- Historic Sites
101 More Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History
You Asked for It
December 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 8
1794. When Congress enacted a stiff excise tax on whiskey in 1791, farmers in western Pennsylvania were especially hard hit. They were accustomed to turn their surplus grain into whiskey, which was much easier to store and ship to market than grain itself. When the farmers organized protest meetings and prevented the collection of the tax, President Washington announced that their actions “amount to treason” and ordered them to disperse. When they did not, he called up thirteen thousand militiamen (more men than he had ever commanded during the Revolution) and marched against them. Faced with this overwhelming force, the protesters submitted. Thomas Jefferson, who was popular throughout the West, had the tax repealed after he became President in 1801.
49 Dorr’s Rebellion,
1841–42. Long after the Revolution, Rhode Island continued to function under a charter dating from the seventeenth century that restricted the suffrage to substantial landowners and their eldest sons. More than half the adult male population (and all the women) did not have the right to vote. When the legislature refused to remedy this situation, a People’s party led by Thomas W. Dorr, a well-to-do lawyer, drafted a constitution and submitted it to a popular vote. It was overwhelmingly approved, and the People’s party then elected Dorr governor. Of course, the existing government did not recognize these actions. The legal governor proclaimed martial law and sent militia units against the Dorrites. Dorr surrendered and was convicted of treason. He was sentenced to life imprisonment but released a year later.
50 Antirent War,
1839–46. A protest movement occasioned by the attempt of Hudson Valley landlords to collect what amounted to feudal dues based on “leases” dating from the colonial period. In 1839, after the death of Stephen Van Rensselaer III, who owned about three thousand farms and was “owed” some four hundred thousand dollars in back rents, his heirs attempted to collect these debts. Van Rensselaer had been lax about these obligations, and the tenants resorted to violence to prevent foreclosures. The New York State militia was called out, and order was restored. In 1844 a legislative committee decided that the Van Rensselaer titles were legal. This caused farmers, disguised as Indians, to riot again. After a sheriff had been killed by the antirenters, martial law was again declared, and order restored. Finally, in 1846, a new state constitution put an end to the old tenures, and eventually the tenants obtained title to their farms.
A plea by Benjamin Franklin for colonial unity against the French, this 1754 woodcut from the Pennsylvania Gazette may have been the first cartoon to appear in an American newspaper.
The gerrymander entered the political bestiary in 1812 via this cartoon decrying partisan district apportionment in Massachusetts under Gov. Elbridge Gerry.
In 1931, the year this PulitzerPrize-winning cartoon by John T. McCutcheon appeared, more than two thousand banks failed and unemployment reached eight million.
This 1936 cartoon by C. D. Batchelor reflected the isolationist sentiment of the time. By 1937, when the Nazis were arming, Japan had invaded China, and the Spanish Civil War had erupted. In March 1937 a poll showed that 94 percent of the people opposed American involvement in any war.
Daniel Fitzpatrick’s prophetic 1955 cartoon depicted the United States advancing toward a heart of darkness.
THINGS THEY DIDN’T SAY 56 “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”
There is no record that Miles Standish asked John Alden to propose to Priscilla Mullens or any other female Pilgrim in his behalf, and since John and Priscilla may have been married as early as 1621, the story told by Longfellow in “The Courtship of Miles Standish” is no doubt an example of poetic license.
57 “I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to every one of my other generals.”
Lincoln was supposed to have said this to a delegation of politicians who had complained to him of Grant’s drinking. Lincoln, however, denied having made the remark, saying, “That would have been very good if 1 had said it,” and on another occasion: “No, I didn’t happen to say it—but it’s a good story, a hardy perennial. I’ve traced that story as far back as George 11 and General Wolfe. When certain persons complained to George that Wolfe was mad, George said, ’I wish he’d bite some of the others!’ ”
58 “Fighting Joe,”