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Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle [Paperback]

by Leonard L. Richards
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 5, 2003 0812218701 978-0812218701

During the bitter winter of 1786-87, Daniel Shays, a modest farmer and Revolutionary War veteran, and his compatriot Luke Day led an unsuccessful armed rebellion against the state of Massachusetts. Their desperate struggle was fueled by the injustice of a regressive tax system and a conservative state government that seemed no better than British colonial rule. But despite the immediate failure of this local call-to-arms in the Massachusetts countryside, the event fundamentally altered the course of American history. Shays and his army of four thousand rebels so shocked the young nation's governing elite—even drawing the retired General George Washington back into the service of his country—that ultimately the Articles of Confederation were discarded in favor of a new constitution, the very document that has guided the nation for more than two hundred years, and brought closure to the American Revolution.

The importance of Shays's Rebellion has never been fully appreciated, chiefly because Shays and his followers have always been viewed as a small group of poor farmers and debtors protesting local civil authority. In Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle, Leonard Richards reveals that this perception is misleading, that the rebellion was much more widespread than previously thought, and that the participants and their supporters actually represented whole communities—the wealthy and the poor, the influential and the weak, even members of some of the best Massachusetts families.

Through careful examination of contemporary records, including a long-neglected but invaluable list of the participants, Richards provides a clear picture of the insurgency, capturing the spirit of the rebellion, the reasons for the revolt, and its long-term impact on the participants, the state of Massachusetts, and the nation as a whole. Shays's Rebellion, though seemingly a local affair, was the revolution that gave rise to modern American democracy.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

American history books have long insisted that Shay's Rebellion (1786-1787) the Massachusetts insurrection that pulled George Washington out of retirement and ultimately sped the revision and ratification of the Constitution was an uprising of poor, indebted farmers. University of Massachusetts Amherst history professor Leonard L. Richards begs to differ. In his Shay's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle, Richards investigates the identities of the rebels and argues that they were generally not poor at all, and that scholars have misunderstood the causes of this pivotal revolt.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A carefully argued and spiritedly told account."—Boston Globe

"Serves a valuable purpose by fleshing out a crucial period when the fate of the American democratic experiment hung in the balance."—American History

"Recommended for all library collections at every level."—Choice

Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (August 5, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812218701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812218701
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #641,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Six stars!! May 13, 2006
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Richards' book on the Shays's Rebellion (or the "Regulation", as the rebels referred to it) is absolutely first rate. Six stars!

During the course of other research in the Massachusetts state archives, Richards came across a list of 4000 people who, upon participating in and losing the Shays Rebellion, had signed an oath of loyalty to the state of Massachusetts in order to be given clemency. Apparently, this list was in barely legible handwriting and had never been translated. The amazing breakthrough came when Richards decided to take this list, decipher the names, and find out who all the participants were, person by person. What he produces is a tremendously revealing and much more accurate account of the rebellion.

Through what must have been months of painstaking, dogged research Richards attempts to prove that we, today, have many misconceptions about the rebellion. Particularly, Richards makes a point that the rebels were more upset by very understandable abuses by the Boston-centered Massachusetts state government than by poverty. He also shows that the most important factor in recruiting rebels was their clan association. People joined almost exclusively as part of a clan, and this explains why some towns had widespread participation and others had minimal. He does a great job of fleshing out who the leaders and opponents were. A true local history project.

Richards also does a nice job of relating how the rebellion fit in with the national movement to form a stronger union among the states. This occurred in Philadelphia the next year at the Constitutional Convention. The rebellion played a very important part in our history that many today do not fully appreciate, and Richards does a fantastic job of putting it all together.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shay's Rebellion Revisited March 9, 2006
Do you hold dear, the Constitution of the United States? If you do, then you can thank the farmers involved in the Shay's Rebellion. This pivotal piece of early American history has been revisited by Professor Leonard L. Richards of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, in his book SHAY'S REBELLION: THE AMERICAN REVOLUTIONS FINAL BATTLE, and has brilliantly clarified some of the misconceptions revolving around the event, particularly its cause.

In previous popular belief, it has been widely held that the farmers revolted due to their being dragged into a global market, which forced them into debt. This rather simplistic view misses many crucial elements, to which Dr. Richards superbly lends enlightment. The principle causes ran much deeper than that. Primarily, the farmers were being overtaxed and forced to pay creditors at the benefit of Revolutionary War bondholders, who were typically, either members of the Massachusetts Legislature or closely related to someone who was.

Ultimately, their revolt ended up helping in the ratification of the Constitution that we enjoy today. Richard's book also gives a slant contrary to popular thought, that the farmers of the Shay's Rebellion did in fact gain victory. Though they opposed the Constitution and their rebellion was squashed, it did result in substantial tax relief from the legislature.

I was also delighted to find a cameo appearance in the book of Mumbet, aka Elizabeth Freeman, the slave who sued for her freedom. Upon the outcome of her successful lawsuit, all slaves in Massachusetts were emancipated. Her story appears in Richard's book for her part in protecting from the Regulators, the valuables of Theodore Sedgwick, for whom she worked and had also served as her legal counsel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Exactly as expected April 8, 2013
By E.Dusty
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Used this for research on a history paper and it was very informative and interesting.Tone was intelligent and quite insightful.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Almost, but not quite October 29, 2012
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The author' thesis that middle class families not poor indebted farmers lead Shay's Rebellion and that it was a continuation of the American Revolution of rural middle class attempting to topple the Eastern Seaboard elite is well proved. I wish he had given more space to Gen. Lincoln's army (rather the Gen. Lincoln) who paid for it and who participated in it. Had he the reader would have had a complete understanding of the people and forces that made up this critical event which produced the US Constituton.
Well worth the reading.
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