Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ode to History

My interest for you sparked
In the sixth grade
Your many colours and shades
Intrigued me
Whenever I looked closer, put my glasses on
You only became foggier

I followed you at the hunt across the Bering Strait
I followed you onto a ship in chains
I followed you through bloody snow, across the Delaware
I followed you into the White  House, where young men glared through plaster dust
I followed you from Georgia to Arkansas
And I cried too
I followed you into the forest at night, where dead black faces whispered beware
I followed you to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
I followed you to the back of the bus, to the front of the bus
To jail
I followed you around the railroads, we saw many a man get killed
I followed you to Montgomery, and to Washington DC
I followed you to Pearl Harbor
I followed you into kindergarten that day-- we were singing the Japanese alphabet...
When the city exploded
I followed you into a hijacked plane headed to the capital
It crashed in Pennsylvania
I followed you up a tower, where we could smell burning flesh
I followed you through the smoke of Ferguson Missouri

Well, friend, let me tell you something
Now it's my turn to lead

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Salem Witch Trials

In a Massachusetts village, 200 innocent people were accused of witchcraft--twenty of which were executed and thirteen who died in jail.  The village was Salem, and the year was 1692.  Imagine a nine-year-old girl in bed shaking, muttering words no one understands, and throwing up.  Then her eleven-year-old cousin begins having the same symptoms.  A reverend named Parris watched his daughter and niece, and several other girls suffer.  When they accused old women in the village of casting evil spells against them and the doctor diagnosed witchcraft, the trials began.  The Salem Witch Trials were the result of community tensions and superstitions.

In the Qur’an, Allah told Adam and Eve that the tree was forbidden to them, and they could enjoy fruit from every tree and bush except for that one.  Then, they both reached for the fruit after being convinced by the Shaytan and they were both directly and individually punished for their sins.  In the Bible, however, Eve convinced Adam to obey Satan by getting fruit from the tree, even though God told them it was forbidden for them.  Puritans used this as confirmation that women were more likely to practice witchcraft than men.

A Native American slave of the reverend, Tituba, was one of the first to be accused by the girls.  When the girls started having such afflictions, Tituba and her husband helped their neighbor bake a cake made of rye meal and the girls’ urine, which was fed to the dog as a magical way of finding out who had hurt them.  When Parris, who may have been in a relationship with his slave, found out about the witch-cake, he was very angry.  Tituba confessed that she had made a deal with the devil, as well as several other people in the community after she was beaten for an accusation, and spent a year in prison.  

The next woman to be accused was Sarah Good, a homeless beggar who was considered a nuisance to the town.  Unlike Tituba, Good denied the accusations.  Instead, she in turn accused Sarah Osborne of witchcraft.  Her six-year-old daughter, Dorcas Good, was accused of witchcraft as well and she experienced psychological distress at an early age as a result of her time in prison.  Sarah Good was hung after losing another child in prison.

After Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne was tried for bewitching the girls.  She had married a wealthy man who entrusted her to pass down the estate to their young sons when they came of age. However, when Sarah married an Irish indentured servant, they tried to take the estate for themselves against the will of her dead husband's family. Despite her denial of the accusations, she was thrown into prison and died at the age of 49 without a trial.

These are just a few stories from the people who were wrongly jailed.  The Trials did not end until Mary Spencer Hull, the wealthy and prominent governor’s wife, was accused.  That was when they said things were getting too far.  No arrest warrant was issued for Hull.

While the “witches” were being tried, the girls had tremors and trances in their presence.  Some say they were acting; others say they were the victims of a disease caught from a strange fungus; others say they were the victims of witchcraft.  Still others say that the community pressured them into naming witches as vengeance against these people.  Or maybe the Puritans were just being hysterical like something out of Sula.  Perhaps we will never know.

For more information about Salem Witch Trial Conspiracies, watch videos from National Geographic.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"A More Perfect Union" by President Obama

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: 'A More Perfect Union'

Philadelphia, PA | March 18, 2008
As Prepared for Delivery

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments - meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement - all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American - and yes, conservative - notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today - a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Justice for Mike Brown

Emmett Hill, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown... What do these men have in common? They were murdered, and the grand juries who investigated their deaths decided that there was no probable cause, no good reason for their murderers to be tried in court.

