who was an ex-soldier in Massachusetts. Began in 1786, it was an uprising of popular support  from farmers against a conservative Massachusetts that wanted to increase what were already some of the highest taxes in the colonies. Led by Shays, band of farmers began marching in the western part of the state, forcing the closure of courts. The march was eventually crushed by mass militia, though the rebellion was accompanied by small disturbances in other states.

The importance of the rebellion was that, due to its publicity, it was basically propaganda for a strong central government. There was a call for a help to the central government to stop the rebellion, but the government said they had no resources. Their ineffectiveness  showed the weakness of the Articles of Confederation, help leading to a new convention being called to come up with a completely new constitution, which is the one we have now. The rebellion also allowed Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to persuade George Washington to lend his prestige to the government.