Williams’s farm, and one fired a warning shot at the officers as they
were riding away.
At the same time that this was going on, the Mingo Creek Militia
happened to be gathering in response to a request from George Wash-
ington for militiamen to deal with Indian attacks on the frontier. The
next day, having heard about the incident at Williams’s farm, about
forty of the Mingo Creek militiamen, led by John Holcroft, marched on
Neville’s estate, demanding that he surrender his commission. A shot
fired by Neville from inside his house hit, and according to most
accounts killed, William Miller’s nephew, Oliver Miller. Neville then
ordered his slaves to fire on the militiamen. The militia retreated, but
Neville, knowing they would be back, applied to Fort Pitt for protection.
Eleven soldiers, along with Major Abraham Kirkpatrick, were sent to
Neville’s estate, and Neville himself was evacuated. The next day, July
17, a much larger force of rebels, led by James McFarlane, a captain in
the Revolutionary War and at this time a major in the militia, showed
up demanding to see Neville. Major Kirkpatrick informed the militia-
men that Neville was no longer there. McFarlane then demanded that
the soldiers leave, but Kirkpatrick refused. After allowing Neville’s fam-
ily to be evacuated, the militiamen opened fire on the soldiers. During
the hour long battle, Neville’s house and barn were set on fire. The sol-
diers eventually surrendered, but not before killing Major McFarlane.
A series of meetings, held over the next few weeks at the Mingo
Creek meeting house and the home of David Bradford, resulted in the
assembly of an estimated five to seven thousand rebels at Braddock’s
Field on August 1. From Braddock’s field, the rebel army marched
through Pittsburgh, then crossed the Monongahela River, proceeded to
Major Kirkpatrick’s property, and burned down his barn.
On August 7, George Washington issued a proclamation in which
he ordered the rebels to disperse by September 1, quoting the law that
gave him the authority to call forth the militia of Pennsylvania and
other states if they didn’t. On the same day that he issued the procla-
mation, Washington also directed his Secretary of War, Henry Knox, to
send a circular letter to the governors of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Mary-
land, and New Jersey, requesting a total of nearly thirteen thousand
militiamen, a number that was later increased to fifteen thousand.
Washington made one more attempt to settle the dispute without
the use of military force, dispatching three commissioners to the area
THE ELECTION OF 1800
to offer the rebels amnesty in exchange for their signatures on a state-
ment of submission to the laws of the federal government. The com-
missioners had two meetings with a delegation of rebel leaders, the
first from August 21 to 23, and the second on September 1 and 2. On
September 24, after returning to Philadelphia, the commissioners sub-
mitted a report in which they concluded that military action would be
necessary to enforce the laws.
On October 2, the rebel leaders resolved unanimously to agree to the
terms offered by the commissioners, and appointed two representatives,
David Redick and William Findley, to present the resolution to George
Washington. By this time, however, the militia requested by Washington
on August 7 were already on their way to Western Pennsylvania.
Some of the troops had started moving as early as September 19, and
Washington, on September 25, had issued a proclamation stating that
military force would be used.
A somewhat popular myth about the Whiskey Rebellion is that
Washington personally led the troops into western Pennsylvania and
squashed the rebellion. In reality, Washington was already on his way
back to Philadelphia by the time the troops moved into the area
where the rebellion had taken place. He did spend about about a week
at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a rendezvous point for the various militia
units, and did review the troops at Bedford, where he also had a visit
from his family and checked on some property he was trying to sell.
By the time the troops got to western Pennsylvania, however, there was
no rebellion to squash. Washington had known this by the time he left
Carlisle on October 12. David Redick and William Findley met with
Washington at Carlisle on October 9 and 10, and assured him that the
rebels would put up no resistance, and would be unarmed as they vol-
untarily showed up at meetings to submit to the government’s terms. In
other words, fifteen thousand troops were on their way to fight nobody.
As expected, there was no battle when the troops marched into
the western counties in late October. The government, however, need-
ed to put on a show. The real leaders of the rebellion were nowhere
to be found, so twenty less significant participants were captured and
hauled off to Philadelphia for interrogation. Eighteen were eventually
released. The other two were charged with and convicted of treason,
and then pardoned by Washington. One of these two was described by
his neighbors as being mentally impaired.
LIARS FOR JESUS
While many historians have theorized that Hamilton himself
somehow instigated the Whiskey Rebellion to provide an excuse to
demonstrate the authority of the federal government to enforce its
laws, the evidence of this is purely circumstantial. What is certain,
however, is that Hamilton couldn’t have been happier that the rebel-
lion occurred, and that he made the most of it. Washington, as already
mentioned, was easily convinced that the democratic societies were
to blame. Of course, the fact that Jefferson, who by this time had
resigned as Secretary of State, was no longer around to refute these
accusations made this even easier.
The following is from a letter written by Washington to Governor
Henry Lee of Virginia on August 26, 1794. This is one of several letters
showing that Washington, by this time, not only believed that the dem-
ocratic societies were responsible for the Whiskey Rebellion, but that
Citizen Genet was responsible for the democratic societies.
