The 1st Whiskey Rebellion (and the 2nd Whiskey Rebellion, America’s Next Revolution from the Left)
By Jim Costanzo
Editors' note: this piece was writen as an adjunct to Jim's Issue #7 Article, The Aaron Burr Society.
The Aaron Burr Society launched the 2nd Whiskey Rebellion on February 6, 2010, the 254 anniversary of our namesake’s birth. On that day we fired up the still for the first run of applejack whiskey distilled from a mesh of hard apple cider. The hard cider mesh was created from sweet apple cider made with no sugar or chemicals to which we added champainge yeast allowing it fermented it for two weeks.
The 2nd Whiskey Rebellion began as a symbolic act. We purchased the 100% copper whiskey still on EBay secure in the knowledge that it was an awesome sculptural object and that the plastic “True Value” cooling bucket was not only the perfect match but also a foil to corporate branding. However, to our surprise, our mesh was a tasty hard apple cider that had a smooth, dry finish that generated compliments. And the distilled whiskey, made from this hard cider mesh, was not the mouth burning, stomach turning rotgut moonshine that we expected. Thanks to the expertise and endless patience of our friends at Brooklyn Kitchen, the Society’s double distilled applejack whiskey was surprisingly drinkable.
At this point it should be noted that all whiskey products produced by the Aaron Burr Society are unlicensed and illegal. It is legal to brew beer and ferment wine or hard cider but distilling alcohol is illegal. Please note that our friends at Brooklyn Kitchen and Ebay are not breaking any laws by selling the accoutrements or ingredients. We have already stated that the 2nd Whiskey Rebellion is a symbolic act but what we didn’t mentioned was that it was also an act of civil disobediences.
The motto of the 2nd Whiskey Rebellion was floated to test groups in Brooklyn’s bars, shops, restaurants and galleries. Anywhere we can engage friends or strangers in conversation and they would be willing to drink from the bottle. We have procured handsome glass bottles with cork caps and we are printing labels on a letterset press with acid free, 100% pure hemp paper imported from Indian. Though aware of the adage, we are compelled to print the obvious on the bottle’s back label • Drink the Liquid • Smoke the Label • Recycle the Glass •
Whiskey was the preferred drink of the Yankee Rebel. These rebels were the true followers of the Enlightenment, the philosophy of the American, French and Haitian Revolutions. And it is a historical fact that Washington and Jefferson grew hemp. But the 2nd Whiskey Rebellion is more than just hip pandering to the hedonistic cult of Dionysus, it’s purpose is to rewrite American history and resurrect the radical politics and proto-socialist policies of Aaron Burr, the American Jacobin in the egalitarian tradition of the French Revolution.
The first Whiskey Rebellion started 1791, the second year of the Republic, and ended in 1794 when President Washington sent an army of nearly 13,000 to western Pennsylvania to suppress the rebellion that was centered around Pittsburgh. Not a shot was fired and Washington would later pardoned the rebels.
The issues from original Whiskey Rebellion were local autonomy, value added labor, class and the revolutionary concept of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The Whiskey Rebels were woman and men, farmers and retired soldiers who had recently settled western Pennsylvania. They were unable to make a profit selling grain to speculators in the eastern cities. In response these citizens used good ol’ Yankee ingenuity and distilled whiskey from their undervalued grain. Not only did this basic principle of value added economics provide them with profits and a commodity for barter, but Pittsburgh and the western frontier threaten to establish themselves as autonomous economic zones with the potential to resist if not challenge Wall Street.
In response to the threat, President Washington’s Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, levied an excise tax on whiskey that negated the profits. Yes, we know that you’re really tired of people bitching about taxes but the underlining causes of the Whiskey Rebellion, just like the American Revolution, were based on economic and monetary policies. In both cases taxes were just one of many tactical measures used to enforce an all-encompassing economic and political policy.
