Since the federal government assumed the obligations of all state liabilities the nation was faltering under the weight of crushing debt. It seemed there was no easy way out of it. Austerity was proposed but it wouldn’t be enough. A new tax had to be enacted and it would be met with resistance.
The first protests were by just a handful of malcontents. They claimed the new tax was unreasonable, that it placed undue burdens on the working man while the money-men sitting behind their desks at the mega-corporations in the east didn’t miss a meal. It almost seemed like a deliberate plan to ruin small businesses, a conspiracy, especially since the big ones were fully supportive of it.
The movement grew organically. Those with any axe to grind against big government or big money filtered in and joined the phenomenon. Secession was a hot topic among the protestors. Foreign revolutions were pointed to as models for the next stage of the movement. Posters and flyers advocating the cause dotted billboards and newspapers ran threatening letters of opposition. The authorities, outnumbered, were powerless to stem the tide of revolt; any figures that tried to assert their authority were answered with violence.
When the radicals exercised their right to freedom of assembly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, their numbers had reached 7,000; significant considering that the population of the town was only 1,000 at the time. Several buildings were burnt. Finally, the President had to act.
Around October 23, 1794, a contingent of militia (larger than the army that had defeated the British just a few years earlier) entered western Pennsylvania and began to quell the Whiskey Rebellion. Those arrested for resisting America’s first internal direct tax on its populace were all eventually pardoned but the precedent of federal sovereignty had been established.