by William H. Benson
August 7, 2008
In 1791, Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of Treasury, urged Congress to pass a law that placed an excise tax on whiskey. He was anxious to lay his hands on more revenues and pay down the new government’s debts, for he “wanted the tax imposed to advance and secure the power of the new federal government.” Congress passed the law, and grain-producing farmers were forced to pay a tax between 7 and 18 cents per gallon.
The farmers hated this tax, arguing that it was discriminatory. They had little cash to pay it, for their medium of exchange and barter was the gallon jug of whiskey. The corn, wheat, barley that they grew they immediately converted to whiskey on their homemade stills because the jug was easily and cheaply transported. To haul grain to the eastern markets cost more than the price that they could receive for the grain.
In the summer of 1794, the farmers of western Pennsylvania rebelled and rioted, even going so far as to tar and feather the revenue agents. On August 7, 1794, President George Washington warned the rioters, but they laughed him off.
Hamilton urged Washington to call out the troops. Thirteen thousand soldiers from neighboring states converged upon western Pennsylvania, with Hamilton leading their way. Unfortunately, most of the rioters had retreated into the woods, but the two who were tried and convicted Washington pardoned.
Washington’s government meant business: the farmers would obey Congress’s laws.
On August 7, 1882, an election day, somewhere along the border between West Virginia and Kentucky, three boys from the McCoy clan stabbed and killed Ellison Hatfield. Because of this murderous action, the animosity that had run like an undercurrent between the two families for four years now erupted into an all-out fiery war that raged for the next eight years.
On the evening of August 8, 1974, President Nixon spoke to the American people and announced that he would resign as President of the United States at noon the next day for the cover-up he had directed within days after the Watergate Hotel break-in in June of 1972. For two years, he had lied to Congress, to his family, to his staff, and to the American public that he had not participated in any cover-up, and yet, he had.
On July 16, 1973, Alexander Butterfield, a Nixon associate, had revealed to a Congressional committee of the existence of recording tapes Nixon had installed in the White House and in the Oval Office. For a year, Nixon had stone-walled and refused to submit those tapes to the investigating committee, but on August 5, 1974 after the Supreme Court insisted that he turn over those tapes, the transcripts revealed the truth. Faced with the absolute certainty of impeachment, conviction, and perhaps jail time, Nixon resigned.
Some people—like those western Pennsylvania farmers, or the Hatfield’s, or the McCoy’s, or Richard M. Nixon—naturally gravitate toward a fight. It is a part of their nature. The political process is a fight, and only fighters need apply.
This summer Barack Obama and John McCain are in the fight of their lives: which of the two will garner the majority of the electoral votes in November and become our next President. The Democratic and Republican conventions will soon arrive, and we can expect to hear plenty of harsh fighting words.
Critics are ridiculing Senator John McCain because he refuses to e-mail and is not internet-savvy, that he is too old to be President for the age and the time we now live in. To that I say, “So what?” It was Richard