Whiskey Rebellion: A Rebellion against Taxes?

What caused the Whiskey Rebellion?

What caused the Whiskey Rebellion?
Description: “Famous whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania”
Attribution: Our first century: being a popular descriptive portraiture of the one hundred great and memorable events of perpetual interest in the history of our country by R. M. Devens (1882).
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The history of the Whiskey Rebellion is shrouded in myth. Many scholars consider it a victory for the young U.S. government. But was it really a win for the anti-tax patriots?

What caused the Whiskey Rebellion?

The Whiskey Rebellion was the second major internal uprising in U.S. history (preceded only by Shays’ Rebellion). It was a response to an excise tax created by Alexander Hamilton, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington.

The U.S. government racked up $79 million in debt during the Articles of Confederation period. The Federal government owed $54 million of that amount. The individual states owed $25 million. Alexander Hamilton saw this as an opportunity to centralize government. He proposed to consolidate the debt. In order to pay it back, he would create a tax on domestic spirits. This was seen as a relatively safe luxury tax. In addition, he had support from those who viewed alcohol as a sinful indulgence. Thus, the Whiskey Act was passed into law in 1791.

What happened during the Whiskey Rebellion?

The Whiskey Tax was extremely unpopular, especially on the frontier (back then, the frontier consisted of Kentucky as well as parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia). Many people in these areas just refused to pay the tax. But in western Pennsylvania, protestors fought back.

In July 1794, more than 500 people attacked the tax inspector’s home. George Washington sent a massive militia, 13,000 people strong, to quell the rebellion. By the time the militia arrived, the rebellion had dispersed. Some 20 people were arrested, but no one was ever convicted of a crime.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Many scholars consider this a victory for the federal government. In his book, Character: Profiles in Presidential Courage, Chris Wallace provides a fairly typical pro-state treatment:

By acting decisively to quell the threat, Washington had proven that the federal government would stand behind the law. Many continued to fear that the government would destroy their dearly purchased freedoms. But as President Washington noted in his farewell address, a strong government, not a weak one, was the “main pillar…of your tranquility at home; your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty which you so highly prize.”

However, the true story of the Whiskey Rebellion lies elsewhere, namely in the frontier. The U.S. government was never able to collect the Whiskey Tax on the frontier. In fact, it hardly tried. In fact, the Whiskey Rebellion, by and large, was mostly a non-violent tax protest. People just refused to pay it. Eventually, Hamilton and his fellow Federalists lost power and all excise taxes were repealed.

Here’s more on the Whiskey Rebellion from Murray Rothbard at LewRockwell.com:

The Whiskey Rebellion has long been known to historians, but recent studies have shown that its true nature and importance have been distorted by friend and foe alike. The Official View of the Whiskey Rebellion is that four counties of western Pennsylvania refused to pay an excise tax on whiskey that had been levied by proposal of the Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton in the Spring of 1791, as part of his excise tax proposal for federal assumption of the public debts of the several states.

Western Pennsylvanians failed to pay the tax, this view says, until protests, demonstrations, and some roughing up of tax collectors in western Pennsylvania caused President Washington to call up a 13,000-man army in the summer and fall of 1794 to suppress the insurrection. A localized but dramatic challenge to federal tax-levying authority had been met and defeated. The forces of federal law and order were safe.

This Official View turns out to be dead wrong…

(See the rest at LewRockwell.com)

Dystopian Visions: Orwell vs. Huxley?

Orwell vs. Huxley: Whose Dystopian Vision was Correct?

Orwell vs. Huxley: Whose Dystopian Vision was Correct?
Description: Aldous Huxley
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Aldous Huxley and George Orwell were two of the great prognosticators of the last century. Both men feared dystopian tyranny, albeit via different methods. At this point in history, who looks more correct?

In Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, citizens are controlled by placating them. In Orwell’s 1984, the government controls citizens via constant oppression and mass surveillance. Both dystopian visions are fearful and ring true in today’s world although I’d give the slight edge to Huxley. Here’s a good summary on the competing dystopian visions from Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared we would become a captive audience. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

(Read the rest via Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)

Who was America’s Greatest President?

Was John Tyler the Greatest President in U.S. History?

