Gateway to the Classics: American History Stories, Volume III by Mara L. Pratt
American History Stories, Volume III by  Mara L. Pratt

The Whiskey Insurrection

In order to raise money during this trying time in the nation's history, a tax was put upon whiskey and other alcoholic liquors.

This movement met with much rebellion among the people; and in Pennsylvania there was an open outbreak known as "The Whiskey Insurrection."

During this outbreak, the leader, Bradford, gained great power over a certain wealthy farmer named John Mitchel, and in some underhand manner, drew him into the conspiracy. Mitchel was young and full of vigor, and believed he was doing right.

One night Bradford came to Mitchel and said, "I believe letters have been written, and are now on the way to the President, telling of our plans for insurrection here. Now, those letters someway must be seized. You are the man to do it. As the mail-wagon passes along this road, you are to stop it, get that mail-bag and destroy those letters."

Robbery of the mails was then an offence punishable by death; but Mitchel, convinced that he was risking his life to serve his country, joined by two other men, stopped the wagon on a lonely road, between Washington and Pittsburgh, and carried the mail-bag to Bradford's house. It was opened, the damaging letters taken out, and the rest returned to the post-office at Pittsburgh.

When the insurrection was over, all the leaders escaped excepting John Mitchel. He rode into camp, and, finding General Morgan, gave himself up.

"I have been a fool," he said. "I see that plainly. I am ready to bear the punishment of my folly."

General Morgan, who knew that he had been deceived by Bradford, was sorry that he had not made his escape with him. He believed Mitchel to be at heart an honest man; and, knowing that if he were brought to trial the punishment would be death, he determined to give him a chance to escape.

"You cannot be tried here," he said. "I will give you a pass to Philadelphia. Report yourself there."

"I am to have a guard?"

"No, none."

The General turned on his heel and walked away. He intended and expected Mitchel to fly as soon as he had reached the wilderness; but the young farmer's honor was a stricter guard than soldiers would have been, and it drove him without flinching to his death.

He bade farewell to his wife and child, and started alone on horseback to Philadelphia. It was a three weeks' journey, at any hour of which he could have escaped. He reported himself as a prisoner, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged.

When the news reached General Morgan, he sent a special messenger to the President, with an account of the facts in the case. Washington, it is said, was deeply touched, and at once sent a full pardon to Mitchel, giving him at the same time this fatherly advice: "Go home to your wife and child; and forevermore keep clear of conspirators. You could hardly expect to escape again, for we are very apt to be judged by the company we keep."

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