George Washington Papers

Proclamation on Violent Opposition to the Excise Tax, 24 February 1794

Proclamation on Violent Opposition to the Excise Tax

[Philadelphia, 24 Feb. 1794]

By the PRESIDENT of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.

WHEREAS by information given upon oath, it appears that in the night time of the twenty second day of November, a number of armed men having their faces blackened and being otherwise disguised, violently broke open and entered the dwelling house of Benjamin Wells collector of the revenue arising from spirits distilled within the United States, in and for the counties of Westmoreland and Fayette in the district of Pennsylvania, and by assulting the said collector and putting him in fear and danger of his life, in his dwelling house aforesaid, in the said county of Fayette did compel him to deliver up to them his commission for collecting the said revenue, together with the books kept by him in the execution of his said duty, and did threaten to do further violence to the said collector, if he did not shortly thereafter publicly renounce the further execution of his said office:1

AND WHEREAS several of the perpetrators of the said offence are still unknown, and the safety and good order of society require that such daring offenders should be discovered and brought to justice so that infractions of the law may be prevented, obedience to them secured, and officers protected in the due execution of the trusts reposed in them, therefore I have thought proper to offer and hereby do offer a reward of TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS for each of the said offenders that shall be discovered and brought to justice for the said offence, to be paid to the person or persons who shall first discover and give information of the said offenders to any judge, justice of the peace, or other magistrate.

And I do hereby strictly charge and enjoin all officers and ministers of justice according as their respective duties may require, to use their best endeavors to cause the said offenders to be discovered apprehended and secured, so that they may be speedily brought to trial for the offence aforesaid.2

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF I have caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed to these presents, and signed the same with my hand. DONE at the city of Philadelphia the 24th day of February one thousand seven hundred and ninety four, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the eighteenth.


By the President

D (printed), Gazette of the United States and Evening Advertiser (Philadelphia), 26 Feb. 1794.

1At the time of this incident, Benjamin Wells (d. 1830) resided at Stewart’s Crossing, on the western shore of the Youghiogheny River, in Fayette County. According to Wells’ affidavit of 29 Jan. 1794, his six assailants, “two of them armed with pistols,” were “all disguised by having their faces blackened and four of them had handkerchiefs tied over their mouths.” Despite this disguise, he identified two of the individuals as “Robert Smilie son of John Smilie Esquire” and “John McCulloch” (CtHi: Oliver Wolcott, Jr., Papers). For an earlier proclamation issued by GW in response to similar incidents of violence in western Pennsylvania in 1792, see the Proclamation of 15 Sept. 1792. On the opposition to the collection of the excise tax on whiskey in 1792, see Alexander Hamilton to GW, 1 Sept. 1792, and notes.

2No one was ever charged with the assault on Wells (see Baldwin, Whiskey Rebels description begins Leland D. Baldwin. Whiskey Rebels: The Story of a Frontier Uprising. 1939. Rev. Ed., Pittsburgh, 1968. description ends , 90–91; Slaughter, Whiskey Rebellion description begins Thomas P. Slaughter. The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution. New York, 1986. description ends , 150–51, 158).

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