Vital Signs

Of Presidents and Guns

Under our first president, the value of the Second Amendment was tested when George Washington faced the possibility of confronting armed citizens of the United States.

During Washington’s first term, a federal excise (commodities) tax became necessary just to run the federal government and fight Indian depredations.  Congress placed the fully constitutional tax on distilled liquors throughout the United States.

It did not turn out to be an equal burden.

Farmers near the eastern seaboard sold their corn and grains profitably, for feeding people and livestock.  But in frontier areas, such as Western Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, the cost of transporting these crops to their seaboard markets would have destroyed the farmers’ livelihoods.  So for years their crops had been lawfully converted to distilled liquors (“whiskey”) for ease and economy of wagon transport.

President Washington and his secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, were unaware that such a tax would crush the West.  Furthermore, those farmers agreed with Samuel Johnson’s dictionary that an excise was a “hateful” tax.  The British had imposed it on the colonies before the American Revolution.

Though the law was carefully amended and received almost universal approval, federal officers were boycotted, and...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here