Was John Tyler the Greatest President in U.S. History?
Source: Wikimedia Commons

So, today is President’s Day, the day when Americans honor the institution of the presidency and ask that time honored question: “Who is America’s greatest President?” Really? What a waste of time. It reminds me of the classic kid/parent argument:

Kid: “Why is there a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but not a Kid’s Day?”

Mom & Dad: “Because everyday is Kid’s Day.”

Do we really need to give high-ranking politicians their own holiday? Good lord, no. I prefer to celebrate a different type of president today, namely entrepreneurs like Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs.

But since the rest of the country is debating the likes of Lincoln and Washington, we might as well add our two cents to the issue. So, who is America’s greatest president? Regardless of political affiliation, scholars almost always rank Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as America’s three greatest presidents in no particular order.

That means they’re the greatest right? It depends on how you define “great.” Here’s a different view from Lew Rockwell at LewRockwell.com.

There have been four huge surveys taken of historians’ views on the presidents: in 1948, in 1962, in 1970, and in 1983. Historians were asked to rank presidents as Great, Near Great, Average, Below Average, and Failure. In every case, number one is Lincoln, the mass murderer and military dictator who is the real father of the present nation. His term was a model of every despot’s dream: spending money without Congressional approval, declaring martial law, arbitrarily arresting thousands and holding them without trial, suppressing free speech and the free press, handing out lucrative war contracts to his cronies, raising taxes, inflating the currency, and killing hundreds of thousands for the crime of desiring self-government. These are just the sort of actions historians love…

Most historians value power accumulation when ranking the greatest presidents. Charisma and crisis confrontation are also considered important. Practically no one values minimal government or the ability to avoid crises. And yet some presidents did fairly well in these areas. These libertarian-type presidents were usually dull and didn’t spend years fighting wars or recessions. Instead, their terms were marked by peace, prosperity, and the respecting of individual liberties. Their ranks include Grover Cleveland as well as Rutherford B. Hayes. Using this definition of greatness (peace, prosperity, and the respecting of individual liberties), the greatest president of all time just might be the little-known John Tyler:

John Tyler was the 10th President of the United States. He was known as “His Accidency,” on account of the fact that he took over after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death. Most of his cabinet resigned during his term and his own party expelled him from its membership. According to Wikipedia, an aggregate of various scholarly polls rate Tyler as one of the worst presidents of all time. Heck, even the extremely controversial George W. Bush outranks him. Who would possibly consider President John Tyler #1?

(See the rest right here at Guerrilla Explorer)

The Comics Code: Tyranny Based on Lies?

Cover of "This Magazine is Haunted" (# 5): A typical example of horror comics that led to the War on Comics & the Comics Code

Cover of “This Magazine is Haunted” (# 5): A typical example of horror comics that led to the War on Comics & the Comics Code
Attribution: Cover by Sheldon Moldoff
Source: Wikimedia Commons

New findings shows the research that lauched the War on Comics and the Comics Code was based on omissions, fabrications, and outright lies. That’s right, Dr. Fredric Wertham was the comics equivalent of Mike Bellesiles. We like to think of scientists and academics as impartial experts, who are only concerned with knowledge. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s more on the faulty foundations for the Comics Code by Dusty Rhodes at the University of Illinois:

Behavioral problems among teenagers and preteens can be blamed on the violence, sex and gore portrayed in the media marketed to them – that was the topic of televised public hearings held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954 to address the scourge of comic books. The hearings, which resulted in the decimation of what was an enormous comic book industry, had been inspired in large part by the book “Seduction of the Innocent,” by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, based on his own case studies.

Wertham’s personal archives, however, show that the doctor revised children’s ages, distorted their quotes, omitted other causal factors and in general “played fast and loose with the data he gathered on comics,” according to an article by Carol Tilley, published in a recent issue of Information and Culture: A Journal of History.

“Lots of people have suspected for years that Wertham fudged his so-called clinical evidence in arguing against comics, but there’s been no proof,” Tilley said. “My research is the first definitive indication that he misrepresented and altered children’s own words about comics.”

(See the rest at the University of Illinois)

Does America need the Constitution?

The First Page of the Constitution of the United States

The First Page of the Constitution of the United States
Source: Wikimedia Commons

No, according to Louis Michael Seidman. He wants to keep the government but toss the Constitution, arguing that it was written by a very specific set of people from a very different time period. So, rather than debate the merits of an issue, we debate what people who died a long time ago would’ve thought about it. He also makes the very good point that we shouldn’t depend on the Constitution to secure our natural rights like freedom of speech.

