20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government

Steve - April 25, 2019

The open resistance of orders by an established authority, rebellions are an integral part of the American national story. Fashioned out of a successful revolt of its own making against Great Britain, perhaps due to this incendiary birth the United States of America retained a proclivity for rebellion. Although such intense passions for insurrection have dissipated in recent decades, the early history of the young American nation remains littered with incidents of popular rebellion that have, with the exception of the most extreme or impactful, been largely forgotten to history.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
“Declaration of Independence”, by John Trumbull (c. 1819). Wikimedia Commons.

Here are 20 times Americans rebelled against their own government:


20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
A stylized engraving inaccurately depicting the Battle of Lexington on 19 April 1775. By François Godefroy (c. late-18th century). Wikimedia Commons.

20. Initiating the United States’ protracted inclination towards rebellion, the American Revolution was a political dispute that later escalated into an armed conflict between the Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain

Typically regarded as beginning in 1765, triggered by the passage of the Stamp Act among other punitive pieces of legislation imposed upon the American Colonies by the Westminster Parliament, the American Revolution was a period of insurrection by the Thirteen Colonies against Great Britain. Prompting a rejection of British rule over the colonies in protest of the economic damage caused by the protectionist restrictions, so-called “patriots” argued that without representation in Parliament the legislation was unjust and invalid. Escalating into violence and sabotage with the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party in 1770 and 1773 respectively, by 1775 the political situation had evolved into open war.

Becoming the American Revolutionary War, also known as the American War of Independence, an attempt by British soldiers to seize militia supplies resulted in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The “shot heard round the world”, “patriots” rallied to form Provincial Congresses to assume the powers of government and suppress “loyalists”. Constructing the Continental Army, led by George Washington, and forming a Continental Congress, the Thirteen Colonies publicly declared independence on July 4, 1776. After eight years, in 1783 the British and American governments signed the Treaty of Paris, ending hostilities and recognizing the formation of an independent American state.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
Shays’ troops are repulsed from the armory at Springfield, Massachusetts in early 1787. Wikimedia Commons.

19. Following only a few years after achieving victory against the British, Shays’ Rebellion highlighted the fragility of the new nation and the inadequacies of the original constitutional settlement under the Articles of Confederation

Despite winning political independence via the American Revolutionary War, the economy of the former colonies had been left in ruin by the struggle. Many inhabitants of New England were farmers, dependent upon credit to pay down suppliers and reap future harvests. Unable to repay debts, land seizures became commonplace whilst European merchants ceased to offer credit or products to the Americas due to lack of payment. Worsening the situation, without a central currency or monetary policy, the poorly designed Congress of the Confederation was unable to pay off the nation’s debts or even afford to provide veterans their due wages.

Starting in August 1786, Daniel Shays, a veteran of Lexington, Bunker Hill, and Saratoga, begun organizing protests against perceived economic injustices. Rapidly escalating after Massachusetts authorities attempted to arrest the ringleaders, in January 1787 Shay led thousands of his followers to the Springfield Armory in an attempt to seize weapons for an uprising. Unable to afford a public army, a privately funded militia was instituted to rebuff the attack. Shocking the nation into action, the failed rebellion served as the catalyst for major political upheaval, leading to the creation of a new and more centralized state during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia the following year.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
The Whiskey Rebellion, attributed to Frederick Kemmelmeyer (c. 1795). Wikimedia Commons.

18. Organized in opposition to a federal tax on domestically produced whiskey to pay down the national debt, the Whiskey Rebellion was suppressed by Washington himself when he rode against the Pennsylvania insurgents

Beginning in 1791, the Whiskey Rebellion, also known as the Whiskey Insurrection, was a protest during the presidency of George Washington against the imposition of the first federal tax upon a domestic product. Intended to raise revenues to finance repayment of the $54m of debt accrued during the Revolutionary War, as well as $25m of state government debt, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton proposed the consolidation of these debts into a single obligation to be addressed with an excise duty. Targeting a luxury item in an effort to mute resistance, farmers of Western Pennsylvania, who often supplemented their incomes via small stills, were particularly affected.

