PART FOUR:  The Federal Period

 

During the Revolution, the colonies had to cooperate with each other to meet war time emergencies. However, once independence had been obtained, the states went back to their old ways of promoting their own interests, rather than those of the nation as a whole. Ultimately, this situation could not continue, because building a new nation involves problems different from those arising from war. And frankly, the government created by the continental congress was just too weak to solve these new problems.

What little government there was arose from the Articles of Confederation adopted by Congress in November 1777. These articles primarily protected the rights of the states. Congress had no power to tax and, therefore, had to rely on state revenues paid in proportion to the value of the land. Nor could Congress regulate domestic or foreign commerce; establish a federal judiciary; or enforce the restricted powers it did have. These limited powers included such things as conducting war, establishing post offices, coining money, and regulating the Indians.

This was all to change in the Federal Period, 1787-1828. The desire to create a more powerful federal government greatly increased with the reaction to Shays's Rebellion. Massachusetts farmers revolted against the many foreclosures of their properties for non-payment of war-related debts. The federal government was powerless to help Massachusetts put down the rebellion. This scared many of the states into pushing for a stronger centralized government. Chapter 13 takes the trip to Springfield to catch some of the action of Shays's Rebellion.

The representatives of six states gathered at the Annapolis Convention in September 1786. None of the New England states sent representatives. The poor turnout led Alexander Hamilton to draft a report suggesting that all states send delegates to Philadelphia in 1787. Congress consented and the Constitutional Convention opened on May 25, 1787.

Most of the antifederalists did not attend, which made the convention's job much easier. In fact, the biggest problem was working out the dispute between large and small states. The Connecticut Plan, presented by Roger Sherman, provided the basis for a compromise between the big-state plan, introduced by Virginia's Edmund Randolph, and the small-state counter plan, presented by New Jersey's William Paterson. The states would have equal representation in the Senate, but there would be proportional representation in the lower house. The delegates wrote a Constitution and presented it for approval on September 12.

The ratification process was not an easy one. Two prominent statesmen from Connecticut, Noah Webster and Oliver Ellsworth, worked hard to bring about ratification of the constitution. Chapter 14 visits the homes of these two prominent Hartford area men.

New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document in June 1788. This enabled the first Congress under the new federal constitution to meet in March 1789 in New York City. Coming as a surprise to no one, Congress chose the myth-in-his-own-time, George Washington, as President. The representatives then chose John Adams as Vice President. Washington took the inaugural oath on the steps of Wall Street's Federal Hall.

Chapter 8 travels to Ansonia, Connecticut in order to learn more about perhaps the earliest group of American writers: the Hartford Wits. Many of these writers worked towards building a strong federal government. Chapter 9 takes a close look at life among the wealthy in the Federal period by examining the beautiful town of Litchfield, Connecticut. And, finally, Chapter 10 visits the quaint town of Stonington, Connecticut, to learn more about the Battle of Stonington in the War of 1812, in which the Americans had to assert their strength and independence against a doubting Great Britain.

In architecture, the Federal period is not very different from that of the late Georgian. One of the more notable differences is the presence of a fanlight (i.e., a window shaped like an open fan) over the front door, often accompanied by sidelights (i.e., narrow, door-length windows by the sides of a door).

The Adam brothers greatly influenced interior decoration in this period. The brothers, Robert and James, sons of a Scottish architect, were influenced by classicism as revealed in the excavations at Herculaneum and later Pompeii. Practitioners of the style designed furniture to look like Roman temples. The characteristics included: thin, square-tapered legs; inlays of pale satinwood; decorative motifs of garlands, ovals, and eagles (the symbol of the new nation); and sometimes with hand painted portraits.

The Hepplewhite style (1785-1800) of furniture derives from the London cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite. He collaborated with the Adam brothers, adding modifications based on the French style of Louis XVI. Chairs in this style often have delicate backs in the shapes of shields, ovals, hearts, and wheels, along with slender tapering legs sometimes with spade feet (i.e., looking something like whiskey glasses with very straight sides). Decoration is often of drapery festoons, medallions of eagles, or classic figures and feathers.

The Sheraton style (1800-1820) derives from another Londoner, Thomas Sheraton. This style modifies the Hepplewhite use of straight lines. The legs are still thin and tapering, but are now also round and reeded. Arms and legs are also more curved. The shield back is replaced by the square back of the French Empire style (which is explained in the next chapter). The decoration consists of low-relief carvings of drapery festoons, bowknotted wheat ears, and rosettes. To avoid possible confusion, please note that in England the Regency style (1793-1820) dominated. The style is an increased "Frenchification" of the Sheraton style.



