History Q & A: What Event in U.S. History Most Resembles the Debt Ceiling Crisis of 2011

History Q & A

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Debt Ceiling Showdown, 2011 & Shays Rebellion 1786: For Debt Crisis Lessons, Look Back 225 years

Shays' Rebellion, an armed uprising in Massachusetts in the 1780s, may offer lessons in today's standoff over the debt ceiling.
Shays’ Rebellion, an armed uprising in Massachusetts in the 1780s, may offer lessons in today’s standoff over the debt ceiling.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Same issues in today’s debate over debt crisis also drove Shays’ Rebellion of 1786
  • Nation’s leaders opted for robust U.S. government after uprising led by New England farmer
  • But debate still stirs about the size and power of the federal government
  • Compromise rarely has resolved protracted political gridlock in the U.S., historians say

(CNN) — America’s political leaders are paralyzed. The government is reeling from debt. Corrupt bankers foreclose on people’s homes as a brutal recession sweeps the land.

We’re talking, of course, about the great debt standoff of 1786: Shays’ Rebellion.

Nervous Americans glancing at the upcoming August 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling are being told that the nation is entering uncharted territory. But historians say they’ve seen this movie before.

Many of the same issues driving this modern-day standoff — disagreement on how to handle the national debt, ineffective government and a populist citizen’s revolt — drove the 18th-century uprising that’s been called America’s first civil war.

Historians say the lesson that can be drawn from Shays’ Rebellion and other transformative events in U.S. history is this: Protracted political gridlock is seldom resolved through compromise. It comes when one political party finally beats the other down.

Many Americans, however, have told pollsters that they want the political parties to work together to solve the debt ceiling crisis. Yet political stability doesn’t always come through give-and-take, some historians say

“There are times when only the outright defeat of political enemies can bring about needed reform,” says Richard Striner, a history professor at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.

“It was only by confronting and defeating the aggressive leadership of the slave states that Lincoln and the Civil War Republicans rid the nation of slavery.”…READ MORE

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