Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Wisdom of the People

As I continue to reflect (or have nightmares) about the results of the presidential election, what keeps coming up is that truism one hears all the time: the wisdom of the people. We are told this continually as elections draw near: Democracy puts its trust in the wisdom of the collective, the people together, and it or they can always be trusted. Now the American people have spoken, and their collective wisdom has delivered the most powerful nation in history into the sweaty hands of Donald Trump—a man who has never held public office, a man who has been a huckster (real estate developer) all his life, a man whose training for the office of President amounts to his training in reality TV, a man who expressed shock and a bit of awe when, in his recent meeting with outgoing President Obama, he was given some hint of how very much detail being President of the United States involved. That it was a really big job seems never to have occurred to him; nor, apparently, did it ever occur to him that he would have to replace all the current workers in the West Wing with his own staffers! This emotional/ intellectual adolescent thought he would simply inherit the current staff from Obama. And for his first picks—someone must have told him he’d have to choose his Chief of Staff and a policy advisor—he selected that shining beacon of intelligence Reince Priebus (recently head of the Repugnant National Committee), and for chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the CEO of the slash-and-burn website, Breitbart News. This last appointment is particularly notable, because though Drumpf made no secret of his authoritarian and even fascistic tendencies in the presidential race, many hoped that as president-elect, he’d moderate his style. That he’d try to be the “president of all the people,” rather than the president of the lunatic fringe that elected him. Not a chance. Bannon is an unabashed white nationalist of the so-called “alt-right,” who has attacked even ideologues like Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard (hardly a liberal rag) as “a renegade Jew.” He has been for a long time devoted to positions advocating racial separation on the basis of the most rabid stereotypes. Even Glenn Beck compared Bannon to Hitler’s infamous propagandist, Joseph Goebbels (pretty interesting for a leader of a group that makes no secret of its anti-semitism). As to Breitbart’s manufactured news scandals—like the one that promoted the supposed selling of fetal body parts by Planned Parenthood, or the fake scandal that took down ACORN—see the recent piece by Adele Stans on Alternet (, Aug. 19, 2016) to get an idea of their stock in trade.
            So we come back to the ‘wisdom of the people.’ What do we say about the approximately forty-two percent of women who voted for Drumpf rather than the first female candidate for president ever, Hillary Clinton? Was this their display of wisdom? I heard one of these wise females interviewed recently, and what she said baffled me: “Oh we don’t take those things he said (grabbing women by the pussy) seriously; no one’s perfect; we can see his basic goodness beneath it all.” Good grief. You of the moral majority, you fundamentalist Christians who take the Bible literally, you who weep and wail over the death of aborted ‘persons’ (but not grown-up persons who are starving)—you don’t take the confessions of a serial groper seriously? What, pray, do you take seriously?
            Which is the real question here. What does engage the wisdom of the people, what do they take seriously? Judging by the man they voted for (and white men, in despair over losing jobs and industry in the Rust Belt, voted for a billionaire who said he was on their side?), they don’t take information seriously. They don’t take facts seriously. They don’t take logic seriously. They don’t take consistency seriously. They don’t take experience in government seriously. They don’t take what a candidate actually says seriously. What the hell do they think elections are about? Apparently, they think it’s all about “telling it like it is.” Which is to say, slamming the poor, the weak, the undocumented, the city-dwellers, the ones with different hair or skin color or head-dress or costume or housing or anything that doesn’t conform to the trim, white-fenced way of life they are nostalgic for. And we are supposed to imagine that people who think like this—if they can be said to think at all—are repositories of wisdom and should be taken seriously. Should be relied upon.