Chapter 6. Shays's Rebellion at Springfield

Without the power of taxation, the federal government could not collect enough revenue to meet its costs. As a result, continental securities dropped sharply and former soldiers of the Revolution found the scrip they had received in pay to be virtually worthless. Established farmers and soldiers returning to farming found they could not pay their debts, and appealed to the states for relief.

These trends occurred in every state and every state, except Massachusetts, found ad-hoc ways to grant the farmers relief. In Massachusetts the maritime counties blocked relief measures for the farmers, who were heavily concentrated in the western part of the state.

Not surprisingly, Massachusetts farmers revolted. A mob attacked the court house in Springfield in 1783 hoping to block the court from sitting so no more farmers would be thrown into prison for debt and no more cattle and land confiscated. The authorities successfully repulsed the mob.

In 1786 at Hatfield, Massachusetts farmers held a convention attended by delegates from fifty towns. The participants demanded the abolishment of the state Senate and the issuance of more paper money so debts would be easier to pay. In response, the Governor of Massachusetts called out the militia to prevent "unlawful assemblies."

Fearing that the sitting of the state supreme court at Springfield would lead to treason indictments against the farmers' leaders, the protesters decided to prevent the sitting of the court. Daniel Shays, a former captain in the Revolutionary War, became the leader of 1,100 men who descended on Springfield. The men hoped to get arms at the federal arsenal in Springfield and then march on the courthouse.

Massachusetts did not have the money to finance an army and the national government was so heavily in debt that it could not loan the necessary money to the state. Private merchants and businessmen volunteered to loan the funds in order to finance a state army.

Josiah Day House
70 Park Street, West Springfield, MA (Open Sat and Sun 1-5, mid- June to mid-Oct and by appointment)

In 1754 Josiah Day built this brick saltbox house. Here Luke Day waited for a message from Shays to attack the Springfield arsenal. The house is furnished with possessions of Day descendants, who lived in the house until 1902.

Shays coordinated his assault on Springfield with those of Luke Day, who had gathered a force of 400 men around him, and another force under a man named Parson. Together, these forces had Springfield virtually surrounded.

Shays sent a message to Day to attack the armory at Springfield on January 25. Day send back a message saying he could not attack on the 25th but could do so on the 26th. The latter message, however, never reached Shays because the authorities captured the courier when he stopped for a drink at a Springfield tavern.

The stage now set for confrontation, catch the action by visiting the Springfield Armory. One has to exercise a little imagination because none of the buildings here today were standing during the time of Shays's rebellion.

Springfield Armory
Corner of State and Federal Streets, Armory Square, Springfield, MA (Open daily 8-4:30, all year)

Massachusetts militia under the command of General William Shepard stationed themselves at the Springfield Armory. On January 25, 1787 Shepard's artillery opened fire on Shays's group, killing three and mortally wounding another. The action took place between Federal Street and St. James Street where the Federal Square buildings are now located. There is a plaque on a rock on State Street (just east of the intersection of Federal and State Streets) that marks the site where the battle took place. A house located on Armory Square served as a hospital for the wounded.

The rebels fled without returning fire. General Benjamin Lincoln with fresh militia pursued Shays's main force to Petersham, Massachusetts where again the army routed the rebels and broke the back of the rebellion.

The state government was very lenient with the rebel leaders --most of whom were pardoned or served short prison terms. Shays escaped to Vermont, later moving to New York state where he lived in poverty. The authorities captured Luke Day and imprisoned him in Boston, but soon granted him a pardon.

Shays's Rebellion frightened many American leaders, in part because the Confederation was powerless to help Massachusetts put down the revolt. This, more than anything else, served to win support for a stronger federal government.

Now that we have covered the great event that took place here at the Armory, the history of the armory itself can be presented. General Henry Knox first proposed the idea of an arsenal (where weapons would be stored on a grander scale) to General Washington in September 1776. For the site of the first armory Washington selected Hartford; Congress chose Brookfield; but Knox, learning that Springfield already had a blast furnace and foundry, successfully pushed that town as the site.

