The Revolutionary Elite’s Double Standard on Insurrections

Last Updated on November 14, 2021 by Shaun Snapp

Executive Summary

  • The term used by the founding fathers to describe legitimate claims of unfairness was insurrections.
  • Putting down these insurrections was a significant purpose of the militias.


The US revolution was an insurrection against the British Crown and based upon restrictions on the growth of the colonies westward and taxation, among other items. One of the objectives of the militias was to put down insurrections within the colonies and later the states. This article analyzes the hypocritical position of the elites during this time.

Our References

See our references for this article and related articles at this link.

Founding Fathers on the Purposes of the Militia

One of the two primary reasons given for the militia by Hamilton in the Federalist Papers was to put down insurrections (also known as maintaining internal peace) and provide for the common defense. However, Hamilton, like other founders, did not specify exactly what they meant by an insurrection. What makes this even more curious is that many gun advocates believe that the founding fathers supported insurrections against the government when it no longer served the people’s interests. Yet, the militias were explicitly tasked with putting down any insurrection. The problem here is what the definition of an insurrection is? Is this an insurrection by the states against the federal government or an insurrection within the state that the state militia puts down?

However, the term insurrection appears to mean (and in multiple uses throughout the Federalist Papers) the rise of a disagreement within the states put down by the state militias.

To understand this and what insurrections looked like at the time, let us look at two of these, one being Shay’s Rebellion and a second being the Whiskey Rebellion.

Understanding Shay’s Rebellion

The following quotes describe Shay’s Rebellion.

An uprising by farmers in Massachusetts from 1786-1787 in response to economic hardships. Although the rebellion was quelled by the state militia, it caused concern throughout the country that the government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to maintain law and order. It served as a powerful argument in support of the stronger national government advocated by the federalists. – Wikipedia

And this one..

Veterans had received little pay during the war and faced added difficulty collecting payments owed to them from the State or the Congress of the Confederation.[12] Some soldiers began to organize protests against these oppressive economic conditions. In 1780, Daniel Shays resigned from the army unpaid and went home to find himself in court for non-payment of debts. He soon realized that he was not alone in his inability to pay his debts and began organizing for debt relief. – Wikipedia

This is curious because the state and the federal government were partly responsible for Shay’s Rebellion as they called upon their citizens to defend their country and then did not pay them. And then the financial interests back in their home states would not provide them with debt leniency.

The quote continues.

The rural farming population was generally unable to meet the demands of merchants and the civil authorities, and some began to lose their land and other possessions when they were unable to fulfill their debt and tax obligations. This led to strong resentments against tax collectors and the courts, where creditors obtained judgments against debtors, and where tax collectors obtained judgments authorizing property seizures. – Wikipedia

How else can this be viewed but the government stabbing the men who fought for the Revolution and their families in the back?

The quote continues.

Shays’ Rebellion was an armed uprising in Western Massachusetts and Worcester in response to a debt crisis among the citizenry and in opposition to the state government’s increased efforts to collect taxes both on individuals and their trades.[2][3][4] The fight took place mostly in and around Springfield during 1786 and 1787. American Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays led four thousand rebels (called Shaysites) in a protest against economic and civil rights injustices.

In 1787, Shays’ rebels marched on the federal Springfield Armory in an unsuccessful attempt to seize its weaponry and overthrow the government. The confederal government found itself unable to finance troops to put down the rebellion, and it was consequently put down by the Massachusetts State militia and a privately funded local militia.

This brings up why the Massachusetts State militia agreed to put down the rebellion as the Shaysites were justified in their rebellion. The privately funded local militia did so because they were mercenaries. One wonders if the privately funded local militia would also have been ok with not being paid.

Many, including George Washington, used the rebellion as evidence that the Articles of Confederation were not strong enough, which led to the US Constitution. However, what was not done, was to address the grievances of the unpaid former soldiers of the Revolutionary War. If the government at the time had understood the use of debt-free money, like the colonial script, they would have had no problem making good on their promises of payment for the military services rendered. However, the claims of the ex-soldiers who were getting their property seized were stronger than the reasons the founding fathers rebelled and engaged in an insurrection and Revolution against the British Crown.

Let us now look at the Whiskey Rebellion

Understanding The Whiskey Rebellion

The Whiskey Rebellion (also known as the Whiskey Insurrection) was a violent tax protest in the United States beginning in 1791 and ending in 1794 during the presidency of George Washington, ultimately under the command of American Revolutionary War veteran Major James McFarlane. The so-called “whiskey tax” was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government.

Farmers of the western frontier were accustomed to distilling their surplus rye, barley, wheat, corn, or fermented grain mixtures to make whiskey. These farmers resisted the tax. In these regions, whiskey often served as a medium of exchange. Many of the resisters were war veterans who believed that they were fighting for the principles of the American Revolution, in particular against taxation without local representation, while the federal government maintained that the taxes were the legal expression of Congressional taxation powers.