Organized under Major James McFarlane, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, resistance to the tax measure grew until, in 1794, federal officers arrived in Pennsylvania to serve writs against distillers failing to pay their dues. Prompting a group of five hundred men to attack the tax inspector’s home, Washington sent peace negotiators to buy time whilst simultaneously calling in the state militias. Riding himself at the head of an army, Washington led a force of 13,000 soldiers against the Pennsylvania rebels. Fleeing in the face of overwhelming odds, the rebellion was ended but resistance and non-payment continued to undermine the objectives of the tax until repeal under President Jefferson.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
Portrait of John Adams, by Gilbert Stuart (c. 1800-1815). Wikimedia Commons.

17. Continuing to oppose the expanding powers of the federal government, the Fries’s Rebellion sought to combat an increase in taxation to finance the enlargement of the American military during the Quasi-War

The third rebellion against the United States during its only seventeen-year existence in the 18th century, the Fries’s Rebellion, also known as the House Tax Rebellion or Heesses-Wasser Uffschtand, was an armed revolt by Pennsylvania Dutch farmers in 1799 and 1800. Fearing an escalation of the Quasi-War between the United States and France, in 1798 Congress imposed $2m of new federal taxes to enlarge the navy and raise a professional army. Among the measures instituted, Congress levied a tax on dwelling-houses and lands. Proving immensely unpopular, starting in February 1799 auctioneer John Fries began organizing a collective response in Pennsylvania to the government’s demands.

Harassing surveyors determining the values and accordant taxes on properties, in March, in a show of strength, the local militia from Quakertown briefly detained a group of assessors. Spreading throughout Pennsylvania, surveyors increasingly became under threat from displeased locals. Arresting the most disruptive protestors under the Alien and Sedition Acts, a plot was initiated to free those imprisoned. Deploying federal troops in response, President Adams ordered the wholesale arrest of all involved including Fries. Tried and convicted for treason, thus sentenced to hang, Adams later pardoned those condemned before executions could be carried out.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
William C. C. Claiborne, Governor of Louisiana; author unknown (c. early 19th century). Wikimedia Commons.

16. The largest slave insurrection in American history, the German Coast Uprising of 1811 saw a group of enslaved African-Americans revolt in the Louisiana Territory before being brutally repressed by the local militia

Possessing a long history of slave revolts, including multiple colonies of runaways hidden within the swamps beneath New Orleans, the Louisiana Territory became the center of a sugar boom during the early 1800s. Presenting slaves with punishingly hard conditions, by 1810 the black population outnumbered the white by five to one in an effort to exploit the profitable circumstances. Buoyed by the ideologies of the French and Haitian Revolutions, on January 6, 1811, a group of slaves met to plan their own bid for freedom. Striking two days later, Manuel Andry was badly wounded at his plantation and his son, Gilbert, murdered by the escaping group.

Gathering momentum, the slaves traveled from plantation to plantation rallying support. By nightfall, having traveled approximately twenty miles, the group had swelled in number from fifteen to between two to five hundred. Continuing their march towards New Orleans, burning plantation houses along the route, on January 10 local militia engaged the rebellious slaves. Killing forty to fifty in battle, the remainders fled to be hunted down. Interrogating and subsequently executing those captured, affixing their heads to pikes in medieval fashion, a total of almost one hundred slaves were murdered compared to just two whites.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
A contextual woodcut illustrating various stages of the Southampton Insurrection (c. 1831). Wikimedia Commons.

15. Less an attempt at freedom than one of vengeance against their masters, Nat Turner’s Rebellion was a slave insurrection in Virginia which cost the lives of hundreds

Organized by Nat Turner, the eponymous rebellion, also known as the Southampton Insurrection, was a revolt by enslaved African-Americans in Virginia during August 1831. An intelligent slave, taught to read and write, Turner reputedly experienced delirious visions throughout his life which he interpreted to be divine in nature. Convinced God had chosen him for a great purpose, after a solar eclipse on February 12, 1831, Turner became convinced he had received a sign. Gathering more than seventy enslaved and free blacks, Turner’s group rode from house to house murdering any white people they encountered with the exception of the impoverished.

Killing approximately sixty white inhabitants of Southampton County, on August 23 the state militia, reinforced by three companies of artillery, defeated Turner’s brigade. Killing at least one hundred blacks, dozens were arrested and Virginia ordered the executions of a further fifty-six. Turner, eluding capture for six weeks, was eventually caught, being hung, drawn, and quartered on November 11. Inciting widespread hysteria throughout the South, unfounded rumors of black uprisings and violence prompted a frenzied massacring of slaves by white owners. One militia company in North Carolina, for example, murdered forty innocent blacks in a single day to combat the imagined threat.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
A poster supporting the Anti-Rent Movement (c. July 4, 1839). Wikimedia Commons.

