The object of the preceding chapter, has been to give some idea of the prejudices which exist with the inhabitants of Britain, and especially the northern part, against excise laws. This prejudice was, in a great measure the cause of that opposition to the excise laws of the United States, which terminated in the insurrection of 1794. The western parts of Pennsylvania where this insurrection took place, are peopled, chiefly by emigrants from Scotland, and the North of Ireland, where a colony of Scotch were planted by king James I. and which have been denominated the Scotch Irish. At the same time it was unequal to that frontier country, which had turned its attention to the manufacture of spirits from their grain, as in this manufacture, the produce of their fields, could more easily be carried to market. In this view of the subject, the reasonings of the more intelligent, fell in with the prejudices of the vulgar. The embarrassing the administration, was also a motive with men of political ambition, and who were in proposition to the administration of that day. But an idea of subverting the government never existed in the mind of any one. But it comes to the same thing, if the government is subverted, whether it was intended or not. And this is a lesson to the people of a republic, that it is better to suffer a local evil, than to endanger the safety of the commonwealth, by opposition.
It is an easy thing to excite opposition; but difficult to arrest it at a proper point. The bulk do not distinguish the boundary of constitutional opposition; and unlawful violence. See my Incidents of the western insurrection, in the year of 1794. This will be found a commentary on the preceding observations.
It requires some experience of liberty to know how to use it. The multitude are slaves, or tyrants. The great thing is to preserve a medium between democratic violence, and passive obedience to oppression. These are the two extremes, which are to be avoided. Where there is a proportion of the people, as always is the case, without property, and who have nothing to loose, nothing is risked by a revolution; and therefore commotions are not dreaded, and if a reform is set on foot, it is pushed, by such beyond what is salutary, to a revolution. By this, liberty is lost; and the people blame the despotism which they themselves have procured.