The politics surrounding the founding of this nation are complicated. Issues involving slavery and Native Americans have been brought to the foreground and deservedly so. However, issues involving economics, labor and class are still shrouded in mythology. It is a mythology that is currently being distorted by conservative echo chambers and their corporate sponsors. But it is a variation of an older mythology that claims Free Markets and Free Trade, the backbone of capitalism, made this country great. Like all mythology it is self-serving, using fear and superstition to perpetuate the existing social order. The purpose of both the American and French Revolutions was to free people from the superstition of mythology and religion by establishing a new social order based on the principles of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.
Let me try to be clear on this one point, there has never been a Free Market Economy. The only way that the “free market” can work is at the point of a gun, through empire. Ironically the Free Market economic polices that America is currently imposing on the rest of the world are the same policies that the British imposed on the American colonies, the policies that the colonies rose up to revolt against.
In 1791, the same year the Whiskey Rebellion began, Treasury Secretary Hamilton released his economic plan. “No believer in laissez-faire economics [libertarian and other free markets principles], which he impatiently dismissed as a ‘wild speculative paradox,’ Hamilton called for government to regulate, plan, and stimulate economic development. He proposed governmental support and subsidies [the peoples tax money] for business, awards for inventions, a variety of internal improvements, such as interstate roads and canals [infrastructure], and the encouragement of the immigration of manufacturers and workmen… and he coldly approved making women and children more ‘useful’ by adding them to the labor force in factories… Whereas Washington [like Jefferson] had begun his presidency with a gentle vision of a prosperous, peaceful, educated nation, Hamilton had [other] things in mind… In the hundreds of pages [Hamilton] wrote, he rarely, if ever, acclaimed or even mentioned the ideals of the Revolution; he never demonstrated that that his programs would further the welfare of average citizens; he never bothered to refute the impression that he distrusted democracy. On the contrary, a pervasive fear of the turbulence of the people [Says’ Rebellion, Whiskey Rebellion, French Revolution] colored his attitude toward politics. His imagination was ignited, not by the prospect of helping ordinary Americans pursue happiness, but rather by the idea of inversing the power and prestige of the state itself. And a state modeled after Great Brittan at that… Hamilton despised the democratic and egalitarian trends that were transforming American politics and that, in 1801, ushered his political adversaries, Jefferson [Burr] and Madison, into office.”
If Hamilton were to champion these same economic policies today conservatives would vilify him, though they would appreciate his attitude toward the privileges of class. Social engineering and economic planning for the common good is the legitimate function of all governments. Our founders knew this and acted accordingly,
As you know Washington, Adams and Hamilton led the Federalist party that favored a strong central government, a national bank and industry while the Republicans, led by Jefferson, Burr and Madison, favored limited government and the rights of the individual. But this oversimplification belies the complexity of the issues and the actual political struggles of the period.
What is conveniently forgotten is that the Constitution was devised in such a way as to balance the interests of the southern slaveholder and wealthy northern families. The Constitution was written to protect elite interests by denying the rights of slaves, indigenous populations, the majority of men and all women. Only white males who owned property were allowed to vote, one of the many original sins valuing property rights over human rights. And to add insult to injury, the founding slave owners were allowed additional congressional representation based on a count of five slave equaling three citizens.
It is no coincidence that Hamilton and Madison were the primary authors of the Federalist Papers, a series of essays published to defend the Constitution to a skeptical public. Madison, the main author of the Constitution, represented southern slaveholders and Hamilton represented the northern elites. The revolutionary generation was eager to establish a stable nation independent of England and Europe so they accepted the Constitution despite serious reservations.
To be fair we must mention a few facts. As ambassador to France, Jefferson wrote to Madison insisting on a bill of rights for the Constitution, no small achievement for either man. Unfortunately, Madison in turn schooled Jefferson about the politics of slavery, which included the importance of creating new slave states during the western expansion. The issue of western expansion and slavery would lead directly to the Civil War. And Washington never forgot that the Continental Congress and his colonial governors staved his army at Valley Forge and never properly supplied his troops during the rest of the war. One should note that the anti-tax movement has a long and dishonorable history. During the Revolutionary War, Jefferson was not only the governor of Virginia but also a member of the Continental Congress; something Washington would remember during the political battles that developed between Hamilton and Jefferson.