14. Rebelling against New York’s feudal landowning structure, the ultimately successful Anti-Renters included the son of the then-President of the United States

Opposing the manorial system of land ownership – wherein a patroon enjoyed the rights to large tracts of lands and leased these possessions out in a manner akin to the feudal system of Medieval Europe – the Anti-Rent War, also known as the Helderberg War, was a rebellion in upstate New York from 1839 to 1845. Instigated by the death of Stephen Van Rensselaer III, a lenient landowner who had allowed deferred payments of rents and was regarded as “benevolent” by his tenants, Rensselaer’s will stipulated all outstanding rents were to be collected by his heirs. Impoverished and unable to repay collectors, facing eviction and destitution the tenants revolted.

Issuing a declaration on July 4, 1839, proclaiming an end to the corrupt and abusive system, in December the rebels had formed a coalition of five hundred soldiers including John Van Buren, the son of President Martin Van Buren. Although forced to surrender by a superior force commanded by New York’s Governor, resistance to the institution endured. Charging the leaders with a litany of crimes, the trials became so acrimonious that the two leading counsels began a fist-fight in the courtroom. Pardoning those convicted, in 1846 the New York Constitution was amended abolishing feudal tenures and outlawing lifetime leases.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
Map showing the lands assigned to emigrant Indians west of Arkansas and Missouri of the Indian Territory jurisdiction (c. 1836). Wikimedia Commons.

13. Reflecting that rebellion existed across all social classes in the United States during this time, the 1842 Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation saw a group of enslaved Africans embark on a desperate bid for freedom

Predating European arrival, the Cherokee practiced the enslavement of captured prisoners of war. Expanding this cultural institution to found plantations in the late-18th century, the Cherokee Nation began purchasing African-American slaves from European colonials. Transporting their slaves with them during the Indian Removal of the 1820s and 1830s, by 1835 it is estimated the Cherokee owned approximately 1,500 black slaves. On November 15, 1842, a group of twenty enslaved African-Americans escaped the Vann plantation. Raiding local shops for weapons, horses, and supplies, the slaves raced south towards the Mexican border seeking freedom.

Gathering additional recruits, the group were swiftly pursued by the Cherokee. Catching up with the slaves seven miles north the Red River on November 28, the escapees were too weak and exhausted to resist. Recaptured, the Cherokee escorted the slaves back to their lands whereupon they executed five as an example to the others. In response to the event, the Cherokee Nation imposed new and stricter slave codes, expelling all free blacks from their territories. Nevertheless, the event inspired countless successor attempts, with an estimated 300 blacks attempting to escape Indian Territory by 1851.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
The Battle of Taos in 1847, during the Mexican-American War, depicting the death of Captain John H.K. Burgwin during the siege of the Taos Pueblo; author unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

12. An unsuccessful attempt by the existing inhabitants of the newly annexed territory of New Mexico to resist American rule, the Taos Revolt of 1847 resulted in the swift and decisive brute force of American soldiery brought down upon the rebels

Following the August 1846 surrender of New Mexico to the United States, a product of the Battle of Sante Fe where Governor Manuel Armijo yielded without a shot being fired, many Hispanos and Puebloans remained resentful of their new situation. Treated poorly by occupying American forces under the command of Colonel Sterling Price and Governor Charles Bent, on January 19, 1847, the Taos Revolt was launched. Led by Pablo Montoya and Tomas Romero, the rebels stormed Bent’s mansion, murdering and scalping the governor before his family. Killing and scalping several other leading government officials, including the county sheriff and judge, the rebels sought to punish all those who had accepted the American government’s offices.

Marching with a force of five hundred, the rebels laid siege to Simeon Turley’s mill the following day. Although only two occupants survived, escaping at night, the attack on the mill raised the alarm in Sante Fe. Price was deployed with three hundred soldiers, defeating a force of approximately fifteen hundred rebels at Santa Cruz de la Cañada. Retreating to Taos Pueblo, the insurgents sought refuge within an adobe church. Breaching the church walls with cannons, more than a hundred and fifty rebels were killed and four hundred captured; just seven Americans died. Bringing the leaders to trial for treason, at least twenty-eight were sentenced to death for their involvement.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
Harper’s Weekly illustration of U.S. Marines attacking John Brown’s “Fort” (c. November 1859). Wikimedia Commons.

