Shays' Rebellion , 1786–87, an uprising of debt-ridden farmers in western Massachusetts. It reflected the widespread discontent during the depression that followed the Revolutionary War, particularly the antagonism between debtors and creditors. Although the rebellion was put down, many grievances eventually were redressed. The rebellion also helped to pave the way for the U.S. Constitution by demonstrating the need for a strong central government, which could suppress such uprisings and could also remedy the economic causes.
Massachusetts was the state most seriously affected by the postwar economic crisis. Many farmers and small property owners were losing their land and being threatened with jail for nonpayment of debts and taxes. They demanded reduction of taxes, court reforms, and revision of the state constitution. Some called for a large quantity of paper money to be issued to make debt payment easier. When their pleas were ignored by the legislature, mobs of farmers attempted to prevent courts from hearing debt cases.
In September, 1786, about 500 insurgents, led by Daniel Shays (1747–1825), a destitute farmer and former army captain, gathered at Springfield and forced the Massachusetts supreme court to adjourn. They were declared outlaws by Governor James Bowdoin. In January, 1787, Shays and some 1,200 men marched on Springfield to seize the federal arsenal. The poorly armed rebels were driven off by the militia and were pursued by a large force under General Benjamin Lincoln. The rebellion was soon crushed. Shays fled to Vermont.
Ultimately all involved were granted amnesty. A newly elected legislature enacted laws to reform taxation, lower court fees, and exempt household goods and workmen's tools from the debt process.