During the Washington administration, Secretary of Treasury Hamilton and Secretary of State Jefferson fought bitterly over policy in both officially channels and surreptitiously by employing surrogates or by writing anonymously. The surreptitious back channel fighting became ugly as both Hamilton and Jefferson set standards in American politics well below current partisan politics. Washington was compelled to write both Hamilton and Jefferson insisting that they cut the shit and think of the best interests of the nation. Of course Washington used the polite, formal language of the time, as did the responses from his secretaries. Hamilton accused Jefferson of undermining his economic programs. Jefferson not only attacked Hamilton’s economic program, saying he betrayed the constitution, which can be interpreted as an act of treason, but he was adamantly opposed to the establishment of a National Bank.
Hamilton’s original National Bank is today’s Federal Reserve Bank. Both banks allow private bankers the use of public funds to issue currency and create debt. Jefferson correctly predicted that allowing private bankers to issue our currency would eventually bankrupt the nation first through inflation then through deflation. Jefferson was correct and this scenario has happened numerous times throughout American history. It should also be noted that Jefferson’s critique of capital, though not original to him, predates Carl Marx’s birth. Washington, who wanted to avoid the financial disasters of the Revolutionary War and the Continental Congress, sided with Hamilton, which caused Jefferson to resign as secretary of state.
In the 1800 election Aaron Burr tied Thomas Jefferson for the presidency. The Federalist hated Jefferson, so they supported Burr thinking that a fellow northerner would be more sympathetic to their cause. But Hamilton, who also hated Jefferson, convinced the Federalists to elect Jefferson over Burr. Both Hamilton and Burr were New Yorkers so Hamilton knew that Burr was a radical and that he presented a real threat to both the northern elite and southern slave holders. Hamilton’s decision was also influenced by the fact that Madison had convinced Jefferson of the importance of the constitutional compromise between the north and south.
By 1800 Aaron Burr was no stranger to the American people. In 1796 Burr finished fourth in the presidential election. Burr was a revolutionary war hero, a graduate of Princeton University where his father was president, a true follower of the principles of the Enlightenment and in many ways the heir to Benjamin Franklin as the champion of the common man. “The Burrite Republican Party faction in New York was the Democratic-Republicans. Its membership, largely artisans, mechanics, tradesmen, and apprentices [referred to as middling class or mechanic class], favored the French [Revolutionaries]. Hamilton's New York Federalists, large landholders, merchants and lawyers, were, in the words of its party's own President John Adams, that ‘damned faction of British partisans.’ The two groups often quarreled and brawled in the streets of New York, and Hamilton and Burr had more than one public confrontation.”
Even our best historians most often portray the conflict between Burr and Hamilton as personal in nature. But the real conflict was political and dealt with the most important issues of the early Republic. Though hyperbolic in their attacks, the Federalists were right, Burr presented a real challenge the hegemony of the northeast’s ruling classes but also to the hegemony of southern plantation owners. As a popular northern vice president, Burr was positioned to be the next president. This was a threat to the presidential succession from Jefferson, Madison to Monroe. Burr was a smart and popular politician who hadn’t been compromised by prevailing political powers. Anyone in such a position is dangerous.
What propelled Burr from fourth place in the 1796 presidential election to a tie with Jefferson in 1800 was the creation of the Manhattan Company. “Incorporated by the state [New York] as a water company in early 1799, the Manhattan Company was intended to be the curative to yellow fever epidemics that stalked summer's arrival. But as he shepherded the New York City Common Council's petition through the state legislature, Aaron Burr, then an assemblyman from the city, quietly amended the charter. He enlarged its capitalization and board of directors, populating the latter with Republicans, and inserted a clause to permit the company to use surplus capital with broad latitude. Weeks later Burr and his allies on the board of the new Manhattan Company decided to use those funds to open an office of discount and deposit, otherwise known as a bank. The new Bank of the Manhattan Company, the first to open in the city since 1792, began offering credit to merchants and tradesmen; many recipients were Republicans… the Manhattan Company became the mechanism by which Republicans captured the New York legislature in 1800 and appointed a Republican slate of presidential electors. To Federalists and Republicans alike, Jefferson's election—the revolution of 1800—had been financed by a reservoir of Manhattan Company cash.”
