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Shays's Rebellion and Popular Protest
How do you determine when a revolution is over? When the fighting is done there are several, often competing, points of view or goals that spurred the revolutionaries to action. What happens when the revolution has not achieved its goals for everyone and how can those who disagree express their dissent? The case study of the Massachusetts Regulation illustrates how popular dissent was influenced by the rhetoric of the revolution and interpreted by citizens who viewed themselves as "the body of the people." But some political leaders not only criticized popular dissent but used this unrest to promote a stronger federal government. By rebranding the Massachusetts Regulation as Shays’s Rebellion, these politicians moved to tame the discourse of the Revolution and control popular dissent. The Revolution was over and the only legitimate voice of "the body of the people" was now to be expressed by elected officials within the halls of a new, stronger national government.

Missed the past articles in this series? Click below to catch up!

Does the Second Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights protect a "right to insurrection" wherein armed protestors or regulators can check the government without dissolving it outright? An extended examination of events that influenced political and popular opinion before and after the American Revolution provides a better understanding of how the Founders and "the people" viewed actions against government from regulation to revolution to rebellion. This first article uses case studies from North Carolina and the New Hampshire Grants to examine the patterns and actions of popular dissent that were used by the people to regulate government before the American Revolution.


Americans idealized the militia as protectors of liberty and guardians of the citizens during the revolution but as the country grew, the general militias proved too unwieldy and disorganized to maintain. The state governments increasingly favored volunteer or select militias who advocated for federalization which led to the development of the National Guard. Several of the country’s Founders thought a select militia training system was unavoidable but the National Guard is far more federalized than the reforms proposed by George Washington and Henry Knox and directly challenges the balance of power between state and federal governments. How did the National Guard effectively replace the general militia?


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