What happened to Magna Carta?  Or the English Bill of Rights?  Not to mention the Declaration of Independence or American Constitution.  Not even a king is above the law?  How about your average neighborhood police officer?

At this moment, the Pentagon is selling/giving away military equipment to police departments all over America-- assault rifles, grenade launchers, camouflage clothes, etc.  Who is it for?  No one is fighting a war, are they?

No justice, no peace.  If it means keeping one person from pulling the trigger because of racism, if it means causing one person to realize as I have that it isn't colour or race that defines us, but choices, if it means saving one innocent person's life, then let's fight for justice.  Not with guns and knives, but with words.

"If anyone kills a person, it is as if he killed all people.  If anyone saves a person, it is as if he saved all people."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Letter to Editor 1770

Dear editor,

From the beginning of time, it seems, Great Britain has been developing its military and ammunition with the plan of dominating the world.

Millions, or even billions of indigenous men, women, and children have been trampled under their rule.  Young Africans have been put into chains and dragged away from their homes mercilessly.

Britain has even treated its own colonists with injustice-- forbidding them from enjoying their right to govern themselves, and sending armed men into their houses to keep them under their control.

Although we have repeatedly petitioned, protested, and clearly communicated our opposition, the King and British Parliament have done nothing but send more troops, collect more taxes, and punish more people for trying to profit from business, as it is their right to do.

As a poor farmer whose family cries with hunger into the night because I must pay Britain for the tobacco I ship to the West Indies, all of the documents involved in exporting these crops, and any tea and sugar that is not made by my own hands, I say this is wrong.  As a man who wants to secure a better future for his children and grandchildren, and the futures of any children who are now suffering under the rule of the British Empire, I say we gather our arms and prepare for war.  It is better for a thousand men to die fighting an injustice and protecting future generations from oppression than for one man to turn away and convince others that they were created to be subjects of other men.

No, we were not created to be oppressed.  Rather, we were created to fight for our freedom.  Light is only appreciated in the midst of darkness.

But what am I but a poor farmer with the burden of the “most powerful empire in the world” on my back?

With honesty and sincerity,
William Everett

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Shays' Rebellion

On September 29, 1786, farmers picked up their guns, swords, pitchforks, and fists and marched across Massachusetts to shut down the courts and riot.  This seemingly random rebellion sparked from the American Revolution, when the Continental Congress printed money to pay American allies for their help, and gathered steam as the Articles of Confederation took away all power from the federal government.  Patriot soldiers came home to notices asking them to appear in court, or came home to no home at all.  Men who could not support their families with the little money they got from selling their crops were thrown into debtors’ prison, where mice scurried at their feet and the air smelled foul.  In some states, if you didn’t own land, you couldn’t vote.  Shays’ Rebellion was an important step in American History because it convinced government leaders that the republic would collapse without a strong central government.  It also drew poor old Washington out of retirement.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Army was falling short of supplies.  Washington worried that “Unless some great... change suddenly takes place, this Army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these things.  Starve, dissolve, or disperse in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can.”  The colonies had completely relied on Great Britain for their supplies with the Navigation Acts before the Revolution, but now, their enemy had blockaded all the ports.  America’s victory did not simply mean independence from Britain’s tyranny-- it also meant independence from Britain’s support as a mother country.  Massachusetts’ whole economy was based on trade with the West Indies.  When Britain cut off American trade with the West Indies, it hurt Massachusetts.

Hoping to delay, if not prevent, a financial disaster, the Continental Congress printed Continental dollars (worth 1/40 of a gold or silver coin) to pay their allies, such as Spain and France, for ammunition, winter coats, socks and shoes, bread, milk, candles, etc. or raw materials which Patriot women could use to make these supplies.  That is how we won the war.

However, when Revolutionary War soldiers (90% of which were farmers) rode their horses home, crop prices had taken a dramatic fall.  The leaders of the new republic were so afraid of losing the freedom they had fought so hard to achieve that they actually hurt the people.  The states had completely different currencies and laws because the new confederation was only a “firm league of friendship” between them.  In Pennsylvania, for example, they didn’t even use money.  They bartered-- ten jars of honey for three chickens, three quilts for a pistol.  Some states printed their own money to pay back the debt from the war without burdening its people with a heavy tax.  This made it easier for the people to pay back debt, but creditors earned less from it.  This worked for some states, like South Carolina.  However, it led to more debt in Rhode Island.  

