Whiskey Rebellion was a tax protest which started during the presidency of George Washington. This protest started in 1791 in Western Pennsylvania and ended in 1974.
The rebellion was the first protest against the federal government of the newly born United States. It posed a serious threat to the federal authority. The farmers and distilleries of the frontier opposed the whisky tax strongly and refused to pay it.
At that time, only one percent of the total population owned almost 25 percent of the country’s distilleries. As it was very easy to transport whisky and it was a commodity needed by almost everyone, it was considered equal to cash. The frontier farmers were mainly involved in making whisky, so they were the first ones to strongly oppose the tax.
The whisky tax was implemented by the United States under the instructions of Alexander Hamilton, who was the Secretary of Treasury at the time.
The tax goal was to reduce the sustained debt from the American Revolution. However, the tax was immensely unpopular. A majority of the people thought the tax to be the same as the British taxes which they had fought against in the Revolution.
A large number of tax collectors were even feathered and mocked by the angry citizens and had their homes burned down. In 1794, these rebellions had reached their peak when a large group of annoyed protesters destroyed the house of an excise inspector, John Neville.
When the Whiskey Rebellion reached its height, rebellion flags were flown by the protesters. Those who led the revolt even formed their own assembly in order to represent their interests in a better way. The rebels of whisky tax used different flags with symbols of their protest. Most of them were quite simple, whereas some had inscriptions of, “equal taxation and no excise”. However, the most commonly used flag was simply a white flag with red stripes, commonly hung from a liberty pole. A flag having words of “liberty or death” was used by Hagerstown during the rebellion.
Although a variety of flags were used by the rebels, the most popular was a flag with the image of a majestic eagle surrounded by thirteen six-pointed stars. This flag came to be an icon of all the Americans defending themselves against the unfair taxes. It is not known exactly who created the design. But it is agreed that this flag was one of the most iconic symbols in the nation’s history.
All the people who stood beneath it left behind a strong legacy of resisting federal intervention at the state level. In addition, the flag also represents the fiery nature of the American people. To this day, the Whisky Rebellion flag is perceived as a reminder that a people must remain observant against an oppressive government overtaxing its citizens.
It is likely that the whisky rebellion flags were homemade. The frequently used material was cotton, silk, and wool bunting. Most of the protesters were farmers so they could not afford silk to make their flags.