The Whiskey Rebellion

Narrated by: Simon Vance
Length: 9 hrs and 1 min
Categories: History, American
4 out of 5 stars (299 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A gripping and provocative tale of violence, alcohol, and taxes, The Whiskey Rebellion pits President George Washington and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton against angry, armed settlers across the Appalachians. Unearthing a pungent segment of early American history long ignored by historians, William Hogeland brings to startling life the rebellion that decisively contributed to the establishment of federal authority.

In 1791, at the frontier headwaters of the Ohio River, gangs with blackened faces began to attack federal officials, beating and torturing the collectors who plagued them with the first federal tax ever laid on an American product, whiskey. In only a few years, those attacks snowballed into an organized regional movement dedicated to resisting the fledgling government's power and threatening secession, even civil war.

With an unsparing look at both Hamilton and Washington, and at lesser-known, equally determined frontier leaders such as Herman Husband and Hugh Henry Brackenridge, journalist and popular historian William Hogeland offers an insightful, fast-paced account of the remarkable characters who perpetrated this forgotten revolution, and those who suppressed it. To Hamilton, the whiskey tax was key to industrial growth and could not be permitted to fail. To hard-bitten people in what was then the wild West, the tax paralyzed their economies while swelling the coffers of greedy creditors and industrialists. To President Washington, the settlers' resistance catalyzed the first-ever deployment of a huge federal army, led by the president himself, a military strike to suppress citizens who threatened American sovereignty.

Daring, finely crafted, by turns funny and darkly poignant, The Whiskey Rebellion promises a surprising trip for readers unfamiliar with this primal national drama, whose climax is not the issue of mere taxation but the very meaning and purpose of the American Revolution.

©2006 William Hogeland (P)2006 Tantor Media, Inc.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Great story and narration

I really enjoyed this book. Like the other reviewer, I was a bit surprised to hear a British accent from the narrator, but Simon Vance is one of the very best narrators. (He also uses the names Richard Matthews and Robert Whitfield, but they're all the same man).

This book provides rich historical detail about the very early days of the United States. The author does an excellent job providing background information. So the chapter on Herman Husband, who believed the (then) Western US (ie Western PA and VA) would be the New Jerusalem of Revelation, is really an excellent overview of all the religious currents running through American society at the time.

There's also great detail on the debate over federal taxation and Hamilton's agency in getting the whiskey excise tax implemented.

The reason for 4 stars and not 5 is that the author's explanation of the unfolding of the Rebellion is so compressed as to lack sense. This is surprising since his attention to detail everywhere else in the book is so thorough.

I would also recommend this book only to those who already have an interest in early American history. For the more general reader, I suggest 1776 and Washington's Crossing.

29 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A great story

Having only heard vague references to the Whiskey Rebellion, and thinking it sounded rather interesting, I got this book. Wow! Hogeland can really tell a story! Not only does he turn names into characters with strengths and idiosyncrasies, but he translates the words and deeds of 18th century men into terms that can be understood today. This is one of the best histories on a discreet subject I have read/heard. Simon Vance’s narration is excellent, as usual. He is able to bring the characters to life. I admit that I was surprised to hear an English accent reading American history, but it worked. Between the author and the narrator, it seems as if you are watching the events unfold. There are interesting thumbnails of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. There are intense descriptive passages – how whiskey was made – the horror of being tarred and feathered. But really, the best part was how human the people seemed to be. I very much enjoyed the book, and would recommend it for anyone who likes a good history story.

26 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting Histroy

This is a worthwhile listen. It does a relatively good job of filling in this often missed part of early US history. I like how it develops the political thinking of some of our less well known founders. The writing is good, but it could be more entertaining.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Good History Read!

I bought this book because I live near Berlin, PA, which celebrates the Whiskey Rebellion every year. I wanted to find out what exactly Berlin's role was in this incident in history. As it turns out, they never really mentioned Berlin (pretty funny, actually) but I was spellbound by what I learned about the actual event, as well as the history of the time. Great read if you're a history buff!