The issue with the U.S. Constitution (and really any written document) is that it can be tortured to mean just about anything. And since government has a natural tendency to grab power, politicians can easily interpret the Constitution in order to do so (case examples: the Commerce and the Necessary and Proper Clauses).

As a restraint on government, the Constitution has proven remarkably ineffective. Then again, it’s not clear to me that a U.S. government without the Constitution would be much better. Here’s more from an interview with Seidman, conducted by Amy Crawford at Smithsonian Magazine:

What would we gain by giving up constitutional obligations?

It would improve deliberation and rhetoric about issues that divide us—gun control, for example. Now, to the horror of most of my friends, I am actually quite skeptical about gun control. But that’s a subject on which reasonable people can disagree. But what happens when you start thinking about constitutional obligations? All of the sudden the argument is not, “How are you going to enforce this? Would it actually prevent violence? Would it cause more violence?” The argument is about, “What exactly did the word ‘militia’ mean 200 years ago? What is the relationship between the ‘bear arms’ clause in the English Bill of Rights and the American Bill of Rights?”

Those are questions that historians ought to have some interest in, but they’re completely irrelevant to the issue of gun control in 21st century America. Without enlightening us, arguments of constitutionalism unnecessarily divide us. Now, all of the sudden, instead of talking about a policy decision that reasonable people could disagree about, we’re talking about whether one’s opponent is really an American, whether they are violating the document that defines us and creates us as a nation.

(See the rest at Smithsonian Magazine:

Unschooling: The Truth about College?

Is Unschooling Superior to Horace Mann's system of Public Schooling?

Is Unschooling Superior to Horace Mann’s system of Public Schooling?
Description: Horace Mann: Father of the Public School System
Attribution: Southworth & Hawes (1850)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Confession: In my youth, I considered school a massive waste of time. As an adult, I feel exactly the same way. School didn’t prepare me for the real world. If anything, it dulled my creativity, tempered my love for learning, and caused me to hide the most interesting parts of myself in order to avoid being an outcast. Hence, I find the idea of unschooling, or encouraging kids to learn through natural interaction with the world, quite interesting.

Americans love their schools however. Out of 56 million kids, just 1.5 million are educated outside of a traditional school. And the vast majority of those kids are homeschooled using the same curriculum and textbooks. It’s believed just 100,000 kids are unschooled.

It’s good to see people starting to challenge the education system, even if it’s just at the college level. For many people (perhaps all people), college is an enormous waste of time and money. Now, we just need a little more attention paid to unschooling. Here’s more from John Tamny at Forbes:

Whether the ambition is to become an investment banker or a Starbucks barista, the dirty little secret is that nothing learned during the four (or five) fun-filled years on idyllic campuses has anything to do with either form of employment. That four years of English Lit or finance courses wouldn’t be required to work behind the counter at Grumpy’s is obvious, but it’s also the case that what’s learned in those finance classes is not necessary if your desire is to thrive at Goldman Sachs either.

To believe otherwise is to believe that someone (the college professor) who for the most part lacks any background in the real-world application of finance could transfer skills to those who desire that real-world knowledge. Lots of luck there. If Wall Street is your goal, major in whatever interests you. Ultimately the top financial firms are looking for “good athletes”; as in people who are smart and who work hard. Anything you need to know you’ll learn on the job.

(See the rest at Forbes)

Police State: Why are Feds Stockpiling Ammo?

Is the U.S. a Police State?

Is the U.S. a Police State?
Description: Dame Wales confronts riot police
Attribution: Joseph Morewood Staniforth (1898)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

While the U.S. government works to disarm its citizens, bureaucrats are stockpiling ammo. Lots and lots of ammo. But no worries. You can trust the police state. Here’s more from Andrew Malcolm at Investors.com:

In a puzzling, unexplained development, the Obama administration has been buying and storing vast amounts of ammunition in recent months, with the Department of Homeland Security just placing another order for an additional 21.6 million rounds…

…DHS has been silent about its need for numerous orders of bullets in the multiple millions. Indeed, Examiner writer Ryan Keller points out Janet Napolitano’s agency illegally redacted information from some ammunition solicitation forms following media inquiries.

According to one estimate, just since last spring DHS has stockpiled more than 1.6 billion bullets, mainly .40 caliber and 9mm. That’s sufficient firepower to shoot every American about five times. Including illegal immigrants. To provide some perspective, experts estimate that at the peak of the Iraq war American troops were firing around 5.5 million rounds per month. At that rate, DHS is armed now for a 24-year Iraq war.

(See the rest at Investors.com)

Police State Update: Do Police Officers Lie?

Police State Update: Do Police Officers Lie?

Police State Update: Do Police Officers Lie?
Description: Dame Wales confronts riot police
Attribution: Joseph Morewood Staniforth (1898)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Police officers are widely viewed as honest public servants. Unfortunately, it turns out they lie under oath, possibly on a massive scale. Yes indeed, the police state is alive and well in the United States. Why do police lie you may ask? Simple. First, they can get away with it. And second, they’re rewarded for it. Here’s more on the rising American police state from the New York Times:

…Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner, wrote an article in The San Francisco Chronicle decrying a police culture that treats lying as the norm: “Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath. It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.”

The New York City Police Department is not exempt from this critique. In 2011, hundreds of drug cases were dismissed after several police officers were accused of mishandling evidence. That year, Justice Gustin L. Reichbach of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn condemned a widespread culture of lying and corruption in the department’s drug enforcement units. “I thought I was not naïve,” he said when announcing a guilty verdict involving a police detective who had planted crack cocaine on a pair of suspects. “But even this court was shocked, not only by the seeming pervasive scope of misconduct but even more distressingly by the seeming casualness by which such conduct is employed.”

(See the rest at the New York Times)

War on the Federal Reserve?

"Federal Reserve Board with bankers.

“Federal Reserve Board with bankers. Front: Warburg; Williams; Hamlin; Delano. In rear is large group of governors and bankers.” (1914)
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The Federal Reserve is no good. Its money monopoly has wrecked havoc for 100 years. So, I welcome currency competition from Virginia, although I’d prefer it came from the free market. That said, the Federal Reserve will continue to dominate as long as legal tender laws are in full effect. Here’s more on the war on the Federal Reserve from Fox News:

Virginia is one step closer to breaking ties with the country’s monetary system.

A proposal to study whether the state should adopt its own currency is gaining traction in the state legislature from a number of lawmakers as well as conservative economists. The state House voted 65-32 earlier this week to approve the measure, and it will now go to the Senate.

While it’s unlikely that Virginia will be printing its own money any time soon, the move sheds light on the growing distrust surrounding the nation’s central bank. Four other states are considering similar proposals. In 2011, Utah passed a law that recognizes gold and silver coins issued by the federal government as tender and requires a study on adopting other forms of legal currency.

Virginia Republican Del. Robert Marshall told FoxNews.com Tuesday that his bill calls for creation of a 10-member commission that would determine the “need, means and schedule for establishing a metallic-based monetary unit.” Essentially, he wants to spend $20,000 on a study that could call for the state to return to a gold standard…

(See the rest at Fox News)

How well does Congress reflect the People it “serves”?

Federal Hall, where the First Congress met in 1789

Description: Federal Hall, where the First Congress met in 1789
Attribution: Steel engraving by Robert Hinshelwood (1855-1859)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

How well does Congress reflect the people it “serves” (“rules” might be a better word)? Not very well, it turns out. How else could lawyers make up 37% of the U.S. Congress, both now and in 1789? Not to pick on lawyers either…out of the 209 “businesspeople” in Congress, how many do you think are clerks, bakers, entrepreneurs, electricians, etc.? I’m guessing the answer is a big fat zero. So much for James Madison’s dream of the House of Representatives being a lower house for “the people.” Here’s more from Constitution Daily:

With that in mind, the staff of Constitution Daily compiled a comparison between the First U.S. Congress and the current one, looking at the occupational breakdown between their members. The results were, in some ways, predictable, but there were still a few surprises. (Who knew there was a comedian among their ranks?)…

Although the First Congress had a limited variety of professions, the general make up of both are relatively similar. As you can see, from the time the First Congress met, law has been a top profession; in both bodies, about 37 percent of the members are lawyers. It makes sense–the people writing the laws need to have a deep understanding of how the legal system works. But do lawyers make the best politicians?

(See the rest including the breakdown at Constitution Daily)