In July 1777 Colonel Thomas Dawes purchased Springfield property for the building of a large magazine, laboratories, stores, and other buildings associated with an arsenal. In 1794 an act of Congress established a United States Armory in Springfield. The Armory became the backbone of Springfield's future growth.

During the Civil War musket production here at the Armory proved an economic boon to the city. The work force at the Armory jumped from 200 to 2,600 men. Fully one-quarter of Springfield's labor force worked at the Armory producing more than 800 thousand Springfield Rifles.

Springfield became a center of the small arms industry. At one time thirty-nine small arms companies had their homes here. The most prominent of the private small arms companies was Smith and Wesson, which started before the Civil War on Market Street.

During World War I, the Springfield Armory produced over a quarter million 1903 Springfield Rifles. Also produced here were the M-1 Garand and the M-14 Rifle. The installation closed in 1968.

In the 1847 Main Arsenal Building you can see the world's largest collection of small arms. There are so many weapons here that you can trace the technical development of American small arms, including the hand gun, rifle and machine gun. To help you better appreciate what you are looking at when you visit the small arms collections at the Armory, brief summaries of the technical developments of the handgun and rifle are presented. If you are interested in learning more about weapons, see the chapter on Samuel Colt in this book.

Evolutionary Development of the Handgun

The first handgun was really a hand cannon (appearing around 1350) and was fired like a cannon. Adding a primitive trigger and hammer holding a lighted match cord produced the Matchlock weapon (circa 1400), which would fire when the match cord came in contact with the priming powder in a flashpan. The consequent flash would penetrate a vent in the barrel to set off the main charge.

The above two weapons used the direct application of fire in order to ignite the gun powder. The next group of weapons used sparks created through friction or striking action to ignite the powder. These weapons included the Wheellock (wherein sparks are produced when iron pyrites, clamped in a holder, are brought to bear against the rough edges of a revolving wheel) and those handguns using flint to produce the spark. The weapons using flint for ignition introduced the pan cover that slid over the top of the pan to protect the powder from moisture. Variants of these weapons include the Snaphaunce (circa 1560), the Miquelet lock (circa 1580), and the Flintlock (circa 1630).

The Flintlock handgun style lasted for over 200 years. The next break through in arms did not occur until the development of the percussion system, wherein the main powder charge ignites when the hammer strikes a highly explosive compound, fulminate of mercury.

The early percussion period can be divided into two periods, before and after the invention of the percussion cap. In the first quarter of the 1800s, percussion handguns used either loose fulminate powder or powder in the form of pills, pellets, tubes, or patches resembling the caps used in children's toy pistols. In the second quarter of the 1800s, the percussion cap came into wide-spread use. The hammer would strike a copper percussion cap filled with fulminate of mercury set on top of the nipple of the gun. The consequent explosion would penetrate the opening in the nipple to the barrel chamber and set off the main charge.

The next big step forward in the development of the handgun was the invention of the revolver, which can fire multiple shots one after another. Revolvers had been around for hundreds of years, but they were not very reliable weapons. Samuel Colt invented the first practical revolver, obtaining a patent for his invention in 1835. The first Colt revolvers were primitive weapons in that the loading procedure was very similar to that used in the muzzle-loading weapons. The user had to fill the chambers of the cylinder with the correct amount of gun powder and then ram the bullets home on top of the powder using a loading lever under the barrel of the gun.

Revolvers improved as the quality of cartridges improved. The 1836 pin-fire cartridge fired when the hammer struck a firing pin protruding from the top of the gun barrel driving the pin down to explode the cap. This was succeeded by the 1845 rimfire cartridge (fired when the hammer strikes the end of the cartridge which has a circle of explosive material around the rim). The rimfire cartridge in turn was replaced by the 1858 centerfire cartridge, which was fired when the hammer struck a firing pin against a cap or primer at the center of the base of the cartridge.

The chambers of the cylinders of early Colt revolvers were not bored all the way through at the rear of the cylinder because the firer had to load the powder and bullets into the chambers. The appearance of the metallic cartridge made it possible to improve this cylinder arrangement. In 1857, following the expiration of Colt's revolver patent, Smith and Wesson extended the chambers through the rear of the cylinder so that their rim-fire metallic cartridges could be loaded into the chambers from the front of the cylinder next to the hammer, thereby, producing the revolver that we all are familiar with from children's toy Western revolvers.

