July 1

Ep. 0066: Revolutionary Aftershocks Part II: The Whiskey Rebellion

Today we cover the last blow in the American Revolution’s Thermidor:  the Whiskey Rebellion of the early 1790s.

Join Prof CJ as he discusses:

  • Raising more questions about what history really is and what most historians really do, using Bentley Little’s short story “The Washingtonians” (which was also adapted into an episode of the TV series Masters of Horror), a story that Prof CJ thinks has direct relevance to the Dangerous History Podcast in general, and to this episode in particular
  • The long history of anti-excise sentiment in the Anglo-American world
  • The origin of Alexander Hamilton’s excise tax on whiskey
  • The grievances that many Westerners had regarding this tax, and a variety of other issues
  • Anger on the part of many Westerners (especially the poor), culminating in rebellion
  • The crackdown in Western Pennsylvania
  • The troubling & somewhat ambiguous aftermath & legacy of this rebellion, and how it fits into the Revolution/Thermidor framework outlined last episode

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Posted July 1, 2015 by profcj in category "American History", "Podcasts


  1. By Lousander on

    I have had a thought in the back of my mind for a while. In the Hamilton/Washington relationship, who was really in charge? Was Hamilton just Washington’s lackey or was Hamilton a master chess player that moved Washington around like a piece on the board? It seems like Hamilton instigated a lot of Washington’s scumbaggery.

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      I agree with you — everything I’ve seen indicates that, at least during the years of his presidency, Washington seems to have been being manipulated by Hamilton (I often liken it to Jaffar & the Sultan in Disney’s Aladdin.) On several key issues I can think of (such as the national bank, or even using massive force in Western PA against the whiskey tax resistors) the evidence does seem to show that Washington was not as immediately gung-ho as Hamilton, but that Hamilton successfully worked on him. Even the HBO John Adams mini-series did a great job depicting Hamilton as a cunning, manipulative SOB who was playing Washington. I think Washington above all else wanted A) to enhance his own real estate portfolio (both in acreage & value) and B) to create a very powerful, centralized federal government & in particular a very powerful executive. And since Hamilton had no problem with desire A & agreed vehemently with desire B (all evidence indicates he was even more radical in favor of those things than Washington), it wasn’t too hard to influence Washington on something that he may have been a tiny bit dubious of initially.

      To me, then, an interesting question that arises is: Was Hamilton purely acting under his own direction, or was he in turn just a gopher or puppet for someone else, some person or people Behind the Curtain?

  2. By Alex Shrugged on

    Regarding historians failing to act in an objective fashion, no historian acts objectively because an historian’s job is to explain an event of the past and translate it into a context understandable in the present. That always calls for some interpretation.

    However… at some point translation crosses the line into indoctrination. A good book that documents this phenomenon of using history as a political tool is…

    “Inventing the Middle Ages” by Norman Cantor.

    The book is a series of biographies of historians who have mucked around with historian in order to make a political point, influence politicians, or actually use their historical expertise to implement middle ages systems of government.

    FYI… the author, Cantor, is one of these fellows. He is also honest about it.

    Here is a link to a PDF ebook that you can check out from the Open Library….


    Alex Shrugged

  3. By Kirsten Tynan on

    Does this podcast cover anything about the trials that followed?

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      I think I mentioned some about it, but to be honest with you, I don’t remember how much detail I went into on that aspect since I made this episode almost a year & a half ago & probably haven’t listened to it since then.

      1. By Kirsten Tynan on

        Any chance you recall where you might have found that information? I’m trying to get a understanding of whether and to what extent jury nullification may have been tied to this historic set of events. Sources I’ve seen so far online seem to disagree even on the number of trials that took place, which is not encouraging.

        1. By profcj (Post author) on

          The single best book by far on the topic that I came across is The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution by Thomas Slaughter. I don’t recall how much it had on the trials specifically, but it was an excellent & thorough scholarly treatment of the whole episode, so even if there’s not a ton on the trials in there, it most likely would point you to other sources in the footnotes & bibliography.

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