            Well, I’m sorry. We’ve tried that one a few times too often recently, and what have we gotten? Morons in the White House. Casual lying and war in the White House. Ronald Reagan, the B-grade actor who knew how to sell refrigerators for GE (though at least he had a stint as Governor to hone his cruelties on) running a secret war with Nicaragua. And George W. Bush, the C-student at Yale who scorned any book-learning that wasn’t a fundamentalist bible, but who had ‘gut feelings’ about the things that mattered—like the WMD allegedly hidden in Iraq. And now, this new moron, Donald Drumpf, who listens only to the sound of his own voice, and sometimes, apparently, to the voice of the racist supremacist Jew-baiter, Steve Bannon.
            And what’s really too bad, is that if the people would only shut up a bit and listen to the real wisdom with which they are endowed, they might actually be trusted. Yes, people really do have innate wisdom. It’s not always easy to access; it’s rarely obvious; and it doesn’t always have to do with their conscious judgment of products or politicians. But if you listen carefully, if they could listen to themselves quietly and without prejudice, they really would, most of them, find the difference between what’s important and what isn’t. What’s real and what isn’t.
            And in fact, the more I think about it, the more it becomes clear that despite the short- term havoc that will surely come of it, this subterranean people’s wisdom actually functioned in the 2016 election. What I mean is this. The outcome of the election really isn’t about Donald’s big win, nor the big win of the Repugnants in the Congress and in State Houses, nor even the blunders of the Democrats. The outcome is about the underlying rage over the capitalist system that has resulted in what Bernie Sanders has recently referred to as the Oligarchy. Which means, simply, that the system is rigged so that those at the top get richer while all the rest get poorer. Those at the top get not only richer, but their wealth grows without their having to do any ‘real’ work other than leave it invested—in contrast to the poor slobs who have to work two jobs to keep up with their mortgage payments, if they still have a mortgage. And with that always growing wealth (unless you’re Drumpf, who has managed to go bankrupt several times) comes always growing political influence—which in turn makes it more inevitable that the wealth will concentrate and grow still more (see Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century). That’s oligarchy: increasing concentration of wealth by the few, and power and political influence by the even fewer. This is almost inevitable in capitalism—as we’ve seen in the so-called ‘recovery’ since the 2008 collapse. Those with money invest and profit from the growth that capitalism needs to survive, which generates more money to invest. Profit is king, and growth is an absolute necessity. And those two things—profit and growth—work in tandem to exploit and degrade and destroy the conditions needed by most people and all other life forms to live.
            This, I believe, is what this election was about. People, even ordinary people, knew in their bones that something was wrong. And the representative of the system that was drowning them was Hillary Clinton—she whom Drumpf accurately described as having been in the system for thirty years, and never changed it. Not quite accurate: she and her husband as President did change it, but the change drove the Democratic party away from its traditional constituency, the working class, and always increasingly towards the moneyed class, Wall Street and the corporate and financial leaders who kept getting richer. That being the case, the sole avenue left for the increasingly desperate workers was towards Drumpf. Even though he himself has always been of the moneyed class? Even so. The only option for anyone who wanted to throw a monkeywrench into the workings of the existing system—even though few would have said that it was capitalism—was to vote for Drumpf. And I have to admit, that I, with my predilections for logic and reason, could not see it. Yes, I did vote in the primaries for Bernie the socialist for precisely the reasons given above: disgust with the capitalist system that appears to me to be rotten to the core and driving us towards armageddon. But when Bernie failed to win the nomination, I opted, first, to vote for Jill Stein because of my inability to stomach Clinton, but then opted to hold my nose and vote for Hillary because the danger of a Drumpf victory made that seem necessary.
So I didn’t at first see what the election was really about either.