Throughout Western Pennsylvania counties, protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax. Resistance came to a climax in July 1794, when a US marshal arrived in western Pennsylvania to serve writs to distillers who had not paid the excise. The alarm was raised, and more than 500 armed men attacked the fortified home of tax inspector General John Neville. Washington responded by sending peace commissioners to western Pennsylvania to negotiate with the rebels, while at the same time calling on governors to send a militia force to enforce the tax. Washington himself rode at the head of an army to suppress the insurgency, with 13,000 militiamen provided by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The rebels all went home before the arrival of the army, and there was no confrontation. – Wikipedia

This dispute is very similar to one of the issues which began the Revolutionary War. The imposition of what was considered unfair taxes. Again, if the federal government at the time had followed the approach of the colonial script (and followed Pennsylvania’s approach to managing the script, as they were the most skilled colony in this regard) rather than allowing Hamilton to hand the First Bank of the United States over to private interests, they would have realized that they did not need to impose this tax.

In both rebellions and the Fries’ Rebellion, another tax rebellion where they came close to hanging several of those who opposed the tax before they were pardoned, the Revolutionary elites denied the same claims they had made about the British Crown regarding taxation without representation.

It is almost amusing how the history of using armed citizens (militias) to put down insurrections is ignored by modern-day gun advocates. In Shay’s Rebellion, the militia was used to put down a rebellion that could have been quelled by paying what the federal and state government had promised and arranging for debt relief for these abused revolutionary soldiers. These rebellions show that non only did the revolutionary elites not agree with the entire government being deposed through an insurrection. Still, they opposed any type of insurrection and that they repeatedly used militias to put down these insurrections.

The Jan 6th Riots (Called and Insurrection by the Establishment Democratic Media)

When it comes to the discussion of the 2nd Amendment, gun owners tend to think about overthrowing the federal government. I had to perform the research from the original documents even to learn that the following:

  1. The Federalist Papers and other sources discuss the militias as a type of defense (i.e., unpaid citizen soldiers or “bannermen.”)
  2. The focus is on putting down insurrections within states and essentially using state power against its citizens.

It so happens we have a recent example of a dispute with the federal government that was coined an “insurrection,” but it was not that. As an insurrection must be armed. This was, of course, the Jan 6th riot at the US Capitol building. However, even this riot was called an insurrection by those that politically opposed the riot.

The Jan 6th riots were people who thought an election had been stolen and thought the government was corrupt. There is, of course, no disputing that the US federal government is corrupt. But the rioters were misled by then ex-president Trump stoking the flames of discontent by telling his followers that the election had been stolen. 

This video explains a near-zero relationship between what the public wants as legislation and what becomes legislation. By any stretch of the imagination, according to Jefferson’s standard, the US federal government would have been deposed by militias long ago. 

However, while the Jan 6th riots were unarmed, they caused a national outrage. And even rioters involved in relatively minor infractions have been given stiff sentences…much to the applause of the political party and media that oppose the political leanings of the Jan 6th rioters if any of those rioters had been caught with guns, who knows when they would have gotten out of prison.

There is an apparent lack of support for militias engaging in a military confrontation with the federal government in the modern era.

Lack of Evidence for the Fighting Against Tyranny Argument

Fighting against tyranny is a frequent battle cry of gun advocates. They believe that their gun rights, in part, rest upon the desire of the founding fathers for them to overthrow the government if they become corrupt and oppressive. The topic of overthrowing tyranny is inseparable from the way that the US government has responded to insurrections. This is expressed in the following graphic.

This message printed on shirts or bumper stickers are common in the gun community in the US. However, where is the support for the tyranny argument (the use of militias against the federal government) in the Federalist Papers? Also, the 2nd Amendment and the Bill of Rights were ratified in 1891, not 1776 (the US constitution went into operation in 1789, so a full 13 years after 1776), which was the signing of the declaration of independence. Although these dates are not very important, gun rights and even gun obligations go back to the beginnings of the US as a British colony. This bumper sticker illustrates the lack of accuracy that is common throughout the pro-gun community. Many pro-gun advocates are like religious advocates in that they have a distorted understanding of their original documents and history. 

This points to the fact that gun owners undersell the support for gun ownership in the US. No colonial citizen or US citizen obtained their rights to keep and bear arms from the 2nd Amendment or the amendments to the state constitutions that preceded the Bill of Rights. Only eight of the 13 (what are now states) had the right to keep and bear arms in their constitutions, but the colonials in the other five colonies did not have their rights to arms restricted.