11. An attempt by abolitionists to provide the means for an armed uprising of African slaves, John Brown’s unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry was, in Robert E. Lee’s opinion, the doomed endeavor of either a madman or a fanatic

Thought to contain as many as 100,000 muskets at the time of the attack, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was an effort by abolitionists to facilitate an armed slave revolt. Seeking to gain entry by force to the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, Brown’s group of twenty-two initiated their plan on October 16, 1859. Taking hostages and severing telegraph cables, the first victim of Brown’s forces was ironically a black man, Heyward Shephard, who happened upon them during their approach. Gaining access to the armory, the rebels were discovered the following morning and the building quickly surrounded.

Suffering minor casualties during the standoff, by the afternoon President Buchanan ordered Colonel Robert E. Lee to march with a company of Marines to recover the building. Storming the armory, in less than three minutes all of the rebels were either dead or in custody. Brown, injured by nevertheless alive, was charged with treason. Found guilty, Brown was executed on December 2 at Charles Town, Virginia. Part of a volunteer militia of 1,500, designed to prevent abolitionists from rescuing their condemned leader, twenty-one-year-old actor and staunch supporter of slavery John Wilkes Booth gleefully watched the execution.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
“Battle of Gettysburg”, by Thure de Thulstrup (c. 1887). Wikimedia Commons.

10. The deadliest war in American history, the Civil War was a large-scale rebellion by eleven states of the Union to form a breakaway nation after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860

Known contextually as the War of the Rebellion, the American Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 between the United States, also known during the conflict as the Union, and the Confederate States: a breakaway group of eleven states, out of the then-thirty-four, who elected to secede from the country and institute a new nation. Declaring their departure following the November 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln, who won office, despite not even appearing on the ballots in many southern states, on a platform opposed to the expansion of slavery into the western territories, Lincoln’s administration responded pronouncing the action an illegal rebellion.

Raising volunteer and conscript armies, the resultant conflict started on April 12, 1861, with the Battle of Fort Sumter. Costing the lives of between 620,000 and 750,000 soldiers – the deadliest war in American history, responsible for more American fatalities than all other conflicts combined – it has been estimated the Civil War claimed the lives of ten percent of all Northern men between the ages of twenty and forty-five as well as thirty percent of all white Southern men between eighteen and forty. Ending with the surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, the nation’s political reintegration would take another twelve years to formally conclude.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
A drawing from a British newspaper, the London Illustrated News, showing armed rioters clashing with Union Army soldiers in New York City (c. 1863). Wikimedia Commons.

9. Rebelling against the federal government’s imposition of conscription, white working-class New Yorkers exploded into violence during “Draft Week” in July 1863

A violent response to the forced conscription of white working-class men to fight for the Union during the Civil War, the New York City draft riots, also known as Draft Week, was, and remains, the largest civil insurrection in American history besides the Civil War itself. Heavily connected to the South for its exports, New York’s economy suffered as a result of the divisive conflict, with many in the city expressing sympathies for the secessionist movement. Following the passage of the Enrollment Act in March 1863, establishing a federal draft to provide additional troops, many citizens grew outraged at the government’s authoritarian endeavor.

Worsened by the fact that blacks were excluded from the draft, and wealthy individuals could pay $300 to be withdrawn, many of those sympathetic to the Confederate cause grew increasingly hostile towards minorities. During the drawing of the draft on July 13, 1863, the provost marshal was attacked by a mob and the city erupted into chaos. Although initially intended to protest displeasure with the draft itself, the violence quickly became racial, with African-Americans targeted by angry crowds. Taking until July 16 to instill order, with Lincoln forced to divert troops from Gettysburg, at least one hundred blacks were publicly lynched and a total death toll is estimated in the thousands.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
The “Louisiana Outrages”, as illustrated in Harper’s Weekly (c. October 1874). Wikimedia Commons.

8. A product of the contested gubernatorial election of 1872, in which both the Democratic and Republican candidates claimed victory, the Battle of Liberty Place saw members of the White League briefly capture New Orleans

Despite losing the 1872 Louisiana gubernatorial election by 17,000 votes, Democrat John McEnery claimed victory nonetheless. Seeking to overturn the Republican government and oppose Reconstruction, tensions simmered in the then-state capital of New Orleans between supporters of both factions. In September 1874, McEnery marched upon the city with five thousand members of the White League – a paramilitary organization committed to the suppression of racial minorities – and formed a “rump” legislature. Engaging a rival force of thirty-five hundred police and state militia members on September 14, McEnery was victorious and occupied the state house.