            Only now, after having tried to write ironically about the wisdom of the people, do I see that the real issue in this election was not racism or sexism or xenophobia, though they’re all very much at work. The real issue, the deep issue has always been a popular uprising against a dinosaur of a system that is leading most people into poverty and powerlessness. And further, a system that is leading the planet into the catastrophe predicted by climate change (better expressed as ACD, anthropogenic climate disruption). As Naomi Klein noted in her recent This Changes Everything, capitalism in its current form cannot coexist with the natural environment. If carbon emissions driven by the power of fossil fuel keep increasing as they are now, we’re all cooked. And carbon emissions are, as Drumpf has demonstrated with his promise to unleash American coal and oil producers full bore, fundamental to capitalism’s unyielding drive for profits. What has blinded most of us to this truth is our focus on the surface. On the candidates. On what we can see they clearly intend. All the while, the real subterranean drive actually has little concern with the individual candidates. The real point was to subvert or destroy the system, change it, perhaps, to something more concerned with human thriving. Whether this will be socialism or a blend of capitalism and socialism as seen in the Scandinavian countries, or something entirely other, is beyond my powers of prognostication. What I am maintaining, though, is that the current system—the one that has brought us the obscene levels of inequality we now see in this nation and elsewhere—must fall, one way or the other. That, in my opinion, is what the wisdom of the people saw (though they didn’t have to consciously know it), and have now brought us. Or at least the first stage of. Sadly, having had to elect Drumpf, they will end up bringing us a great deal of pain before he’s done. For Drumpf is a blunt instrument, a vulgar instrument. The so-called dictator always is. But he actually, in the end, has little to do with it. He will go by the wayside, his adoring admirers will have had their fill of him very soon, and, unless I miss my guess, hang him by his thumbs. After that, we shall have to wait and see. But again, that is not the real issue. The real issue is capitalism and the ruling class and what will happen to both in the coming years. And whether, as it dies, it can change in  response to the crisis that is ACD, or not. Whatever the outcome, we all of us will be deeply involved in that outcome.  
            In fact, we already are. And it’s going to be a rough ride, with the blood of innocents paying for it as always. All we can hope (and work for) is that at some point, the movements that have been preparing us (Occupy, and Bernie, and Standing Rock) will survive and thrive and dismantle what has become so toxic and bring to birth something more humane and human-centered. And isn’t it an indication of how far we’ve strayed that “human” and “humane” should sound so radical.

Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What a Revolting Development

When I was a kid, one of the phrases I heard most often from my father was: “What a revoltin’ development this is.”  I only recently found out that he got it from a popular radio program of the 1940s, The Life of Riley, starring William Bendix. Last night, that phrase came to mind when it became clear that the Drumpf of the yellow hair was—beyond all imagining—actually going to be elected president of the United States. It had been brewing all evening, but I kept hoping that sooner or later, a few of the contested states were going to drop for Hillary Clinton, and she would pull out the victory everyone had predicted. It never happened. First Florida went to Trump. Then North Carolina. Then Ohio, and you could almost hear the groan among the commentators. When Pennsylvania, seesawing all night between the two contestants, was called for the Drumpf, it was all over but the shouting. The most revolting development of our time had happened. And I have to confess, when Drumpf reached 269 electoral votes—with Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona still not called, but leaning his way—and the media announced that the presumptive winner had left his hotel and was heading towards his crowd growing more and more ecstatic in anticipation of his victory speech, I turned off the TV set and went to bed. I simply could not bear to see that lecherous grin gloating over the greatest prize a stone-cold narcissist sociopath can garner. I couldn’t bear it, and still may have to turn off the TV whenever it comes on (I did this often when George W. was speaking; similar idiot grin, similar reaction).
            Now it’s the next morning and the feeling of nausea has still not left me. And I’m writing to try to expiate the feeling of horror and depression and despair over the future that hangs over a huge portion of the entire country (more people voted for Hillary, it now appears, than for Drumpf; though once again—think Bush v. Gore and three others, Adams, Hayes and Harrison—that devil’s pact to maintain the slave states in control, the electoral college, has made a mockery of democracy and the idea of one person, one vote). And speaking of slave states in control, the visual of that electoral map displayed on most TV coverage, with the entire center of the country blanketed in red, reminds us again, if we needed reminding, how big a role racism has always played in this nation and played once again in this election. It would not be too much to say that this vote by the mostly white electorate really was the expression of the pent-up hatred that has gripped this nation for the past eight years, hatred of the fact that a Black man occupied the White House. Now the racists (and I love how Drumpf’s defenders always insist his supporters aren’t racists; they’re just Americans who want a “fair shake”) have their revenge—though how long their glee will last is another matter entirely. Because they are going to be confronted by the fact that their chosen savior, Drumpf, will not be able to accomplish even a small portion of what he’s promised—solve immigration? bring back all the lost jobs? make the nation majority white again? tell the corporations and the rest of the world to fuck off? Not going to happen. And then there’s going to be some weeping and gnashing of teeth by the poor boobs who have been conned once again.
