There are times when one might ask himself how much President Obama truly knows with respect to American history. In 2011, Obama scheduled his State of the Union speech for January 25th. That date (01/25) is the anniversary of a failed attack in 1787 on the federal Springfield Armory, carried out by a group of armed farmers hailing from a number of towns in western Massachusetts – among them Pittsfield and Great Barrington. The attack was a result of governmental confiscation policies.
Prior to the attack, the Sheffield Declaration, also known as the Sheffield Resolves, was published on January 12, 1773. Intended as a petition opposing British tyranny, and a manifesto stating individual rights, Sheffield foreshadowed Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, which throughout the document calls for the rights of the colonists to safeguard what was theirs. Within the text of his address, Obama’s comments about the role of government paralleled much of what is found in both the Sheffield Declaration and the social redresses reflected in Shay’s Rebellion.
What exactly was the motivation for followers of such individuals as Daniel Shay, who were willing to face bullets, hanging or exile? Simply stated, they sought control of their own property, in addition to controlling a failed monetary system.
The majority of those who inhabited New England during colonial days came from British, Puritan and Scotch-Irish bloodlines. Separated from Mother England and her king by the Atlantic Ocean, colonists were denied seats in Parliament, most of which were claimed by either the Crown or rich royalists. Looked down upon by Parliament as the country’s lowest-class subjects, the colonists sensed they were under strong domination by England.
An army was approved by the Continental Congress, to be composed of 232,000 troops. Massachusetts sent 68,000 of her sons, and Virginia with 27,000. Most of these volunteers were farmers by trade. Congress promised each enlisted soldier $6 per month in pay and land at war’s end. Officers would receive half their pensions as lifetime pay. Unfortunately, the government’s paper money proved invaluable and it would be a number of years before pensions were actually received.
John Locke, an English philosopher, was a radical advocate of the fact man was, by nature, free of kingship. Locke emphasized the purpose of both rebellion and government to be the protection of an individual’s “property”. Numbered among his students were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and those patriots who penned the Sheffield Declaration.
If one thinks of the idea of liberty and freedom regarding the American Revolution in the form of a car, then property rights can easily be the key which starts it. The colonists despised the British due to the way imposed taxes attacked their property rights, and the fact they were denied representation in Parliament. Though the colonists could stew over the situation and boycott in retaliation; there was little else available to them in the form of protest.
As far as voting was concerned, to participate, an individual had to be an adult male whose property value was in excess of £20. Those males who lived on their fathers’ lands or worked for someone else as hired help were disqualified; as were women and men who were black or Jewish. The Sheffield Declaration sought to help right this wrong. Control of one’s property became the basic tenets of both the Sheffield Declaration and later the Declaration of Independence.
In the beginning, the text of the Constitution of the United States sought to reject a call for states’ rights to outweigh the strength of the federal government. That changed, however, as news of Shay’s Rebellion reached the committee responsible for revising the Articles of Confederation into what would become the Constitution.
When today’s political climate is compared to both Shay’s Rebellion and the Sheffield Declaration, much of what is sought by today’s Tea Party and conservative Republicans, along with a multitude of others, greatly parallels both these events. The protection of private property through the reining in of taxation and controlling the power of the federal government is predominant in all situations.