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Daniel Shays did not Seek to Lead a Revolution

Updated on December 12, 2016
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Who was Daniel Shays?

Daniel Shays was an American Revolutionary war veteran who found he was suffering with the numerous farmers in his community. He was a man who once owned over two hundred and fifty acres of land but sold as much as half in an effort to settle his debts. What was left to him was not enough to meet the financial obligations that still hung over his head. It became a widespread problem that most felt was ignored by those who could resolve it.

As the government demanded hard currency in payment, Shays was unable to comply. He only had the land, produce, and livestock to pay with and that was just not enough. The failure of the community’s petition to find relief forced Shays along with his fellow farmers to look for more drastic measures. They turned to the only successful examples they knew...

The American Revolutionaries!

Just a Farmer

Shays did not see himself as a rebel or a leader of rebels. Instead, he saw himself as a mediator between farmers who were seeing themselves as having no choice but to take up arms and a government that could not see the reflection of an overthrown tyrant within its own actions.

The group of farmers took over the courthouse in Springfield and stopped all legal movements against debtors. They armed themselves with muskets and swords. If they did not have either one of them, they “wielded hickory clubs.” Their success gave them hope and encouragement as well as the realization that it was not enough to get the job done.


Get Their Attention

Shays and the other leaders of the group knew that to successfully get the attention of the government, they had to take up arms, and not as a means to overthrow it the arms had to be in the hands of the farmers. They couldn't be in the hands of trained soldiers. This meant the farmers had to take the Springfield Arsenal where the militia’s supplies were located.

Unbeknownst to the group of farmers, the Arsenal was already occupied by the state militia. Success did not follow the protesters to the Arsenal. They lost the battle against the heavily supplied militia and was scattered to only be captured later and brought to trial. Only two of the men were hanged as traitors while the rest were given quick pardons. Four died in the Arsenal encounter and twenty were wounded. The entire event was short lived but spoke volumes.

It revealed to all how weak the government was and the need for a stronger central authority.


He Only Wanted Attention

Shays didn't want to topple the young government. He didn't want to destroy anything. He didn't even want to become someone of power. All he wanted to do was get someone to listen to the plight of the average man.

Many of us long to walk outside and scream when we feel ignored by the big machinery of government or commerce. There are ways we can do it, but too often it takes too long. Shays did the only thing he could think of by looking back on the example of the Founding Fathers. While his method might not have been the best choice, it got the attention of the government that helped that same government see the problems it needed to address.


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