            But I digress. What I really want to say is that our worst nightmare has come to pass. Plato, some two thousand years ago, warned that the logical progression in government is the inevitable progress from democracy to tyranny. That is what this feels like to me. I wrote a piece when the primaries were first starting called “Demagogues Rising” in which I referenced a novel predicting that the masses would be inclined, in the dire conditions of massive displacement of people from wars and global warming, to opt for the apparent solutions of dictators and dictatorial governments. At that time, I thought it might be Bernie Sanders versus Drumpf in the election, but the point is the same. In the conditions that are looming—and all people on this planet, whether they can articulate it or not, are feeling the coming era of masses on the move, masses displaced by rising seas and dire climate changes—most people will opt for the (putatively) strong leader over the conventional one every time. Or, as George Lakoff might put it, over the strong father over the nurturing mother. And that  is what has just happened: masses of Americans have chosen a man who has promised to build walls to keep out the wogs, has promised to deport or keep from ever breaching our borders immigrants who appear to be Muslims and/or possible terrorists, and to erect crippling barriers to trade in the attempt to put America first. Shades of the 1930s in Germany; in Italy; in America itself, which had a huge movement, the America Firsters, who lobbied to keep the U.S. out of any more of Europe’s wars. Had it not been for Pearl Harbor, they might have succeeded—at least for a time. Now Drumpf has promised to revive those same sentiments, and has ridden those sentiments straight to the White House. It is terrifying. As is the prospect of his Supreme Court nominations—which will poison the high court for decades. As is the prospect of his Justice Department—which will poison the very idea of ‘justice for all’ for god knows how long (Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General?). As is the prospect of his apparent policy relative to carbon, coal, and global warming, which he seems to think is a hoax (Forrest Lucas, head of Lucas Oil, as Interior Secretary?). The greatest menace ever to threaten the human race, and he, and his whole party, think it’s a hoax. Which means that the entire planet has now taken a step closer to armaggedon with the election of this ignorant huckster and demagogue.
            And it is making me sick just thinking about it. Boobus Americanus indeed.
            So I don’t know folks. I have nothing comforting or palliative to offer. It’s as bad as it looks, and may be much worse. We’ll only know as the sick drama we seem to be trapped in plays out in the coming months. Meantime, all each of us can do is work locally while we think globally, work together when we can, and try to limit the damage. Because the way it looks the morning after, there sure as hell is going to be damage, and the only questions now are how much? and how long, o lord?

Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Tax Man

Alexander Hamilton is enjoying the greatest revival of his reputation in history, primarily because of the overwhelming success of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical, Hamilton. But the praise is by no means universal. Several scholars have pointed out (see the American Books Awards for 2016) that Hamilton’s darker side—such as his defense of his Schuyler in-law’s slaves—has been glossed over. Though I have not seen the play, others (see Robert Sullivan’s “The Hamilton Cult” in the October Harper’s) have pointed out that Hamilton’s role in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 was also given short shrift in the play. And it is that which William Hogeland addresses in his 2006 book, The Whiskey Rebellion. The role and portrait of Hamilton we find there differ considerably from the “cult hero” found in Miranda’s play, and it is critical to seeing what Hamilton was really about and where his priorities lay. To put it bluntly, Alexander Hamilton was what the French call an arriviste, an orphan born on the west Indian island of Nevis (later moving with his mother to St. Croix) who was determined to carve an exalted place for himself in the newly-developing United States by cozying up to power. In 1780, he advanced himself socially by marrying Elizabeth Schuyler, of the wealthy New York Schuyler family (who, not incidentally, owned slaves). He also made himself indispensable as chief of staff to the revolutionary war leader, George Washington (also a slave owner and a prominent speculator, buying up huge western tracts where the whiskey rebels were located). The merchant and speculator Robert Morris was also a friend and associate, figuring prominently in Hamilton’s thinking about debt and taxes.
