September 13: The Whiskey Rebellion (1794)

The Whiskey Rebellion and the Presbyterians
by Rev. David T. Myers

There is a street corner in Carlisle, Pennsylvania which has an historical sign as the spot in which President George Washington stood in military review of American troops marching to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to quash the Whiskey Rebellion, as it was known in history.

Independence had been gained from Britain by this time. The young nation had General George Washington as her first president. In her early days as a nation, a tax had been placed on the sale of whiskey, which for the Western counties of this state, was used as cash. That was too much for these hard working young American citizens, many of them having fought against England in the Revolutionary War. And many of the latter were Presbyterian in conviction.

Standing out among them was one David Bradford, the son of a Presbyterian ruling elder at Hill Presbyterian Church near Washington, Pennsylvania. He was an attorney and felt a need to resist (on a white horse, no less!) such tax collectors. Many of the latter were tarred and feathered. Something had to be done.

The only sitting president of the new nation of the United States sent (and accompanied) some 13, 000 militia to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. They didn’t need to travel that far as President Washington left them halfway through the march, placing another Revolutionary hero, Lighthorse Henry Lee in command.

But they were not even needed as “cooler” Presbyterian church elders went around to each community as peacemakers, telling the rebels that they would have to answer to the bar of God if blood was shed in this matter. Thus it was on this day, September 13, 1794, that the Presbyterians calling for rebellion, “repented” of their sins against the new government of America. David Bradford, who had fled to New Orleans, was pardoned by new U.S. president John Adams. Eventually the tax for whiskey was set aside.

Words to Live By:
One of the vows taken by the ruling elders in our Presbyterian churches speaks of “endeavoring by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life.” Certainly that vow is first to set a worthy example within the Church of which God has made them an officer, but it would also apply to the community in which that local church is found. Readers: Pray much for your church officers and encourage them in the work to which they are called.


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