Daniel Shays was the leader of Shays’ Rebellion soon after the American Revolution. At that time – in 1786 – the new country was still governed under the poorly designed Articles of Confederation. The disorganized government response to the rebellion was part of the impetus to move to the system we now have under the Constitution.
Shays’ Rebellion was a revolt by farmers who were in desperate straights financially because of high debt and taxes in a poor economy. One farmer said:
"I have been greatly abused, have been obliged to do more than my part in the war; been loaded with class rates, town rates, province rates, Continental rates and all rates...been pulled and hauled by sheriffs, constables and collectors, and had my cattle sold for less than they were worth...The great men are going to get all we have and I think it is time for us to rise and put a stop to it, and have no more courts, nor sheriffs, nor collectors nor lawyers."
The farmers were trying to keep the Massachusetts Supreme Court from meeting, as they were afraid they would be sent to debtor’s prison.
Skirmishes between the rebels and government forces went on for over a year. Eventually Shays and his men were defeated and Shays took off for Vermont, which was then an independent republic. He was charged with treason and sentenced to death, but after a few months John Hancock granted him amnesty.