Goschenhoppen Historians

Monthly Programs


~ ~  2017  ~ ~


               March 17:  “The Fries Rebellion: Insurrection or Civil Disobedience?"

                              Presented by: Ed Johnson

               April: "Moranvian School Girl Needlework"


All programs held at 7:30 pm in the 2nd floor Meeting Room of Red Men's Hall,

Rts. 29 & 63, Green Lane, unless otherwise noted.


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March 16, 2017

The Fries Rebellion:  Insurrection or Civi Disobedience?


In 1786 and 1787 farmers in the western areas of states from New Hampshire to South Carolina armed themselves to protest state and local tax collections and judgments for debt.  The rebellion was most serious in Massachusetts where it became known as Shays’ Rebellion.  When the rebels tried to capture the federal arsenal at Springfield, the state militia was called up and soundly defeated them.  The rebellion was cited as one justification for revision of the Articles of Confederation, leading to the drafting of the Constitution.


In 1791 Congress enacted an excise tax on liquor to raise money for the national debt and to assert the power of the new federal government in Philadelphia.  Small farmers in western Pennsylvania felt they were unfairly target by the tax as much of their income as based on distilling grain into alcohol, which was easier to transport and served as a medium for barter.  In 1794 tax resisters began tarring and feathering tax collectors and in July burned the home and outbuildings of the regional tax inspector.  President George Washington led 13,000 troops to the area and opposition ended without a battle.  Federalists applauded the outcome as an establishment of the new federal government’s power and recognition that the states would collect federal taxes within their borders.


In 1798 Philadelphia still served as the capital of the United States.  To meet growing tensions with France, Congress, at the urging of Federalist President John Adams, passed the House Tax Law, imposing a direct tax on land, houses, and slaves.  Congress also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts to curtail the rights of immigrants and punish critics of the government.  Rural farmers in rural Northampton, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties considered these acts to be unconstitutional and designed to deny them of their liberty.  They began to resist by erecting liberty poles and threatening tax assessors with violence.  In early 1799, a federal marshal arrested several resisters and held them at the Sun Inn in Bethlehem.  John Fries of Milford Township, Bucks County led nearly four hundred armed men to Bethlehem and negotiated the release of the prisoners.  After the Shays Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, is perhaps not surprising that President Adams sent an army to put down the insurrection.  Thirty-one insurgents were arrested, including John Fries, who was twice convicted of treason and sentenced to death.


Was the Fries Rebellion an insurrection?  Was Adams’ military action necessary?  What happened to John Fries?  These and other questions will be answered when Ed Johnson present a program entitled, “The Fries Rebellion: Insurrection or Civil Disobedience?” on Thursday, March 16.  The program will be presented at Red Men’s Hall (Routes 29 and 63 in Green Lane), and will begin promptly at 7:30 p.m.     

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