            The situation in 1790’s America seemed critical to Hamilton and those like Morris who made up the “creditor” class. The federal government of the new United States had very little income and a lingering debt from its wartime expenditures. So did most of the states, and the holders of the debt were people like Morris who had either bought bonds directly or had bought up war-financing bonds from others at a huge discount when payment seemed distant. Now they wanted their bonds to be worth face value, with interest paid regularly. The problem was, neither the individual states nor the federal government had the funds to pay them. This was the impetus for the whiskey tax of 1791, as well as the resistance to it by the small farmers and distillers who would have to pay. Morris and Hamilton advanced a strategy whereby the federal government would obtain the funding to pay both its debts and those of the states (which it would assume) by imposing on ordinary people excise taxes—taxes on the sale of commodities. The first was to be the whiskey tax.
            Whiskey was critical to most small farmers, especially those in the west (meaning, at this time, the western part of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and so on.) It was not only a drink that made their hardscrabble lives bearable; it was also an economic necessity to them. This was due to the economics of transporting their products, like grain, over mountainous territory to eastern markets. Whiskey was more compact and cheaper to move, and Hogeland gives us these figures to dramatize the economics:

To haul twenty-four bushels of milled rye over the Alleghenies to eastern markets would have taken three pack animals. Six dollars might result from such effort…Reducing those bushels to two eight-gallon kegs of whiskey reduced transport requirements to a single animal…and [income] could approach $16 (p. 67).

To make matters worse, the tax was unfairly imposed. Hamilton followed Hume (embodied in the person of Robert Morris) in wanting wealth concentrated in the hands of the few moneyed investors who could finance big projects. In this regard, the tax was not only anathema to small farmer-distillers, but actually favored large distillers. That is, Hamilton structured the tax in such a way that big distillers, especially those located in towns and cities, paid a per-gallon tax on the whiskey they actually produced: 9 cents a gallon. Country distillers, by contrast, paid an annual flat fee based on the capacities of their stills. Thus, a farmer with a 100-gallon still, working full time, would be assessed 720 gallons in a four-month season, or $60 tax per year. The problem was, most small farmers didn’t run their stills full time; sometimes it was a week, or a month only, thus producing far less than 720 gallons. But they still had to pay the $60, whereas the big distillers paid only 9 cents per gallon produced, with an added discount of 2 cents on every ten gallons. In other words, Hamilton “had designed the law to charge small producers who could least afford it a higher tax,” which would (and did) end up, as planned, forcing self-employed farmers “into the factories of their creditors” (70), and consolidating the industry. As Hogeland sums it up:

Hamilton’s whiskey tax didn’t merely redistribute wealth from the many to the few, subdue rural economies, and pound the restless, defiant west. It also served as one of the heavier cogs in a machine for restructuring all of American life (69).

