I’ve been reading about the causes of the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 and discovered that shortly before in 1787 there was a similar tax rebellion in Massachusetts known as Shays’ Rebellion. (Shays’ Rebellion was basically a showdown between the establishment – of which Mrs. Adams is an example – and the rebels who were being forced into bankruptcy by onerous state taxes imposed by Massachusetts.) In my research I came across this gem over at Yahoo Answers: (bad grammar and misspellings are left intact)
“Did Abigail Adams support Shays Rebellion? Provide 2 examples of why or why not.” – ZVXO
Best Answer – Chosen by Voters:
“There is no indication she knew anything about it. THere were few newspapers, no radio, no tv no Internet.There is a possibility that she did not know how to read anyway. It was against the law in many Colonies for women to learn to read. The current Tv programs about her are totally inaccurate. Women back then were completley subservient to their husbands. Whether women today like it or not, it is a fact.” – J&C H
First off, Abigail Adams (who would later become First Lady) was a consumate writer and scores of her letters exist to this day. Secondly, she was a woman of means who speculated in Massachusetts war securities, and this war debt was the reason for the enormous tax increases which led to Shays’ rebellion:
Unlike her husband, who clung to the traditional belief that real estate was the best and most secure investment, Abigail pursued a riskier but potentially far more profitable venture. She instructed her financial representative, Cotton Tufts (who was also her uncle) to purchase as many state-backed Massachusetts securities as he could locate and she could afford. These securities, due to be redeemed with interest by the state in the future, were trading far below their face value. By buying low, Abigail reasoned that she would make a very large profit if Massachusetts made good on its promises to pay the holders of the certificates their original value plus interest. It was a gamble; who knew if the financially-embarrassed government would in fact be able to pay off its creditors? It was a risk Abigail was prepared to take. Cash-strapped Massachusetts citizens, including war veterans, sold the certificates they could not wait to redeem to Adams and other speculators who bought them up for only a fraction of their face value.
In 1786, it seemed that Abigail’s gamble would pay off. That March, the Massachusetts legislature laid the heaviest tax in the history of the state, in part to fund the state-issued certificates, including accrued interest. What Abigail did not anticipate was the response of Massachusetts residents to this enormous tax increase.
If the rebels were successful and Massachusetts couldn’t pay off the debt Mrs. Adams’ securities would be worthless. She loathed the rebels and you can read what she had to say about them in this letter to Thomas Jefferson:
With regard to the tumults in my Native State which you inquire about, I wish I could say that report had exaggerated them, it is too true Sir that they have been carried to so allarming a Height as to stop the courts of justice in several Counties. Ignorant, restless desperadoes, without conscience or principals, have led a deluded multitude to follow their standard, under pretence of grievances which have no existence but in their own imaginations.
So here you have a woman speculating in war bonds and regularly corresponding with Thomas Jefferson yet “JC&H” in his Yahoo Answers post asserts that she was illiterate and “completely subservient to her husband”. Unbelievable.
Ok, rant is over. Check back in the next few days for a “Then And Now” post featuring the last remaining hardware store in town!