What was the Fries Rebellion?

   The Fries Rebellion was an uprising in eastern Pennsylvania in 1799, led by John Fries (1764-1825). By act of July 14, 1798, Congress imposed a direct tax of $2,000,000, which was to be equitably apportioned among the various states and which was laid upon all dwelling houses and lands, and on slaves between the ages of 12 and 50. The value of the dwelling houses was to be determined on the basis of the size and number of Windows in these houses, and an impression thus got abroad that citizens who owned houses were being taxed for having Windows, the tax thus coming to be known in some communities as a "window tax." In the eastern counties of Pennsylvania (Northampton, Bucks, Montgomery, Lehigh and Berks), the large German element vigorously opposed the tax, and under the leadership of Fries, resisted by force (March, 1799) the Federal officers sent to measure Windows preparatory to assessing the owners of dwelling houses.
   Riots soon broke out; some 30 of the rioters were arrested; and at Bethlehem these arrested rioters were rescued by their associates led by Fries. President Adams issued a proclamation against the rioters, troops were called out, and the disturbances were quickly suppressed. Fries was arrested, was tried on a charge of treason—the first trial of the sort in the history of the United States—and was convicted (1799). A new trial, however, was granted, but in the following year Fries was again convicted and was sentenced to the gallows. It was partly for the high-handed manner in which Judge Chase conducted this trial that he was impeached by the House and tried before the Senate. Fries was pardoned by President Adams, and subsequently became a prosperous dealer in tinware in the city of Philadelphia.