  • The right to keep and bear arms was never questioned and until the modern era. The US and its colonial state predecessors wanted and demanded that all non-disabled white men be armed. There was no discussion of reducing gun rights from the period 1776 to 1789.
  • The only restrictions I can find on gun ownership for white men (there was a death penalty for selling or sharing guns with Indians) was when the British confiscated arms before the Revolutionary War.
  • However, it was not a free for all — the governments in both the colonial and post-revolutionary period — both state and federal, wanted to know how many guns were in their territory and their condition.

The following quotation also supports this.

During the drafting of the Constitution, there were no debates involving
individual gun rights. Discussions regarding the individual ownership of firearms were “not an issue at the Federal Convention of 1787.”38 The historical records show no deliberation over “whether the government – national, state, or local – could regulate possession of firearms.” Framers generally believed in the state’s ability to regulate “most facets of daily life – ownership and use of property, rules of inheritance, criminal
law, and all the aspects of communal health, welfare, and safety.” Evidence of these beliefs resided in the numerous state constitutions that affirmed the power of policing and regulating property and the general welfare of the public. Historians note the “lack of discussion of an individual right to firearms is unsurprising.”39 This appears shocking to contemporary readers who are all too familiar with the controversy surrounding gun ownership today. However, firearm “ownership and [their] use were not major issues in
eighteenth-century America.”40 The United States had no game laws, primarily due to the availability of land and lack of a privileged aristocracy. As a result, guns were easily obtainable and Americans enjoyed “the use of firearms as they could other property, subject to the regulation to which all property was liable.”“most facets of daily life – ownership and use of property, rules of inheritance, criminal law, and all the aspects of communal health, welfare, and safety.” Evidence of these beliefs resided in the numerous state constitutions that affirmed the power of policing and regulating property and the general welfare of the public. Historians note the “lack of discussion of an individual right to firearms is unsurprising.”39 This appears shocking to contemporary readers who are all too familiar with the controversy surrounding gun ownership today. However, firearm “ownership and [their] use were not major issues in eighteenth-century America.”40 The United States had no game laws, primarily due to the availability of land and lack of a privileged aristocracy. As a result, guns were easily obtainable and Americans enjoyed “the use of firearms as they could other property, subject to the regulation to which all property was liable.” While debates surrounding individual gun rights were non-existent, the national and state ratifying conventions did address standing armies and militias. During the ratification debates of 1787-1788, discussions regarding guns focused on militias and standing armies, not on a citizen’s private right to own firearms. The lack of discussion over a citizen’s private right is damning to individual right supporters. The numerous debates over standing armies and militias invited ample opportunities for framers to address private firearm rights, yet the lack of discussion over those rights
proves that it held little import in the minds of framers. – Jeffery Campbell

Overall, this graphic above would be more accurate if it stated that guns are a right and obligation going back to 1607, which is the founding of Jamestown. Setting the right to keep and bear arms to 1776 is highly misleading, as is the claim the rights were granted to act as a counterbalance to tyranny.

Refreshing the Tree of Liberty With the Blood of Patriots and Tyrants

This quote from Thomas Jefferson is often referred to concerning deposing a tyrannical government.

What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.

That appears to support the graphic.

However, that quote is nowhere in the Federalist Papers, and I can’t find anything like this sentiment in the papers. I did find this quote on tyranny from the papers interesting.

Before such a revolution can be effected, the Senate, it is to be observed, must in the first place corrupt itself; must next corrupt the State legislatures; must then corrupt the House of Representatives; and must finally corrupt the people at large. It is evident that the Senate must be first corrupted before it can attempt an establishment of tyranny.

Yes, well again, that already happened long ago. There are ample opportunities in the Federalist Papers for either Hamilton, Jay, or Madison to bring up explicitly how the militias could or should overturn the federal government if they no longer represent the people, but nowhere in the Federalist Papers do they do this. Furthermore, the multiple rebellions in US history that have been put down by militias, which did not seek to overthrow the federal government, call into question how amenable either the founding fathers were, or those US leaders that followed them were in having their government overturned.

This scene from the HBO special John Adams shows the disagreement between Jefferson and Adams on stoking Revolution in France. Adams states to Jefferson that he has seen “too many mobs to entrust them with the government.” Adams opposed Jefferson on this point. This illustrates that not all of the founders supported Jefferson’s view of the Revolution.

The following is a good quotation that summarizes some of my observations.

Rakove laments that many individual rights’ supporters “ransack the sources for a set of useful quotations” that do not correspond to the historical record, which shows the founders more concerned with
“the militia and its public functions, not with the individual ownership and use of firearms.”

Not surprisingly, Rakove rejects the individual right interpretation of the Second Amendment. History does not show the founding fathers were concerned with individual gun rights, as there were “only a handful of sources from the period of constitution formation that bear directly on the questions that lie at the heart of current controversies about the regulation of privately owned firearms.” – Jeffery Campbell