I consider this insurrection as the first formidable fruit of the
Democratic Societies; brought forth I believe too premature-
ly for their own views, which may contribute to the annihila-
tion of them.
That these societies were instituted by the artfuland designing
members (many of their body I have no doubt mean well, but
know little of the real plan,) primarily to sow the seeds of jeal-
ousy and distrust among the people, of the government, by
destroying all confidence in the Administration of it; and that
these doctrines have been budding and blowing ever since, is
not new to any one, who is acquainted with the characters of
their leaders, and has been attentive to their manœuvres. I
early gave it as my opinion to the confidential characters
around me, that, if these Societies were not counteracted (not
by prosecutions, the ready way to make them grow stronger)
or did not fall into disesteem from the knowledge of their ori-
gin, and the views with which they had been instituted by their
father, Genet, for purposes well known to the Government;
that they would shake the government to its foundation. Time
and circumstances have confirmed me in this opinion, and I
deeply regret the probable consequences, not as they will
THE ELECTION OF 1800
affect me personally, (for I have not long to act on this theatre,
and sure I am that not a man amongst them can be more anx-
ious to put me aside, than I am to sink into the profoundest
retirement) but because I see, under a display of popular and
fascinating guises, the most diabolical attempts to destroy the
best fabric of human government and happiness, that has
ever been presented for the acceptance of mankind.26
The Federalist newspapers were also busy connecting Genet to the
democratic societies, and the societies to the Whiskey Rebellion. For
example, on Oct. 15, 1794, Wood’s Newark Gazette presented the fol-
lowing step by step progression of the formation of the societies, and
a prediction of their downfall.
“A New Chapter—Political
“1. This is the book of the generation and downfall of
“2. Brissot begat the Jacobin clubs of Paris. The Jacobin
clubs of Paris begat Genet, and his French brethren:
“3. Genet begat the Democratic Societies in America; the
Democratic Societies begat the Pittsburgh Rebellion and
“4. The Pittsburgh Rebellion begat an armament of 15,000
“5. The armament of 15,000 men will beget an expense of
near two million dollars, of which all the people of the
United States must bear a proportion:
“6. The expense will beget an attention of the people to the
rise and origin; and
“7. That attention will beget the detestation and downfall of
Jacobinism are eight generations.
“Thus endeth the first political chapter."
LIARS FOR JESUS
26. George Washington to Governor Henry Lee, August 26, 1794, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed.,
The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799,vol. 33,
(Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931), 475-476.
27. Eugene Perry Link, Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790-1800,(Morningside Heights,
NY: Columbia University Press, 1942), 19-20.
There was just one little problem with blaming the formation of the
democratic societies on Genet – the first democratic society was formed
before Genet arrived in America. The man behind the first society was
Revolutionary War General Peter Muhlenberg. This society, called The
German Republican Society, was formed in Philadelphia sometime near
the end of March 1793. Genet didn’t arrive in America until April 8. He
then stayed in South Carolina for a several weeks before heading north.
The first circular of The German Republican Society was printed in
Philadelphia’s German newspaper, the Philadelphische Correspon-
denz, on April 9. A reader of this paper wrote to Philip Freneau,
requesting that he print an English translation in his paper, the Nation-
which he did on April 13. The following was the last para-
graph of the request to Freneau.
It would be to the advantage of Pennsylvania and the union
if political societies were established throughout the United
States, as they would prove powerful instruments in support
of the present system of equality, and formidable enemies to
aristocracy in whatever shape it might present itself. May the
example of the German Republican Society prove a spur to
the friends of equality throughout the United States.29
Two days later, on April 15, the National Gazette’s story about
the German Republicans was reprinted by Benjamin Franklin Bache,
grandson of Benjamin Franklin, in his paper, the Aurora and Gener-
al Advertiser. All of these articles in the Philadelphia newspapers pre-
dated Genet’s May 16 arrival in Philadelphia by at least a month.
The man behind Philadelphia’s second democratic society was Dr.
David Rittenhouse – a noted scientist and inventor; President of the
American Philosophical Society, succeeding founder Benjamin Franklin
after his death in 1790; and Director of the United States Mint from
THE ELECTION OF 1800
28. Freneau’s National Gazette was established in 1791 to combat John Fenno’s Gazette of the
United States, the Federalist newspaper in which Hamilton, under various psuedonyms, promot-
ed his and the administrations views. Jefferson facilitated the establishment of the National
Gazette by bringing New York newspaper editor, and college friend of James Madison, Philip Fre-
neau to Philadelphia as a translator for the State Department, a part time job that would give him
a salary while he established a Republican newspaper to publish anti-administration articles writ-
ten by James Madison, also under psuedonyms.
29. Eugene Perry Link, Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790-1800,(Morningside Heights,
NY: Columbia University Press, 1942), 8.
1792 to 1795. The formation of The Democratic Society of Pennsylva-
nia was announced to the public on July 4, 1793. By the time Ritten-
house formed this society, another democratic society, The Norfolk and
Portsmouth Republican Society, had already been formed in Virginia.
The reason for a second society being formed in Philadelphia was
that the first one was comprised of only German-Americans, and some
parts of their mission and constitution were specific to the rights and
concerns of German-Americans. The Democratic Society of Pennsyl-
vania was more universal, and its constitution, written by Alexander J.