In 1782, before talk of a rebellion, Job Shattuck led people to surround tax collectors and keep them from collecting taxes.  In February of the next year, a mob captured property which had recently been taken away from a debtor and returned it to him.  These events did not change the way Massachusetts dealt with its debt.  In fact, it only taxed the people more.

Massachusetts, where Shays’ Rebellion took place, decided against printing paper money to pay their debt.  Instead, they taxed their people.  All that the people had were continental dollars they had been using since the war, but the Massachusetts state government wanted real gold and silver coins.  Americans had to bring all of their paper money to the government buildings and exchange it for gold and silver at the rate of forty dollars per coin.  They didn’t have enough money to pay the taxes, hence the debt.  Courts bankrupted farmers and closed businesses.  

But where was all of this money going to anyway?  Wealthy creditors in Boston.  And this made Massachusetts farmers angry--very angry.  

Daniel Shay was one of these farmers, who now called themselves Regulators.  He organized conventions in Conkey’s Tavern, where they expressed their problems with the new government.  As Senator for Massachusetts, the first thing Samuel Adams did was try to put an end to the county conventions.  The Regulators wrote petitions to the Massachusetts government and courts, but their efforts were futile.  Massachusetts and the national government would not respond until America was at the brink of anarchy.  At the conventions,  Shay was training an army.

Shay and the “Shaysites,” dressed in their old uniforms from the Revolutionary War, marched across Massachusetts to shut down the courts of South Hampton, Pittsfield, Manchester, and Boston to the tune of flutes and drums.  Jonathan Judd wrote from inside the courthouse, “Sorrowful day... brother against brother, father against son, militia at the courthouse and mob at the ferry.  The mob threatens the lives of all against them.”  The rebellion went on for months, from September of 1786 to February of the next year.  The court couldn’t bankrupt people and put them into debtors’ prisons anymore-- they were afraid for their lives.  The mob began with a number around 1000-1500 and swelled into 9,000 people.  The best-known leaders of the rebellion were Daniel Shay and Job Shattuck.  

General Henry Knox wrote George Washington, who at the time was hanging out with his wife at Mount Vernon, enjoying retirement, and Thomas Jefferson, who was preaching religious freedom in Virginia.  Washington’s response: “Are your people mad?”  We just got through a whole war to secure our freedom and our country, and now they’re trying to bring it down?  Jefferson replied to Knox, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.  The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  

At the time, though, Massachusetts was in big trouble.  How would they suppress the violent rebels without a national army to step in and help?  Samuel Adams saw the chaos and the former leader of the Sons of Liberty warned, “Rebellion against a king may be pardoned, but a man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death!”  He passed the Riot Act, which suspended habeus corpus (police could now arrest people without taking a minute to tell them why.)  The act stated that if more than twelve people gathered to protest a government decision, they could be arrested, or even killed.

The rebel movement slowed when General Benjamin Lincoln and his men captured Job Shattuck.  After violently searching his home and hurting his family, they finally found him and slashed his knee to make him surrender, carrying him to prison for treason (Shattuck had fought in the Revolutionary War as well).  The capture was greatly exaggerated by the press.  

The Shaysites were running out of ammunition.  In January of 1787, they tried to capture weapons belonging to the government.  When Lincoln and his men fought back, they retreated.  For several years after the rebellion, Shay and the other rebels lived as outlaws.  They had gone from the most admirable patriots to the most wanted rebels in the eyes of the republic.  When John Hancock was re-elected to be the governor of Massachusetts, he pardoned anyone who had participated in Shays’ Rebellion, but not before two men were hanged under the leadership of Samuel Adams for rebelling.  Job Shattuck narrowly escaped death in the gallows.

Shays’ Rebellion was the last straw.  The men who had fought the American Revolution and written the Articles of Confederation finally realized that something had to change.  If the federal government did not have power, the republic would collapse from the debt.  “A Nation divided cannot stand.”  Thus, the delegates met in Pennsylvania to write the Constitution and the nation became known as the United States of America.  And while much blood has been shed and much injustice has been excused on its soil, the idea of being free to voice opinions has existed from the very beginning.