A Massachusetts petition appeals for reform (1786)

Settled in the late 1730s, Greenwich was a small rural town in western Massachusetts. In January 1786 the people of Greenwich submitted the following petition to the Massachusetts government. It contains several of the grievances that contributed to Shays’ Rebellion later that year, including debt, currency fluctuations, high taxes, mortgage foreclosures and bankruptcies. The unrest of Shays’ Rebellion contributed to political agitation against the Articles of Confederation and, eventually, the adoption of the United States Constitution.

To the Honourable Senate and the House of Representatives in General Court assembled… a petition of the subscribers humbly showeth:

That in the time of the late war, being desirous to defend, secure and promote the rights and liberties of the people, we spared no pains but freely granted all and assistance of every kind that our civil fathers required of us.

We are sensible also that a great debt is brought upon us by the war, and are as willing to pay our shares towards it as we are to enjoy our shares in independence and constitutional privileges… And we believe that if prudent measures were taken, and a moderate quantity of medium [hard currency] to circulate so that our property might sell for the real value, we might in proper time pay [the] said debt.

But with the greatest submission, we beg leave to inform Your Honours that unless something takes place favourable to the people, in a little time at least, one of our inhabitants will in our opinion become bankrupt. How can it be otherwise? The constables are daily vendueing [auctioning] our property, both real and personal, our land… is sold for about one-third of the value of it, our cable about one-half the value, the best English hay thirteen shillings per ton…

Suits at law are very numerous and the attorneys, in our opinion, very extravagant and oppressive in their demands. And when we compute the taxes laid upon us the five preceding years (the state, county, town and class taxes) the amount is equal to what our farms will rent for.

Sirs, in this situation what have we to live on? No many to be had, our estates daily posted and sold, as above described. What can Your Honours ask of us unless a paper currency or some other medium be provided so that we may pay our taxes and debts?

Surely Your Honours are not strangers to the distresses of the people but know that many of our good inhabitants are now confined in jail for debt and for taxes. Many have fled… Are not these imprisonments and fleeing away of our good inhabitants very injurious to the credit or honour of the Commonwealth? Will not the people in the neighbouring states say [while] Massachusetts boasts of their fine constitution, the government is such that it devours its inhabitants? …

We most humbly pray your Honours to admit a paper currency and make it a tender in all payments whatsoever, or some other way to relieve your petitioners as Your Honours, in your great wisdom, shall think most proper. And if no other can be found out, pray send us such a committee as Your Honours can confide in to apprise [value] our estates and take them at your own price…

Residents of the town of Greenwich, Massachusetts
January 16th 1786
[Signed by 60 persons]

greenwich petition shays rebellion
Union Cemetery in Scottsburg, New York, the burial place of Daniel Shays. Shays led a rebellion of Massachusetts farmers protesting against economic conditions and rigid debt and foreclosure laws