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Awesome

I've listened to hundreds of Audible titles and dozens of great books. This is among the best. This is a portrait of Hamilton I've not read elsewhere and I learned that as far back as the founding, well-connected members of the government were striving to crush our liberties and bring us into bondage to a hyper-active central government. The book is not a Libertarian screed however and its treatment of all sides is very fair. It does move about quickly and take some sharp turns which is why I'll take the time to listen to it again. I can truly say I learned a ton of new information despite having read dozens of titles about this period of US history. A truly great book.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Good not Great

Probably the most important criterion of a good audiobook is that you find yourself wanting to keep listening, rather than having to force yourself to keep coming back. This book fell somewhere in the middle for me. I chose it over some other things to listen to, but I had no trouble stopping it to do other things. I found it most interesting for its insights into characters I knew or knew of, especially Alexander Hamilton who comes off as a real scoundrel, and to a lesser extent Washington, who comes off as Hamilton's patsy. There were a lot of other people I'd never heard of whose names I won't really remember.

Overall, the story, through no fault of the author's, lacks drama. It's actually much more of a farce, interspersed with a lot of suffering by the little people. Almost nobody seems to appreciate the gravity of the issues involved--Westerners insist that summons against them for illegal stills must be destroyed before they'll lay down arms and release hostages, all the while they're committing high treason. But ultimately, things don't become that grave as almost everyone is pardoned.

The book, and really the history itself, raises some interesting issues, but does almost nothing to resolve them. Perhaps that's just how things were back then. People lived separate enough lives (weeks of travel apart), and there was enough opportunity for everyone (vast tracks of cheap land) that all these resentments could be allowed to fester pretty well unresolved. Unfortunately, that doesn't give us all that much guidance or insight for our contemporary political struggles.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

For History Geeks

I will concur with reviewer Michael and others who claim this book is best suited for listeners with a strong interest/background in early U.S. History. I'm sure it's a great book so I'm giving it two stars with the caveat that the two stars rating only applies to losers like myself who have a limited knowledge of this era.

Great narrator as well.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

1791 or 1861 or Today?

I was shocked to see the similarities between the newly formed Federal Government of 1791 and the (some believe)despotic government, so thoroughly entrenched in DC today. No sooner had America whipped the British and won independence than some of those in high ranking government positions begin to attempt to replace the British Royalty, with a similar form of elites who would then "rule" over the common people of the country.
This is the story of how those common people attempted for a second time, to throw off the yoke of tyranny imposed by the newly formed government. Refusing to pay a tax levied on whiskey and then faced with the power and military might of the Federal Government, the "rebels" were hunted down, drug through the mountains in winter, and thrown into prison to await trial.
Though, eventually, charges were dropped and those found guilty were pardoned, the entire episode became a blueprint for how the government in Washington DC would continue to punish citizens or snuff out any attempts of the common people to make changes or resist changes made in or by the government even today.
You must read this book to understand that the powers that be in government today have been using the same tactics to reach the same conclusion for two centuries. From over-taxation to underhanded, slight of hand in the budgetary process, you will see the same methods used from that day to this.
Reading this book will be an eye opener for many.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great listen and great narrator.

The book deals with the events surrounding the rebellion focusing on the political, social, and economic sources of the hostilities. Great detail is given from the point of view of the westerns which is often neglected from most accounts of the whiskey rebellion. Hogeland always does a great job of pulling minute details out of dusty sources and giving them new life in his writings. Simon Vance is as always spot on with a great cadence and tone that makes the listen enjoyable. If you enjoy early American history this is a great book on a subject that often gets neglected.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

fascinating history

I grew up in and around Pittsburgh, but never truly learned about the whiskey rebellion - school quickly brushed over it and I now find that unbelievable. Imagine the field trips we could have done! All the engaged learning!

There are several memorable quotes from this book; I am enjoying retelling what I am learning.