Rebellions, Their Tendencies, and What Works

I have always been interested in the tendencies in human nature and inevitably recurring events in history independent from their previous impact. It is amazing to me that people may learn from the past, but cannot prevent the future. It is because of this fascination that I love to read, and enjoy our history classwork.

This blog post is a more specific and focused extension of a project my World Studies class did last year called The Revolutionary Cookbook. My teacher assigned us four revolutions or rebellions to research and analyze. The creative part of it was that we put them in a book and used analogous situations to cooking, seeing how the “ingredients” of dissatisfaction came together and ultimately resulted in an overthrowing of the dominant government or class.

I could not help but think of this project when we read and talked about Bacon’s Rebellion, the American Revolution, and Shays’ Rebellion. I am going to attempt to answer these critical questions: Why do people revolt and rebel even when success seems impossible? What can make or break these groups in their efforts for change? And, most importantly, are these events just something interesting to learn about, or did they actually change societal paradigms? I’m going to analyze Bacon’s Rebellion and Shays’ Rebellion a little further. Depending on perspective, I think these can be seen as victories or defeats, which I hope will make for interesting reading.

Time and again we see throughout history the rising up of a lower class which carries discontent in their hearts. Strong in numbers and even brawnier in motivation, these individuals would appear to be the more likely victors, but instead are often brought back down to their assumed societal position by the few but mechanically and financially mighty higher classes. So why do these people rebel in the first place? I mean sure, having discontent for morality makes for a great angry mob, but most people would probably not see an attempted overthrow as rational. Is it too whimsical-history-heroes to think that these people were driven only by their normally justified but radical actions? Yes… and no. In addition to strong mental willpower, people who rebel, such as Nathaniel Bacon and Daniel Shays and hundreds more are angry. Not only are they awe-inspired and aspiring to make history, they are angry, and desperate. As Ron Swanson said on a recent episode of Parks and Recreation, some of the greatest motivators are “fear, money, and hunger”. These concrete necessities, when combined with and enhancing the emotional turmoil in these situations, are dangerous to any higher class, and motivating to any unfortunate group.

Obviously there have been drastically successful rebellions in history, such as the American Revolution, which is the a nice example of the rallying of the seemingly powerless against the powerful. When analyzing Bacon’s Rebellion and Shays’ Rebellion, it is important to first understand what a success is and what a failure is when referring to revolting. For these purposes I’m going to ask all you smartypantses out there to not look at the long term effects of these actions, but the immediate response or lack thereof for any given revolution. I’m going to say that with these parameters both of these events we’re focusing on were short term failures. Bacon’s Rebellion was just an expression of one man’s hatred for Native Americans, a method to show farmers’ discontent with taxation, and ended with the execution of several participants. Shays’ Rebellion was a glorified prison break and a lot of anger due to unfair taxation. This ended with a spreading of violence and the eventually crushing of this movement by the Massachusetts voluntary military. So why weren’t these uprisings successful? I think it’s just a simple matter of execution and a strong finish. These two events in essence seem very powerful and influential, but when it came time to gather and act on their emotion, there was not enough organization or strength to finish. I think this holds true for many insurrections I’ve learned about, and it is definitely interesting to think of the possibilities for the underdogs if they had the means for the end rather than being ended by others’ means.

I admit, this article may seem a little critical of the actions of the characters in the fantastical journey of American history, but in reality, these people were… people. Just like us. I like reading my fellow peers’ posts because it’s really nice to show our perspective as young people and to know that our understanding of this subject matter is real. These analyses show the importance of history. Although the impact of rebellions and revolutions may not have been realized when they occurred, it is important to note that yeah… we still talk about them today. And as for my snotty remark about long term effects, it would be imprudent to realize the changes brought on, no matter how much smaller or different than the desired goal. Bacon’s Rebellion shows the drastic nature of the competing attitudes of the British hierarchical society and the poor American workers. Shays’ Rebellion was a major catalyst for the Constitutional Convention and one of the biggest changes to American government which was a revolution in of itself.


The American Pageant (Thomas A. Bailey, David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen)

“The Declaration of the People” (Nathaniel Bacon)

Image Source: (John Bessa)



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