            No wonder the people resisted. And the resistance centered in what is now Pittsburgh, then known as “The Forks” due to its location at the forks of the Ohio River. More than one-fourth of the stills in America were located here, and it became ground zero for the Whiskey Rebellion that arose in response to Hamilton’s hated tax. Most interesting of all, this was a genuine people’s movement that drew on Oliver Cromwell’s English revolutions of the 1600s, the spiritual energy of Great Awakening of the 1730s and 40s, and the earlier Shays Rebellion— where a similar problem (paying off war debts) led the Massachusetts Assembly to impose more taxes on the poor so the state could pay creditors and speculators the full value of a $1 note instead of the 2 cents it was worth in 1780, and Daniel Shays to lead a crowd of debtors to seize the federal arsenal in Springfield in 1787. It also drew on the philosophy of barefoot philosophers like Herman Husband, who had published his ideas on blocking the concentration of wealth Hamilton favored by such things as: granting title to land based on actually dwelling and working on it (thus eliminating speculators); a state grant to each man in Pennsylvania of 300 acres, with 200 more for his wife, and 100 more to each child; abolition of slavery; and a progressive income tax. Husband saw this as the core of the New Jerusalem he was sure was rising in the west, and about which he preached.
            More alarming to the federal officials in Philadelphia, though, was the armed and violent resistance that arose very quickly. There had been “black-faced gangs” before, started in England to combat commons enclosures that outlawed hunting rights for the poor. In the colonies, and around the Forks, these gangs had served similar functions, attacking officials they saw as forcing them into penury, tarring and feathering when they saw fit. With the whiskey tax, this remedy went into high gear. As early as September of 1791, a gang led by Daniel Hamilton (no relation to the Treasury Secretary) seized one Robert Johnson, federal revenue collector for Washington and Allegheny counties, cut his hair to bare his skull, covered his nude body with hot tar and then poultry feathers, and left him alone in the forest. Before long, the rebels had organized meetings and attacked houses like William Faulkner’s where excise offices had been set up, threatening to tar and feather him, and burn his house and tavern as well. Faulkner quickly yielded and published his compliance in the Pittsburgh Gazette—he would not open the excise office. Even the barns of those who complied with the law by registering their stills were burned by the gangs who now called themselves Tom Tinker’s Men. The climax was reached when an armed militia attacked the most prominent home in the area, Bower Hill, owned by General John Neville—the man appointed by Washington to oversee whiskey tax-collecting near The Forks. Early on, General Neville had been burnt in effigy. Attempts were made to find a compromise to the tax crisis, but in truth, Alexander Hamilton really wanted an excuse to use force—to demonstrate the power and reach of the federal government, and to reassure creditors that the government could be trusted to pay them their interest. Accordingly, Hamilton implemented a plan to serve arrest warrants on distillers who had not registered their stills. Federal marshals were sent to serve the summonses, which required those served to travel all the way to Philadelphia for trial—a journey few could afford. The anticipated resistance would then justify military suppression by the federal government.
            As usual, Hamilton’s plan worked. Led by war veteran James McFarlane, a rebel force of 600 armed men mustered on the hilltop lawn of General Neville’s Bower Hill estate. McFarlane sent a messenger to the house to see if Neville would talk, but was told Neville wasn’t in (he was). When some of the more volatile rebels began setting fire to a few outbuildings, and shots were fired, the battle began. A white flag was soon raised in the house—the defenders were heavily outnumbered—but when McFarlane stepped out of cover to order his men to hold their fire, he was hit by a shot from the house, and killed. In response, the firing on the house accelerated, and the survivors inside surrendered. The enraged rebel militia entered the house, trashed it, and eventually set fire to the whole place. Though the Nevilles escaped and made it to Philadelphia, the rebels weren’t done. They quickly made plans to muster at a place just outside town known as Braddock’s Field. Over 7,000 armed men gathered, with some threatening to burn the entire town of Pittsburgh. Next, 226 delegates assembled in a Congress at Parkinson’s store, comprised of delegations from five Pennsylvania counties plus one from Virginia. Their talk centered on a complete restructuring of society along the lines Herman Husband had laid out, particularly redistribution of land.
