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Shays' Rebellion Lesson for Kids: Definition & Summary

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

This lesson talks about Shays' Rebellion, which happened in 1786 and 1787. Find out who Daniel Shays was, how he ended up leading a rebellion, and what happened as a result.

What is Shays' Rebellion?

Throughout history, an event happening in one community or area can help bring about a change in the entire country. Shays' Rebellion, which took place in 1786 and 1787 in Massachusetts, is one of these events.

In 1776, the United States declared independence from England. The American Revolutionary War, between England and the United States, lasted until 1783. During this time, a group of men wrote the Articles of Confederation and created a system with a weak central government and strong states. The central government could ask for men for the army or for money from the states, but there was no way to make sure the states followed through. Only states (and not the central government) could tax people, or collect money from them directly.

Who Was Daniel Shays?

Daniel Shays served in the army during the American Revolutionary War. He moved up to become a captain in 1777 and fought in several battles. He left the army in 1780 and moved to Pelham, Massachusetts.

When the war ended, the new country was growing and people were making money. But then things slowed down. Massachusetts raised taxes. Farmers and others who owed money and taxes began to lose their property, and some even had to go to jail. People who fought in the army were not paid well, and the central government owed money to many of them.

Daniel Shays, who found himself in this position, became one of the leaders of protests in the summer of 1786. The protestors wanted the state government of Massachusetts to do more to help people who owed money. The protesters went by the name ''Regulators.'' When Massachusetts didn't do anything, the protests got bigger.

Courts were supposed to take property from people who owed money, but in September 1786, Daniel Shays and a few hundred men interrupted the court in Springfield, Massachusetts, to stop it. Do you think Daniel Shays and the other protesters were right to do this?

George Washington had been the leader of the army during the American Revolution. When he heard about these protests, he worried they would become ''like snow-balls, gather strength as they roll'' and become harder to stop. In other words, this could have weakened the country.

Daniel Shays
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So What Happened?

On January 25, 1787, Shays and about 1,500 men attacked the armory, the place where weapons were stored, in Springfield. The governor of Massachusetts had a group of militiamen (men fighting for the state) waiting there. The militia began shooting, and killed four rebels and hurt 20.

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