Holding the city until September 17, building barricades in preparation for a siege, upon the arrival of federal troops under the command of General Emory the rebels surrendered to the superior force without a fight. Ending the standoff with the agreement no individuals would be prosecuted for their involvement, by September 21 order has returned to the city. However, the White League propagated the widely held view that democratic government had been eradicated in the state, reducing whites in favor of blacks, leading to the rapid advent of racial hostilities in the aftermath of the 1877 compromise which saw federal forces withdraw from Louisiana.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
“Worse than Slavery” by Thomas Nast, depicting an alliance between the White League and KKK, as illustrated in Harper’s Weekly (c. October 24, 1874). Wikimedia Commons.

7. The Election Riot of 1874 saw the White League successfully attack polling stations, murder black voters, and remove all Republicans from office in Barbour County, Alabama

Another incident involving the White League, whose explicit objective was the overthrow of Reconstruction governments and the resurrection of racial slavery, the Election Riot of 1874, also known as the Coup of 1874, saw the paramilitary group seek to overturn the election results. Including members involved in the Colfax Massacre in 1873 – wherein the White League attacked blacks attempting to vote during elections in Louisiana – the group actively disrupted Republican political operations throughout the South. On November 3, 1874, the Alabama chapter attacked poll stations in Eufaula, killing at least seven black voters, injuring dozens more, and driving more than one thousand from the polls.

Continuing on their rampage, the force moved to Spring Hill where they stormed the polling station, destroying ballot boxes and murdering the son of a white judge. Refusing to count any Republican votes, the White League proclaimed a Democratic victory in all the offices of Barbour County. Eliciting no response from the federal government, even as black voters increasingly avoided the polls out of fear of violence, the coup was successful. Two years later, a deal was struck to remove federal troops and end Reconstruction, with repression by white militias only increasing in the aftermath.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
Mob posing by the ruins of The Daily Record (c. November 26, 1898). Wikimedia Commons.

6. Ushering into being an era of harsher racial segregation and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the American South, the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 saw white supremacists overthrow democratically elected governments in North Carolina and impose white supremacy

Preceding the Civil War, the city of Wilmington, North Carolina, was home to more than 10,000 African-Americans, a number which grew even further during Reconstruction to a peak of approximately 25,000. Fueling white resentment in the years following the loss of the Civil War, militant white supremacist organizations gradually clawed back the power they had once wielded in an effort to suppress black rights and prosperity. Angered by the prominence of non-whites in public life, in 1897 a new campaign for white supremacy was launched, proclaiming that “North Carolina is a WHITE MAN’S STATE and WHITE MEN will rule it”.

Attempting to defeat the Republican-Fusionist alliance in the 1898 elections, white militias blockaded polling stations and enacted violent voter suppression tactics. Despite this, Wilmington’s government nevertheless remained biracial in composition and opposed to white supremacy. Issuing the “White Declaration of Independence” on November 9, the following day the coalition launched a coup against the elected government. Claiming, falsely, that a black uprising was taking place, the white supremacists forced Republican officials to resign at gunpoint before exiling or lynching said elected officials. Murdering a total of 300 people, black businesses were firebombed whilst in the aftermath legislation was quickly passed disenfranchising non-whites.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, blindfolded, drawing the first draft number in the lottery to be called up: Number 258 (c. July 20, 1917). Wikimedia Commons.

5. An ill-fated attempt to resist the draft and overthrow Woodrow Wilson, the Green Corn Rebellion was a short-lived attempt by Oklahoman farmers to oppose America’s entry into World War One

Following the re-election of President Woodrow Wilson, winning his second term with the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War”, just months later Wilson went before Congress on April 6, 1917, to request a declaration of war. Following America’s entry in the First World War, Congress also passed legislation imposing military conscription via a draft system. Opposed heavily by the Socialist Party, as well as working-class unions and farmers, the Selective Draft Act of 1917 hit rural Oklahoma hard. Depleting poor farming communities of desperately needed labor, impoverishing and ruining whole families and towns, hostilities began to flare.