            By this time, moderates headed by the lawyer Hugh Brackenridge and several state and national legislators, appealed to the federal government for amnesty in exchange for getting the rebels to submit. The appeal did result in a presidential commission sent west by Philadelphia, ostensibly to see if a compromise could be worked out, but in truth it was intended only to exacerbate the situation with a rigid position requiring unconditional surrender. Hamilton, Secretary of War Knox and Attorney General Bradford had meantime already decided on the use of military force to bring the west to heel once and for all. They sent orders to the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia to call up 13,000 militiamen ready to march, while President Washington issued the Militia Law Act commanding the insurgents to disperse on pain of suppression by force. By August 24, 1794, with Hamilton now acting as Secretary of War (Knox had to go to Maine to solve a personal conflict with some of his lands), plans for he and the President to lead the military invasion were cemented. The invading force left Philadelphia on September 30, and though Washington had committed himself to going the distance, he in fact limited himself to reviewing troops at Bedford, Pennsylvania, on October 18, and then turned back to Philadelphia. Alexander Hamilton was thus left in charge of the army with no one to rein him in.
            He quickly began what came to resemble a reign of terror. With an ill-equipped army of nearly 15,000 men, whose officers were billeted in luxury, while common soldiers had almost no supplies or even uniforms, Hamilton made theft legal by authorizing the quartermaster corps to “impress civilian property along the way.” Here is how Hogeland describes it:

Now families watched helplessly as bayonet-wielding soldiers—no longer freelancing thieves but officials, authorized by the president—commandeered hard-won winter supplies of grain, meat, firewood, and blankets on behalf of the government of the United States (218).

Then, by defining the whole population of the area as “insurgents,” Hamilton in effect suspended the Bill of Rights. Arrests without warrants or charges began, as did ruthless interrogations. Since the real leaders of the insurrection had already fled, the only people left to arrest were innocents—who, despite their innocence, had been caught on lists that characterized them as either treasonous or material witnesses, or who were simply “suspected” by a general in charge. Prominent among them was Herman Husband, by then a very weakened old man. November 13, 1794 became known as “The Dreadful Night,” when hundreds were yanked from bed, arrested, and forced to sit on muddy floors caked with ice, without food or drink for more than two days. These were the prisoners of General Anthony “Blackbeard” White, of New Jersey, “well known for mental instability” (221). They were then marched twelve miles to the town of Washington and held without charge for military interrogation.
            The endgame was swift. The rebellion was put down, or rather, dissipated when threatened by federal troops, and never rose again. Herman Husband was marched to Philadelphia and tried for treason, was quickly found not guilty by a jury, and, after being released on May 12, 1795, collapsed from exhaustion on his way out of town. Unable to get beyond a nearby tavern, the old man lay dying of pneumonia and succumbed on June 19. His wife Emmy buried him somewhere nearby, but his grave site remains unknown. Alexander Hamilton went on to more glory, including a short stint in command of the entire military—almost getting the war with France he had lobbied for—but not quite. Perhaps it was this frustrated martial ambition that led him to his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. George Washington fared better than most. Satisfied that the far west was at last truly opened and the squatters brought to heel, he found that his enormous land possessions there, which he feared he’d have to sell cheap, “increased in value by about fifty percent” (240). He also added whiskey distilling to his other operations at Mount Vernon, thus making money at that too.
            As for the whiskey tax, it was no longer challenged in public, but remained difficult if not impossible to collect. Small distillers simply engaged in covert dodges like smuggling and moonshining until the Jefferson administration abolished the tax.
            In sum, the “Whiskey Rebellion” used to come across as a somewhat insignificant sidebar in America’s founding story, with wild-eyed rebels justly put down. Now we see that it involved far more than that, really laying out some basic fault lines in American society—between rich creditors and poor debtors, between the working class and the financial class, between those who work the land and those who own it from afar, and between those who keep calling for a more equitable distribution of resources and those determined to keep wealth concentrated in the hands of a select few. It is a conflict that has been revived with a vengeance recently, and, if our current election is any guide, one that shows no signs of resolving any time soon.

Lawrence DiStasi