A Bit of History, And A Call To Arms In Kentucky

Shays’ Rebellion is the name given to a series of protests in 1786 and 1787 by American farmers against state and local enforcement of tax collections and judgments for debt. Although farmers took up arms in states from New Hampshire to South Carolina, the rebellion was most serious in Massachusetts, where bad harvests, economic depression, and high taxes threatened farmers with the loss of their farms. The rebellion took its name from its symbolic leader, Daniel Shays of Massachusetts, a former captain in the Continental army.

shays-2The uprising in Massachusetts began in the summer of 1786. The rebels tried to capture the federal arsenal at Springfield and harassed leading merchants, lawyers, and supporters of the state government. The state militia, commanded by Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, crushed the rebels in several engagements in the winter of 1787. Shays and the other principal figures of the rebellion fled first to Rhode Island and then to Vermont.

Although it never seriously threatened the stability of the United States, Shays’ Rebellion greatly alarmed politicians throughout the nation. Proponents of constitutional reform at the national level cited the rebellion as justification for revision or replacement of the Articles of Confederation, which ultimately led to the framing and ratification of the Constitution.


In response to Shays’ Rebellion, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787 “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Mr. Jefferson is oft-quoted and sometimes mis-quoted, but never so strangely as this past weekend by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevins:


“Somebody asked me yesterday, I did an interview, “Do you think it’s possible, if Hillary Clinton were to win the election, do you think it’s possible that we’ll be able to survive, that we’d ever be able to recover as a nation?” And while there are people who have stood on this stage and said we would not, I would beg to differ. I do think it would be possible, but at what price? At what price? The roots of the tree of liberty are watered by what? The blood of who? The tyrants, to be sure, but who else? The patriots. Whose blood will be shed? It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think that it might be their blood is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something that we, through our apathy and our indifference, have given away. Don’t let it happen.” 


bevinMost saw his remarks as inappropriate to say the least, but particularly for a sitting governor, suggesting publicly that armed insurrection might be necessary if a legitimate presidential election doesn’t go the way he wants.  This entire campaign process has gone just a little bit too far when we have high-level politicians calling for bloodshed in the event that one candidate or the other wins the election!

Considering the source, his remarks probably should not come as much of a surprise.  Let us take a closer look at some of Mr. Bevin’s prior issues and remarks:

  • Last December, Bevin reversed a move by his Democratic predecessor to restore voting rights to at least 140,000 people with felony convictions, making Kentucky just one of just three, along with Florida and Iowa, that permanently disenfranchises all people with felony convictions.
  • However, Bevin supports restoring gun ownership rights for convicted felons who have completed their sentences.
  • He ridicules the anger of people toward Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis, calling it ‘class warfare.’ “Have you ever been offered a job by a poor person? No one has. So, this class warfare against people who’ve managed to employ other people and create wealth and create jobs, I think is silly.”

When running for governor last year, he apparently had a problem with telling the truth, which earned him the title “East Coast Con Man.” (Although he has lived in Kentucky since 1999, he was born in Colorado and raised in New Hampshire).

When asked, during his campaign if he would reverse a prior executive order that expanded Medicare eligibility, he said “Absolutely. No question about it. I would reverse that immediately.” But when asked about it six months later, he said “That isn’t what I said. I said I would address it immediately. I said I would address it. I didn’t say I would end it. Go back and look at what I said.”  According to a variety of Kentucky news sources, he flip-flopped on the issues so many times they could not keep up with where he stood.  But now here is what’s really interesting: any time Bevin has been confronted about his dishonesty, he acts like a fussy two-year old, lashing out at reporters and stubbornly denying that he ever said what was heard and recorded by everyone present.

While Kentucky has a bipartisan history of candidates releasing their tax returns, Bevin has said repeatedly that he won’t release his until after he is elected. “I have no tax delinquency problem, nor have I ever,” he said in his campaign ad last year.  Yet records show Bevin was late paying his personal and corporate property taxes at least 30 times, which Bevin ultimately acknowledged, though not before angrily lashing out at anyone who questioned whether he has had tax problems in the past.  Do some of these scenarios sound vaguely familiar?

Bevin previously challenged Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in the 2014 Republican primary. His inconsistencies in his public statements and policy positions led to his defeat by almost 25 percentage points. I am no fan of McConnell, but I think Bevin may be even worse.  He is against same-sex marriage. He supported clerk Kim Davis and two other clerks who refused to issue marriage licenses, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage. He is against abortion and has filed lawsuits against Planned Parenthood as well as a private women’s clinic for performing abortions.

So it is not surprising to hear him taking such a radical stance, perhaps calling for a ‘revolution’ of sorts, nor is it completely unprecedented. In 2010, Sharron Angle, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Nevada, said that she hoped “Second Amendment remedies” would not be necessary to deal with a “tyrannical” government. And then, of course, there is Trump’s own comment just last month: “If she [Clinton] gets the pick of her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I dunno.”  Not surprising, not without precedent, but completely inappropriate and unacceptable for one in his position of power.  This, friends, is but a miniscule taste of what we would have to look forward to in the event of a Trump presidency.

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