The Whiskey Rebellion
George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America's Newfound Sovereig
By William Hogeland
(Scribner, Hardcover, 9780743254908, 320pp.)
Publication Date: April 11, 2006
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A gripping and provocative tale of violence, alcohol, and taxes, The Whiskey Rebellion pits President George Washington and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton against angry, armed settlers across the Appalachians. Unearthing a pungent segment of early American history long ignored by historians, William Hogeland brings to startling life the rebellion that decisively contributed to the establishment of federal authority.
In 1791, at the frontier headwaters of the Ohio River, gangs with blackened faces began to attack federal officials, beating and torturing the collectors who plagued them with the first federal tax ever laid on an American product -- whiskey. In only a few years, those attacks snowballed into an organized regional movement dedicated to resisting the fledgling government's power and threatening secession, even civil war.
With an unsparing look at both Hamilton and Washington -- and at lesser-known, equally determined frontier leaders such as Herman Husband and Hugh Henry Brackenridge -- journalist and popular historian William Hogeland offers an insightful, fast-paced account of the remarkable characters who perpetrated this forgotten revolution, and those who suppressed it. To Hamilton, the whiskey tax was key to industrial growth and could not be permitted to fail. To hard-bitten people in what was then the wild West, the tax paralyzed their economies while swelling the coffers of greedy creditors and industrialists. To President Washington, the settlers' resistance catalyzed the first-ever deployment of a huge federal army, led by the president himself, a military strike to suppress citizens who threatened American sovereignty.
Daring, finely crafted, by turns funny and darkly poignant, The Whiskey Rebellion promises a surprising trip for readers unfamiliar with this primal national drama -- whose climax is not the issue of mere taxation but the very meaning and purpose of the American Revolution.
With three original maps by Jack Ryan.
William Hogeland has published in numerous print and online periodicals, including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, and Slate. He lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.
"This is the most compelling and dramatically rendered story of the Whiskey Rebellion ever written. It is so riveting that one almost imagines being on the Pennsylvania frontier when the benighted farmers resisted the federal government and tried to cope with the huge army sent west to bludgeon them into submission. Hogeland unravels complex economic issues, shifting political ideologies, and legal maneuverings with uncommon skill, and he has brought to life in beautifully polished prose a cast of characters: insurgent farmers wearing blackface, religious mystics, radical intellectuals, stiff-necked financiers, land speculators, and -- of course -- Hamilton, Washington, and other iconic figures of the revolutionary era who heaped wrath on the hardscrabble inheritors of revolutionary radicalism. Every American who values the history of how liberty and authority have stood in dynamic tension throughout the last three centuries should read this luminous book."
-- Gary B. Nash, Professor of History and Director of the National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA
"A great read -- and an intelligent, insightful, and bold look at an overlooked but vital incident in American history."
-- Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row
"Hogeland's judicious, spirited study offers a lucid window into a mostly forgotten episode in American history and a perceptive parable about the pursuit of political plans no matter what the cost to the nation's unity."
-- Publishers Weekly
"A vigorous, revealing look at a forgotten...chapter in American history, one that invites critical reconsideration of a founding father or two."
-- Kirkus Reviews