Dallas, became the model for most of the nearly forty other societies
that were formed in other parts of the country over the next few years.
The declarations and constitutions of all of these societies contained
statements like the following, from the first circular of The Democratic
Society of Pennsylvania.
...The seeds of luxury appear to have taken root in our domes-
tic soil; and the jealous eye of patriotism already regards the
spirit of freedom and equality, as eclipsed by the pride of
wealth and the arrogance of power. This general view of our
situation has led to the institution of the Democratic Society. A
constant circulation of useful information, and a liberal com-
munication of republican sentiments, were thought to be the
best antidotes to any political poison, with which the vital prin-
ciples of civil liberty might be attacked; for by such means, a
fraternal confidence will be studiously marked; and a standard
will be erected, to which, in danger and distress, the friends
of liberty may successfully resort. To obtain these objects,
then, and to cultivate on all occasions the love of peace,
order, and harmony; an attachment to the constitution and a
respect to the laws of our country will be the aim of the
The Federalists, of course, immediately started looking for a way
to stop this network of communication and its influence on public
opinion. The Whiskey Rebellion was their opportunity, but the only
societies that could be connected to it in any way at all were the two
LIARS FOR JESUS
30. Eugene Perry Link, Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790-1800,(Morningside Heights,
NY: Columbia University Press, 1942), 11.
in the counties where the rebellion occurred – The Society of United
Freemen in Mingo Creek, and The Democratic Society in Washington
County, both of which were formed in the spring of 1794. Naturally,
there were participants in the rebellion who were also members of
these local societies. Seven members of the Washington County soci-
ety were among the five hundred rebels who took part in one or both
of the attacks on Neville’s home. The Mingo Creek society, which was
comprised almost entirely of farmers, did take one action as a socie-
ty, passing a resolution in support of the opposition to the excise tax.
The rest of the nearly forty societies in other parts of the country,
however, were not even remotely involved. In fact, members of some
of these societies were among the volunteers who went to suppress
the rebellion, and several societies passed resolutions approving of
the federal government’s use of military force. Nevertheless, George
Washington, based on the misinformation he was given, denounced
“certain self-created societies” in his November 19, 1794 message to
...The arts of delusion were no longer confined to the efforts
of designing individuals. The very forbearance to press pros-
ecutions was misinterpreted into a fear of urging the execu-
tion of the laws; and associations of men began to
denounce threats against the officers employed. From a
belief that, by a more formal concert, their operation might
be defeated, certain self-created societies assumed the tone
The Senate, which was still controlled by the Federalists, quickly
approved a reply to the president that included a response to this
statement, complete with the words “self-created societies.” The Fed-
eralists in the House wanted to do the same thing. The Republicans,
however, knowing that Washington had been misinformed about
these societies, thought they should just leave the subject out of their
reply entirely. They had no intention of agreeing with the accusation,
and in this house they now had a slim majority.
The committee appointed on November 20 to draft the House’s
THE ELECTION OF 1800
31. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, vol. 2, 3rd Cong. 2nd Sess.,
(Washington D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1826), 233-234.
reply to Washington’s message consisted of one Federalist – Theodore
Sedgwick, one Republican – James Madison, and Thomas Scott, a rep-
resentative from Pennsylvania who wasn’t clearly attached to either
party. The committee came back with a list of proposed resolutions
addressing various points made by Washington. What was conspicu-
ously absent from this list, however, was a resolution addressing the
accusation made against the democratic societies.
On November 24, Thomas Fitzsimons, one of Hamilton’s mouth-
pieces in the House, moved that the following be added.
As part of this subject, we cannot withhold our reprobation
of the self created societies, which have risen up in some
parts of the union, misrepresenting the conduct of the Gov-
ernment, and disturbing the operation of the laws, and
which, by deceiving and inflaming the ignorant and the
weak, may naturally be supposed to have stimulated and
urged the insurrection.
Fitzsimons’s motion sparked a heated five day debate. The Repub-
licans repeatedly pointed out two things. First, the Federalists had not
been able to produce any evidence to support their accusation, and sec-
ond, the rebellion had obviously started before the democratic soci-
eties existed. Ironically, the evidence they used to support this second
point was a letter written by Hamilton. Thomas Scott, who was obvi-
ously the deciding vote on the committee that drafted the resolutions
to be included in the reply, happened to be from Washington County,
where the rebellion had occurred. In the debate, he said he knew for
a fact that certain leaders of the local democratic societies were also
leaders of the rebellion, but added that these were the only societies
that could be connected to the rebellion in any way. On November 26,
the third day of the debate, it was suggested that a committee be
appointed to fully investigate the causes of the rebellion, and if any of
the societies or members of societies were found to have been involved,
accuse them by name rather than censuring all the societies.
Alexander Hamilton had been watching the debate, and knew the
Federalists were losing. On November 27, he made one last ditch
LIARS FOR JESUS
32. The Debates and Proceedings of the Congress of the United States of America, vol.4, 3rd
Cong., 2nd Sess., (Washington D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1855), 899.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested