A Student of History

July 4, 2006

Why the Whiskey Rebellion Is Worth Recalling Now

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 11:43 am

 

At the History News Network there is an article entitled “Why the Whiskey Rebellion Is Worth Recalling Now,” here.  It is by the author of a new book on this topic, which frankly I found to be something of a disappointment.  It smacks of being too dramatic, written not by an historian but a journalist who creates a set piece drama building to a crescendo which of course, as in most cases like this, becomes inevitable.  The writing style is too breezy for me.  I am more of a fan of Thomas Slaughter’s book on the Whiskey Rebellion.  However, the HNN piece makes for interesting reading.  It starts out:

The conflict in Iraq has inspired a strange-bedfellow alliance, opposing the Bush administration’s war policy with bold words about peace, liberty, and American history. Antiwar.com, a forum embracing right-wing libertarians, leftist doves and many in between — it claims 100,000 visitors a day — describes as “paramount” a relationship between freedom and non-intervention, which, it says, “helped forge the foundation of this nation.”

That view of founding history, explicitly drawn from classic America-first isolationism, ignores strong tendencies toward militarism and authoritarianism in the founding itself — tendencies that throw a genuinely revealing light, and possibly also a distressing one, on our current debates about war and freedom.

Of course, the author (William Hogeland) refers to the WR.  Hogeland has a much longer article on this topic at LewRockwell.com, a libertarian web, in which he writes:

Still, the rebellion and its suppression were not ultimately about booze. They were about the nature and purpose of federal taxation, about government involvement in finance and monetary policy, and about the relationship between democratic republicanism and markets. (Hence their longstanding interest for libertarians.) The “whiskey rebels” had a nuanced grasp of such issues. So did Alexander Hamilton. Modern historians of the founding and federal eras, however, as well as many biographers of Hamilton and Washington, tend not to. In large part they’ve treated the rebellion as a chaotic overreaction, by rural enthusiasts of drinking and abominators of domestic taxation, to a duty that placed new costs on the consumption of a beloved beverage.

Reading both articles will save one the time of the whole book of Hogeland’s, which I recommend.  Hogeland has a website too on this subject. However, in fairness to Mr. Hogeland, there’s a lot of praise for the book including these blurbs:

“From the Pennsylvania frontier to Alexander Hamilton’s maneuverings at the highest levels of government, Hogeland tells a good tale. … renderings of Washington and Hamilton, as well as local figures, make the great men seem all too human.”
–Jon Meacham, author of American Gospel; Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A great read — and an intelligent, insightful, and bold look at an overlooked but vital incident in American history.”
–Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row

“This is the most compelling and dramatically rendered story of the Whiskey Rebellion ever written. It is so riveting that one almost imagines being on the Pennsylvania frontier when the benighted farmers resisted the federal government and tried to cope with the huge army sent west to bludgeon them into submission. Hogeland unravels complex economic issues, shifting political ideologies, and legal maneuverings with uncommon skill, and he has brought to life in beautifully polished prose a cast of characters: insurgent farmers wearing blackface, religious mystics, radical intellectuals, stiff-necked financiers, land speculators, and — of course — Hamilton, Washington, and other iconic figures of the revolutionary era who heaped wrath on the hardscrabble inheritors of revolutionary radicalism. Every American who values the history of how liberty and authority have stood in dynamic tension throughout the last three centuries should read this luminous book.”
— Gary Nash, Professor Emeritus of History, UCLA; Director, National Center for History in the Schools

“Captures the drama, danger and importance of the period.”
Pittsburgh Sunday Post-Gazette

“A fast-paced , blow-by-blow account … judicious, spirited, lucid … a perceptive parable about the pursuit of political plans no matter what the cost to the nation’s unity.”
Publishers Weekly

“Vigorous, revealing… invites critical reconsideration of a founding father or two.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Important history, carefully researched and written with verve. … Vivid, lively, colorful.”
BookPage

“Provocative … he knows how to tell an exciting story.”
Booklist

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