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Daniel Shays (c.1747-1825) was a popular Revolutionary War Captain and poor farmer who led an attack of some 1,200 frustrated farmers on the Massachusetts state arsenal at Springfield in late January, 1787. Shays and his followers wanted a more flexible money policy, the right to postpone tax payments until the ongoing depression had lifted, and laws that would allow them to use corn and wheat as money. They believed themselves patriots, acting in the spirit of the Revolution by attempting to close the courts to prevent land seizures against their bankrupt neighbors and themselves. They also employed the symbols of the Revolution in their effort, from liberty trees to liberty poles. Nonetheless, an unsympathetic state governor dispatched another Revolutionary War veteran, General Benjamin Lincoln, to suppress the rebellion. The 4,400 man militia killed four of Shays's men and forced the rest to retreat; more than 1,000 were eventually arrested.

For many prominent Founding Fathers, the Shays Rebellion (as it came to be called) was a clear sign that the U.S. government was not effective or strong enough under the Articles of Confederation. The incident gave impetus to preexisting plans for a new constitutional convention at Philadelphia that spring. In Massachusetts, the next state election put more sympathetic legislators in office and the state stopped direct taxes and lowered court fees the very next year. The legislature also pardoned Shays and the other members of the rebellion.

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