Whiskey Rebellion Lesson for Kids: Definition, Summary & Facts

Instructor: Andrea Miller

Andrea is currently a social studies middle school teacher in Ohio. She has a BA in history as well as a MEd in education. She has taught workshops including OGT Success and Writing for Life. Andrea has also been a middle school debate team coach for several years.

The Whiskey Rebellion was an uprising against taxation in the early years of America. In this lesson you will learn how the rebellion started, how it tested the American government and how it was handled by President George Washington.

The Whiskey Rebellion

Imagine going to the store one day and buying your favorite candy bar for one dollar. Now imagine that you go back to the same store two days later to buy the same candy bar, and because of new taxes it's now two dollars! With only one dollar, you are unable to purchase your candy bar.

Raising the taxes of an item is a common way for the government to make extra money to function, yet it can sometimes be hard on the people being taxed. Less than a decade after the American Revolution, the United States was still struggling to establish itself as new nation and the country was still in debt from the war. Due to the heavy taxation placed on Americans by the British, most Americans were very fearful of their new government imposing taxes on its citizens. But President George Washington worked with his advisers and realized that taxation on the people was the only way to make the money necessary to pay off the debt.

New Taxes

In 1791, an excise tax was placed on any whiskey made throughout America. An excise tax is a tax placed on an item at the time of its purchase, but unlike a sales tax it's usually included in the original price of the item. This means that you may not notice it at the store, but the people who make and sell the stuff you're buying sure do!

This new excise tax forced the farmers and distilleries who made whiskey to pay an extra tax based upon the size of their whiskey storage. (A distillery is a business where liquor is made.) These whiskey-making Americans were outraged, and they began to argue with the tax collectors. They also began to raise the price of their whiskey in order to help pay for the tax, which made Americans who liked to buy whiskey pretty angry, too.

Soon, the rage felt by the makers and buyers of whiskey about the increase in price came to a peak in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the fall of 1791.

The Rebellion Begins

The Whiskey Rebellion started in the middle of a crisp October night. Five outraged citizens pulled a tax collector out of his bed, marched him through the town to the local blacksmith, and tortured him with hot pokers. For three more years, this cruelty took place throughout Pennsylvania. Tax collectors all around the area were tarred and feathered, shot, beaten, and attacked. Within a few years, the taxes on whiskey were hardly being collected at all. The national government realized that something had to be done.

Whiskey Rebellion
whiskey rebellion

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