Lesson 6: Taking the Oath: Punishment & Appeasement
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
- Explain why organized defiance lessened in the months following
- Describe the provisions of the Disqualification Act and assess its
- Compare and contrast the impact of the act on the majority
of the Regulators and on its leaders
- Describe the “carrot and stick” approach taken
by the Massachusetts government in relation to the Regulators
- Differentiate among the various terms used to label Daniel
Shays and his forces
- Explain why communities tended to disregard the conditions
of the Disqualification Act
- Evaluate whether or not Shays’ Rebellion was effective
- Interpreting visual information
- Observing and describing
- Thinking critically
- Expressing opinions
- Analyzing visually
- Understanding historical perspective
- Gathering and using information
- Interpreting information
In this lesson, students learn that as armed resistance wound
down in the winter of 1787, the Massachusetts government offered
a pardon to rank-and-file men who had taken up arms against
their government. However, men who were identified as ringleaders
were imprisoned, and several were sentenced to death. The scene
takes place inside Reuben Wells’ tavern in Greenfield,
Massachusetts in March of 1787. A man is administering the
oath of allegiance required of all Regulators, while another
man records the receipt of a musket being surrendered by one
of the Regulators.
Taking the Oath, © 2008
Disqualification Act, February 16,
1787. Courtesy Petersham Historical Society, Petersham, MA
Although there remained sporadic incidents, open and organized defiance
of the type that closed courts and confronted the Arsenal wound down in
the months following General Lincoln’s rout of Shays’ men
in Petersham. The Massachusetts Legislature took a carrot and stick approach
to the rebellious acts—cracking down and also attempting to defuse
the Regulation and neutralize the conditions that fueled it. The centerpiece
of this strategy—set forth in the Disqualification Act of February
16, 1787—required all Regulators to come forward, surrender weapons,
and take an oath of allegiance in exchange for a full pardon. In addition,
all current and newly-elected town officials had to take the oath. A corollary
of the plan was to go after and make examples of the men identified as
leaders of the movement. Communities often ignored the disenfranchisement
and limited activities that the Act imposed.
Preparing to Teach
- Familiarize yourself with the Taking the Oath historic scene, linked
to from the Historic Scene menu.
Read the three tabs, then roll your cursor over the highlighted hot
spots in the illustration. Follow the links in the rollovers. Below
the illustration and the tab content, read the four OBSERVER comments,
the four essays in the THEMES section, and follow the links in the RELATED
TO THIS SCENE section.
- Read the Disqualification
Act found in the related to this scene links.
- Familiarize yourself with the Library of Congress’ Using
- Although not explicitly referred to in the lesson, you can incorporate
selections from the Timeline and
Music section into the lesson.
Teaching the Lesson
- Class Assignment: Prior to the one or two class periods
spent on this lesson, make the following website preparation
Class Activity: Trial by Jury: The Case of Henry McCulloch:
Assign the following roles: a judge; a jury of 12; a prosecutor and
team with legal justifications for the prosecution (proclamation
resolves); Henry’s defense attorney and team; McCulloch, defendant;
witnesses for the accused (Sarah
Peebles, Henry’s mother, a representative
from the town of Pelham, Henry
himself, and General
Ebaneezer Mattoon); and witnesses for the state General
William Shepard, Major
General Benjamin Lincoln). Stage a criminal trial and have the jury
vote on the outcome, explaining their vote.
Class Activity: Primary Resource Study: Project the
of Grievances Poem,” found in the related to this scene link
section. Select students to read the poem. Project and read aloud the
from Eli Parsons, found in the related to this scene links. Use
the zoom and the transcript to examine closely the handwriting and any
words you have difficulty understanding. Compare the sentiments expressed
in both the poem and Eli Parsons’ letter.
Class Activity: The Tragic Case of
Jason Parmenter. Project
the character narrative for Jason
Parmenter. Ask students to take turns
reading each paragraph. When they have completed the reading,
discuss what Jason did to cause another’s death, and
how that experience affected him.
Class Discussion Questions:
- Go to the Historic
Scene menu for the Taking the Oath historic scene,
and read the Overview tab, the Government tab, and the
Regulators tab. Roll your cursor over the rollovers within
the illustration and read the text. Note that only the
highlighted rollovers for each tab display pop-ups.
- Read the observer comments, the four essays in the themes
section, and follow the links in the related to this scene
section, studying the material displayed.
- Read the Disqualification
Act and be prepared to discuss its provisions.
- Assign each of the following characters to students (or
a small group of students) so the student(s) can assume
that historic persona in class: Caleb Phillips, Joseph
Stebbins, Seth Catlin, and Reuben Wells. Students should
read and study the narrative of their assigned persona.
The character narratives are found in the People menu.
- Assign the following observers to students (or a small group of
students) so the student(s) can assume that historic persona in class:
George Washington, James Madison, Captain Eli Parsons, Major General
Benjamin Lincoln. All of theses characters have narratives in the
- Why do you think armed conflict ceased for the most part
after the events at the Arsenal?
- What effect do you think letters like that of Eli Parsons
(found in related to this scene links) had in the aftermath
of the rebellion?
- Did many Regulators take up the government on its offer
of a pardon? What were the conditions of this pardon? (surrender
guns, pay nine pence, take oath of allegiance, prohibited
from running a tavern, teaching school, selling liquor,
holding office or voting for three years)
- Why do you think the pardon included restrictions on
teaching school and running a tavern?
- What conditions helped to minimize the effect of these
provisions (new state elections, Governor Hancock elected,
- On what charge were the imprisoned leaders condemned to death? When
and why did the government decide to pardon them? Do you think Henry
McCulloch should have been hanged? Why or why not?
- What is your opinion of how the government of Massachusetts
handled Shays’ Rebellion and those who took part
- Gross, Robert, ed. In Debt to Shays: The Bicentennial
of an Agrarian Rebellion, volume 65. Boston, MA: The
Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1993.
- Richards, Leonard. Shays’s Rebellion: The American
Revolution’s Final Battle. Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
- Starkey, Marion. A Little Rebellion. New York:
- Satzmary, David. Shays’ Rebellion: The Making
of an Agrarian Insurrection. Amherst, MA: University
of Massachusetts Press, 1980.
- The History Channel Series: 10 Days That Changed America:
Shays’ Rebellion: America’s First Civil War;
- Calliope: A little Rebellion Now and Then: Prologue
to the Constitution; 30 minutes
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