The Manhattan Company broke the Federalist’s banking monopoly in New York and threaten the strangle hold that the National Bank had on the rest of the country. In addition to the revolutionary practice of giving loans to the middling classes and allowing them to buy shares in the bank, Burr also used the Manhattan Company to create coops or tontines to buy land. “In 1800 the electoral vote of the New York State opened the way for the first Jeffersonian presidency in 1801. The man credited by both parties (and the entire country) with this victory for Republicans and total defeat of Federalists was the master politician, Aaron Burr… It was Burr's innovation, the tontine -- enabling suffrage for un-propertied male citizens -- that obtained the vote for Jefferson among the New York mechanic class. Not that Jefferson was grateful; he never trusted Burr after. Once it was clear to Burr that he had no future with Jefferson, his only choice was the 1804 gubernatorial race. And Jefferson was already working secretly against Burr, as he had worked secretly to destroy Hamilton.”
Before we continue, Aaron Burr Society fells that it is necessary to state we do not believe in heroes and that our namesake was certainly not perfect. Burr owned slaves at different times during his life, he was a land speculator and he was also an imperialist, though he stated that he wanted to liberate Canada and the Spanish territories. After the death of his wife, he developed a reputation with the ladies that his political enemies tried to exploit, however, the Society does not consider this to be problematic. On the other hand, he was an abolitionist, a feminist in the modern sense and he acted on his belief that slaves could be educated the same as whites. And one must admit that anyone who Hamilton accused of being a radical in the French Jacobin mode cant be all bad.
Politics has distorted the historical record of Aaron Burr. It would be analogous to a historical view of Barack Obama that was based solely on information from Fox News.
Jefferson knew that Burr’s northern populism threatened the faux gentility of southern agrarian independence as well as being a threat to Virginia’s presidential hegemony. Burr and the Manhattan Company were also a real threat to Hamilton’s plutocracy by breaking the Federalist’s banking monopoly in New York. Beyond this, Burr’s company was revolutionary in three categories. First, it offered loans to the working class and small businesses. Second, the company offered shares of stock below the prevailing market price allowing the lower classes a voice in the company’s operation, something they lacked in government. And third, the Manhattan Company gave the lower classes the right to vote by creating land coops and making them property owners, a prerequisite to voting.
Burr’s use of the Manhattan Company to break down class barriers and establish land coops was a form of proto-socialism.
The Aaron Burr Society launched the Free Money Movement on April Fools Day of last year. It was based on the principle that our government should give the people 0% loans. Over the last year we have distributed money stamped with Free Money on one side and Slave of Wall Street on the other. Today that strategy has evolved to demanding the nationalization of the Federal Reserve Bank [Fed] and opening branches in every state in the union and the territories including Puerto Rico. Direct loans to the people would be rotated based on Social Security numbers. In the tradition of the Manhattan Company, individuals would be allowed to form coops to pursue joint ventures. If an individual doesn’t pay back the loan, they would lose a turn in the rotation. Every decision and transaction would be transparent and listed online.
Micro financing would not solve all of America’s problems but it would break the current banking monopoly. The Society believes that a living wage and fair trade would be a easier to achieve. And since the American Declaration of Independence stated that all people are created equal, not just Americans, the Aaron Burr Society proposes that funding going to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should be distributed directly to the people of the developing world.
It has been almost a year since April Fools Day 2009, and the Aaron Burr Society has leaned that people from North Carolina to Maine and Ohio to West Virginia, know that banks and the auto industry can’t exist without our tax money. Libertarians like Ron Paul want to close the Federal Reserve Bank, but Paul still believes in the Free Market. We don’t. Nationalizing the Fed and allowing people the use of their own tax money is as important as the right to vote. It is economic democracy, the will of the people.
The Crisis No. 1, Thomas Paine, pamphlet, December 1776. Well not really, we’ve paraphrased and made additions while throwing in some Oscar Wilde for good measure.