Starting on August 2, 1917, Seminole County Sheriff Frank Grall and Deputy Bill Cross were ambushed by militants. Burning railway bridges and cutting telephone lines, by the following day the movement had expanded into an armed gathering of between eight hundred and one thousand in Southeastern Oklahoma. Consuming green corn as they progressed, the intent was to rally support and march on Washington, overthrowing Wilson, repealing the draft, and ending the war. Concluding anti-climatically, the rebellion was betrayed and its movements reported ahead to the authorities. Easily defeated by a regional militia, its’ were leaders arrested, tried, and imprisoned.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
Tennessee miners attacking Fort Anderson during the Coal Creek War, as depicted in the August 27, 1892 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Wikimedia Commons.

4. A series of armed conflicts lasting for four decades, the Coal Wars was an attempt by coal operators to oppose worker’s rights in their facilities with extreme force including murdering their employees

Occurring chiefly in the Eastern United States, specifically in Appalachia, the Coal Wars were a succession of violent conflicts between 1890 and 1930. Inspired by the perceived economic exploitation of workers by coal operators, who, from the 1870s onward, would routinely hire private detectives to ensure union organizations did not penetrate their sites and encourage worker’s rights, these coal miners at various locations sought to advance protections. Responding with extreme violence, coal operators sought to combat disruptive employees by any means necessary including excessive uses of force against their striking workers.

Of particular note, the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912 saw some of the worst examples of corporate violence inflicted upon American workers. Lasting from April 1912 through July 1913, the demands by employees were not dramatic, amounting to just fifteen cents per worker per day. Unrelenting, the coal companies instead employed professional strikebreakers to end the resistance and fired anyone joining a union. On February 9, 1913, these hired thugs even drove a heavily armored train fitted with a machine gun through the tents of the miners and their families, killing at least fifty and injuring scores more. Ultimately unsuccessful, the legacy of the conflict can be seen even today, with the United States enjoying among the worst employee rights of any developed nation.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
Edward Hull “Boss” Crump, the corrupt political leader who controlled Tennessee politics for more than three decades. Wikimedia Commons.

3. Fought to prevent the corrupt Crump political machine from continuing to rig elections, the Battle of Athens was won by returning World War Two veterans crusading to retrieve stolen ballot boxes in 1946

One of the many political machines operating throughout the American democratic system during the early 20th century, the E.H. Crump consortium controlled Tennessee politics from the 1920s until the mid-1950s. Personally appointing every Mayor of Memphis between 1915 and 1954, Crump committed countless acts of electoral fraud, corruption, and bribery to maintain an iron grip over almost every aspect of the state. Challenged by the return of approximately 3,000 servicemen after the end of the Second World War, almost ten percent of McMinn County’s population, these veterans argued that “if democracy was good enough to put on the Germans and the Japs, it was good enough for McMinn County, too”.

Forming the GI Non-Partisan League, presenting a slate of candidates and raising money for election oversight, the embattled Crump fought back. Unleashing hundreds of armed law enforcement officers against his opponents during the 1846 elections, seizing ballot boxes and holding them in the county jail whilst attempting to doctor the results, the veterans responded by arming themselves. Assaulting the jail with as many as two thousand men, the former soldiers overran the building and prevented the election from being stolen. Signaling the beginning of the end for the corrupt political consortium, the Battle of Athens marked the entry of American veterans into mainstream U.S. politics.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
Photograph of the Ponce Massacre, taken by Carlos Torres Morales moments after the first shots were fired (c. October 30, 1950). Wikimedia Commons.

2. An attempt by nationalists in Puerto Rica to win independence from colonial rule under the United States, the San Juan Revolt of 1950 was an unsuccessful effort to replicate the Thirteen Colonies’ victory against Great Britain

Following the Ponce Massacre in 1937, when, during a peaceful protest march against American governance in Puerto Rico, troops under U.S. command opened fire killing eighteen and wounding two hundred and thirty-five, members of the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party grew increasingly radical in their opposition to American rule over the island. Hoping the United Nations would take notice and intervene, in 1950 the Nationalists organized mass uprisings against the United States. Thwarted by American police, who had learned of their plans and arrested a number of key figures, its leader Albizu Campos was forced to order the revolution to start prematurely on October 27.

With the police opening fire once again upon a caravan of Nationalists without provocation, popular outcry led to a series of attacks throughout Puerto Rica against American targets, in particular La Fortaleza (the Governor’s mansion) and the Federal Court House Building in Old San Juan. Largely failing in their efforts, suffering heavy casualties against superior numbers and failing to seize any important buildings, the final salvo of the 1950 rebellion occurred on November 1, when nationalists Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo unsuccessfully attacked Blair House in Washington D.C. with the hope of assassinating President Truman.

