On the very first impression of Faction and licentiousness the fine theoretic government of Massachusetts has given away and its laws arrested and trampled under foot. Men at a distance, who have admired our systems of government, unfounded in nature, are apt to accuse the rulers, and say that taxes have been assessed coo high and collected coo rigidly. This is a deception equal to any that has been hitherto entertained. It is indeed a face, that high taxes are the ostensible cause of the commotions, but that they are the real cause is as far remote from truth as light from darkness. The people who are the insurgents have never paid any, or but very little taxes—But they see the weakness of government; They feel at once their own poverty, compared with the opulent, and their own force, and they are determined to make use of the latter, in order to remedy the former. Their creed is "That the property of the United States has been protected from the confiscations of Britain by the joint exertions of all, and therefore ought to be the common property of all. And he that attempts opposition to this creed is an enemy to equity and justice, and ought to be swept off the face of the earth." In a word they are determined to annihilate all debts public and private and have agrarian Laws which are easily effected by the means of unfunded paper money which shall be a tender in all cases whatever.
The numbers of these people may amount in [M]assachusetts to about one fifth part of several populous counties, and to them may be collected, people of similar sentiments, from the States of Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire so as to constitute a body of 12 or 15,000 desperate and unprincipled men—They are chiefly of the Young and active part of the community, more easily collected than perhaps Kept together afterwards—But they will probably commit overt acts of treason which will compel them to embody for their own safety—once embodied they will be constrained to submit to discipline for the same reason. Having proceeded to this length for which they are now ripe, we shall have a formidable rebellion against reason, the principles of all government, and against the very name of liberty. This dreadful situation has alarmed every man of principle and property in New England—They start as from a dream, and ask what has been the Cause of our delusion? What is to afford us security against the violence of lawless men? Our government must be braced, changed, or altered to secure our lives and property. We imagined that the mildness of our government and the virtue of the people were so correspondent, that we were not as other nations requiring brutal force to support the laws—But we find that we are men, actual men, possessing all the turbulent passions belonging to that animal and that we must have a government proper and adequate for him—The people of Massachusetts for instance, are far advanced in this doctrine, and the men of reflection, and principle, are determined to endeavor to establish a government which shall have the power to protect them in their lawful pursuits, and which will be efficient in all cases of internal commotions or foreign invasions—They mean that liberty shall form the basis, a liberty resulting from the equal and firm administration of the laws. They wish for a general government of unity as they see that the local legislatures, must naturally and necessarily tend to retard general government.
We have arrived at that point of time in which we are forced to see our national humiliation, and that a progression in this line, cannot be productive of happiness either private or public—something is wanting and something must be done or we shall be involved in all the horror of faction and civil war without a prospect of its termination—Every tried friend to the liberties of his country is bound to reflect, and step forward to prevent the dreadful consequences which will result from a government of events—Unless this is done we shall be liable to be ruled by an Arbitrary and Capricious armed tyranny, whose word and will must be Law.
Henry Knox, from his letter to George Washington, October 23, 1786"Knox Moving Company" ...