The last major stage in the evolution of the pistol is the development of the automatic, a self-loading pistol. With the revolver the firer loads the bullets individually into the chambers of the cylinder, whereas with the automatic the firer inserts a clip which contains many rounds of ammunition. The automatic was offered to the public in 1893 through the work of inventor Borchardt who lived in Connecticut.

Development of the Rifle

The shoulder firearm developed when handles were placed on the "hand cannon." These handles developed into the gunstock. Like the early handguns, early rifles were muzzle-loaders. In fact, the development of the rifle and the pistol go hand-in-hand. And as in the development of the pistol the early Matchlocks were followed by the Wheellocks and the Flintlocks.

The majority of the early colonial weapons were muskets which have smooth bored barrels. A musket does not shoot as far as a rifle, which has spiral grooves cut into the inside of the barrel to give the bullet a spin or twist for greater accuracy and distance. Pennsylvania Dutch settlers were especially adept at creating what became known as the Kentucky Rifle.

Percussion weapons followed the Flintlocks. The Springfield Model 1842 Musket was the first regulation musket manufactured at the Springfield Armory using the percussion ignition system.

Gunsmiths continued their search for a really effective breech-loader to replace the slow muzzle-loaders. The United States was the first country to adopt a breech-loader for military use when in 1817 the U.S. military adopted the flintlock breech- loader designed by John Hancock Hall.

The breech-loaders were at times, however, down-right dangerous, because the breech mechanisms leaked compression and, often, flames. The problem lay with the ammunition used. Gas from the explosion when the weapon was fired leaked around the cartridge in the breech.

In 1812, Jean Samuel Pauly obtained a French patent for a breech-loading gun that used a self-contained cartridge resembling the modern centerfire cartridge. This cartridge was of soft metal with a flange around its base that expanded when the gun was fired and thus formed a tight seal. Pauly's invention was too far ahead of its time and was not adopted for military use. It did, however, open the way for a succession of breech loaders. In the United States an outstanding breech-loader was made by Christian Sharps, who received a patent in 1848.

Even though progress was being made in breech-loaders, muzzle-loaders were still in the majority during the Civil War. The Joslyn Rifle of 1865 was the first breech-loader produced at the Springfield armory.

The next stage in the development of rifles came with the invention of the repeater. Walter Hunt's repeating gun of 1849 was refined by Smith and Wesson, and then by Benjamin Tyler Henry, who made what came to be the first Winchester repeater. This Henry rifle was manufactured from 1860 to 1866. It carried sixteen cartridges in a tubular stock below the barrel. The Henry was reissued as the Winchester, Model 1866. The Winchester Model 1873, or '73, is probably America's best-known rifle, as it served on the Western frontier.

The next step in the development of repeaters was that of bolt action, wherein the bolt moves straight back to remove the spent cartridge and forward to replace it with a new one. Peter Mauser developed a bolt-action single-shot rifle in the 1860's. Then in 1879, James Lee invented a box magazine located under the bolt in front of the trigger guard to replace the tube magazine in the stock. At Springfield the Ward-Burton Rifle, Model 1871, was the result of an earlier effort to develop a bolt-action rifle for the U.S. military.

The final stage of development, which really overlaps with the development of the machine gun, is the development of the fully automatic rifle, wherein multiple shots are fired as long as the trigger is held in the rear position. The Browning Automatic Rifle can only fire fully automatically. The M14 rifle, which replaced the M1, can also fire fully automatically.

Other Sites

While in the area of Pelham stop to see the Shays' Encampment Site at the town cemetery, off Route 202, at Amherst Road. There is a monument at the entrance to the town cemetery marking the site where the rebels camped when surprised in a snowstorm by General Benjamin Lincoln's militia. In 1936 the monument was erected by the Sons of the American Revolution on the 150th anniversary of the Rebellion. Since Shays was from Pelham the Pelham Historical Society in the old Congregational Church has some Shays memorabilia.

Other sites to see in Springfield are the Basketball Hall of Fame at 460 Alden Street and the four museums located at the Quadrangle at State and Chestnut Streets. Also see the Indian Motorcycle Museum. They have some 100 motorcycles, but only 50 are on display. These museums cover natural history, art and Connecticut River Valley culture. You can also visit Sturbridge Village not far from Springfield. This is one of the best museum villages you will ever see. The village portrays life in the year 1835 and does so very well. There are so many buildings to see that this is easily a day-trip in and of itself. The guides are well-informed and act out the parts they are assigned to play.

 

Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)