20 Times Americans Rebelled Against Their Government
Attica Correctional Facility (c. 2007). Wikimedia Commons.

1. A revolt launched by inmates of Attica Correctional Facility in 1971, the retaking of the prison saw the deadliest one-day encounter between Americans since the end of the Civil War

Part of the Prisoners’ Rights Movement, the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 saw inmates at Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, participate in a mass rebellion in protest of brutal conditions and in pursuit of political rights. Involving 1,281 out of the prison’s approximately 2,200 inmates, on September 9, 1971, the prisoner’s took forty-two officers and civilian members of staff hostage. Issuing a list of demands, including adequate medical treatment and fair visitation rights, negotiations were led by twenty-old-year-old Elliott James “L.D.” Barkley. Despite agreeing to twenty-eight reasonable requests, authorities refused to grant amnesty to those involved and talks broke down.

Ordered by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to regain control of the prison by force, at 0946 on September 13 police opened fire. Indiscriminately hitting hostages and inmates, including those not resisting, ten hostages and twenty-nine inmates were killed during the attack, becoming the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War. Barkley, just days away from his scheduled release, attempted to surrender but was murdered by state police upon recapture. A subsequent report, released to the public in 2013, revealed a long history of inmate abuse, including the torturing of those incarcerated at Attica.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Growth of the American Revolution: 1766-1775”, Bernhard Knollenberg, Liberty Fund (2003)

“Revolutionary America, 1763-1815: A Political History”, Francis D. Cogliano (1999)

“In Debt to Shays: The Bicentennial of an Agrarian Rebellion”, Robert A. Gross, University of Virginia Press (1993)

“A Little Rebellion”, Marion Lena Starkey, Literary Licensing, LLC (2011)

“Whiskey Rebels: The Story of a Frontier Uprising”, Leland Baldwin, University of Pittsburgh Press (1939)

“Those Dirty Rotten Taxes: The Tax Revolts That Built America”, Charles Adams, Free Press (1998)

“Fries’s Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolution”, Paul Douglas Newman, University of Pennsylvania Press (2005)

“American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt”, Daniel Rasmussen, Harper Press (2011)

“Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County”, David F. Allmendinger Jr., Johns Hopkins University Press (2014)

“Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion”, Herbert Aptheker, Humanities Press (1966)

“A Free Soil – A Free People: The Anti-Rent War in Delaware County, New York”, Dorothy Kubik, Purple Mountain Publishing (1997)

“Africans and Creeks: From the Colonial Period to the Civil War”, Daniel F. Littlefield Jr., Greenwood Press (1979)

“Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War”, Tony Horwitz, Henry Holt and Company (2011)

“John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights”, David S. Reynolds, Vintage Publishing (2006)

“America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink”, Kenneth M. Stampp, Oxford University Press (1990)

“The Civil War and Reconstruction”, David Donald, Jean H. Baker, and Michael F. Holt, W.W. Norton and Company (2001)

“The Armies of the Streets: The New York Draft Riots of 1863”, Adrian Cook, University Press of Kentucky (2014)

“The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War”, Iver Bernstein, University of Nebraska Press (2010)

“Black Prisoners and Their World: Alabama, 1865-1900”, Mary Ellen Curtis, University Press of Virginia (2000)

“The North Carolina Election of 1898”, Nicholas Graham, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library (2005)

“The Ghosts of 1898: Wilmington’s Race Riot and the Rise of White Supremacy”, Timothy B. Tyson, News and Observer (November 17, 2006)

“Treasonous Tenant Farmers and Seditious Sharecroppers: The 1917 Green Corn Rebellion Trials”, Nigel Anthony Sellars, Oklahoma City University Law Review (2002)

“Gun Thugs, Rednecks, and Radicals: A Documentary History of the West Virginia Mine Wars”, David Corbin, PM Press (2011)

“The West Virginia Mine Wars: An Anthology”, David Corbin, Appalachian Editions (1998)

“The Battle of Athens”, Seiber Lones, American Heritage (1985)

“War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony”, Nelson Antonio Denis, Nation Books (2015)

“Criminal Injustice: Death and Politics at Attica”, Christine Christopher, Blue Sky Project (2013)

“The Turkey Shoot: Tracking the Attica Cover-Up”, Malcolm Bell, Grove Press (1985)