My name is John Tremney. I was born in 1760 in Pennsylvania, Washington USA. I began working with the American government as a tax collector in 1788, one year before the federal government replaced the Articles of Confederation. I was to be promoted from a junior tax collector to a senior position in ensuring that taxes were remitted in time after five years of working in the US tax department. As junior officers, we were required to move around on horses and collect taxes from citizens.
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Promotion for junior officers in the tax department had been delayed in 1792 following the introduction of plans to have reviews for the taxes implemented in the previous year. It was the work of junior officers to move around and paste documents on buildings and other places to communicate to the citizens about the changes. Among the changes in the tax policy required that spirits distillers pay taxes to impose social discipline on the citizens (Morrison & Samuel, 182) although there were arguments that Hamilton, the Treasury Secretary of the new federal government had wanted to use the additional funds to service the national debt. The tax was for power advancement and securing of the new government (Graetz; Michael; Schenk, & Deborah). The large producer of spirits, including the then-president George Washington, would pay a flat rate while smaller distillers would pay by the gallon hence were more disadvantaged. As a result of poor roads, lack of money and being far from the market, Western farmers found it better to ferment and distill in portable quantities than take the grain to the market. One of the better goods for the western farmers in the times was whiskey.
There was resistance to the tax proposals on the basis of unfairness and discrimination by the Western farmers who had processed a lot of their grain for liquor. Their resistance and deviance were because the proposals affected not only the whiskey sellers but also them. Protests which were violent took place in North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland (“What is the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794?”) and tax collectors were harassed by the “Whiskey Boys”. Things were not very easy for me and other tax collectors as under such conditions of rebellion, people had formed a hatred attitude towards us.
This rebellion was not a minor one considering that it went on for some time. It was an organized criminal activity. The Whiskey Rebellion had “Tom the Tinker” who championed the idea that discouraged those who paid taxes also as their leader in the early 1790s. His men (“Tom the Tinker’s men”) ensured the carrying out of his threats. One day during the summer of 1795 while I was riding home from present-day South Park Township where we had spent the night in the offices with the senior officers reviewing the lists to determine those who had not remitted taxes and would be charged later on by the federal government, I heard the first shots five kilometers further and it emerged that armed rebellion was emerging from a civil rebellion. People robbed mails, assaulted one tax collector who had his hair cropped and had tar and feathers smeared at him and his horse snatched away and would stop court proceedings. There was fear among the tax collectors me included because of the intimidation and threats. It was not possible to work during the day in some places for us because of the demonstrators.
This was not the first Rebellion in the Unite States’ history. It prompted Washington, the then president, due to the previous event of Shays’ Rebellion to have federal marshals order those protesting tax payments, through the court order to appear before the federal district court. Pennsylvania militias (composed of also people from Virginia) and other states were not summoned after there was an invocation of martial law by the president on 7 August 1794 (Barksdale, 5-32). It was the second time for a president to command the military while on the field in person.
In October 1794, an army of 12950 went to the west of Pennsylvania to fight the protestors-the first instance in history where the army was used against the citizens. Phillip Vigol was one of the two men sentenced to death for treason but let free for reasons of insanity and simpleton (“United States v. Vigol”) while the other one died. To some of us as the tax collectors, it was good because we were on the side of being attacked, and if the protestors had been silenced, it would have been better. Also, the idea would not have sounded bad to those who were victims of such attacks.
Although the Americans were encouraged to change laws peacefully by the means of the constitution by the operation of the army, whiskey production on a small scale by Kentucky and Tennessee producers was encouraged. People were encouraged to turn to the Democratic-Republican Party from the Federalist Party and John Swanwick won on a Democratic-Republican ticket in the congressional elections of Philadelphia in 1794. As tax collectors, we were never able to enforce the change outside western Pennsylvania and the tax was repealed in 1803 (“The Free Market”). The results to such a decision to tax the whiskey in a discriminatory manner should not have occurred although a punch on all brewers was necessary not to ensure that the federal government achieved power advancement enforcement and securing, but more so as a way to correct social behavior. However, it needed not to be discriminatory.
In addition to being a lesson for those who were freed by the assistance of Washington, it must have been a lesson to others including those that were directly affected. To me, it was a lesson to always be careful in matters that would anger people to cause them to attack me bearing in mind that security for individuals victimized could never have achieved total security coverage from the government.
Morrison, & Samuel E. Oxford History of the United States 1778-1917, (1927).182.
Graetz, Michael J.; Schenk, & Deborah H. Federal Income Taxation: Principles and Policies. New York: Foundation Press, 4, 2005.
United States v. Vigol, 29 Fed. Cas. 376 (No. 16621) (C.C.D. Pa. 1795).
“What is the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794?” essortment.com. Web.
Barksdale Kevin. “Our Rebellion Neighbors: Virginia Border Counties During Pennsylvania’s Whiskey Rebellion”. An Abstract. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.111-1. (2003) 5-32.
“The Free Market”. Web.