The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 was hardly a shot heard round the world. But it was the first big test of the federal government's power to enforce its laws and command the use of state militias. The brouhaha began after Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton put an excise tax on whiskey. The tax hit hard in western Pennsylvania, the chief whiskey-producing region. Distillers and grain farmers saw the tax as an illegal federal infringement of their rights, and they remembered that the 13 colonies rebelled against Britain over taxes on tea. They tarred and feathered several revenue officials, then rioted over attempts to arrest distillers. President George Washington asked the governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia to mobilize militias. On Oct. 14, 1794, Washington used the troops to put down the uprising. He pardoned the only two offenders convicted of treason.
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