The Shays Rebellion

Set in 1787 in the aftermath of the attack on the federal armory in Springfield, Massachusetts, students take on the roles of Farmers, Regulators, Bankers and Merchants.  After being introduced to the situation, students work with other members of their group to define their values.

Then students will debate and vote on how Massachusetts should handle:

Finance - What should the state do about its debts?

Representation - Who deserves a say in government?

Law - How do we keep Massachusetts safe?


Our role-plays take roughly 60-90 minutes for a class to play through. To run the role-play over multiple days, use the link VOXPOP will send you to re-open your session.

You should create a different session for each class that you intend to use this role-play with.

Not sure how sessions work? Feel free to create a session and step through it to get a feel for the role-play. You can create as many sessions as you need.



The VOXPOP software will deliver this content to students during the role-play. Use this outline to familiarize yourself with the content of the scenario, the roles students will be assigned and the choices they will be asked to make.


Students: 6 to 50

Running Time: 60-80 minutes (the role-play can be broken into multiple sessions)

Teacher Guide: Shays Rebellion Teacher Walkthrough PDF


This video provides historical context.


Students are assigned to the following groups:


Bankers loaned money to the state of Massachusetts. Now it's time for the state government to pay them back. A state must pay back its debts – or else, who will ever trust MA?


Farmers, many veterans of the Revolutionary War, are trapped by debts and high taxes. They believe the state should respect its veterans, not tax them into poverty!


Merchants believe that only responsible citizens should have a say in government. Our state will fall apart if dangerous people take control!


Regulators in western Massachusetts led the rebellion against the state government. They say we had to rebel just as we rebelled against the British. No taxation without representation!


These videos will provide students with more detailed background on specific issues.

How should the state handle its debts?
Proposals students consider:

Devalue state notes

Pay back notes based on how much investors paid. Someone who bought a $20 state note for 50 cents will get 50 cents.

Sell public land

Sell unused public land and use the money to cover state expenses. This would permit the state to lower taxes.

Who deserves a say in government?
Proposals students consider:

Disqualification act

For 3 years, rebels may not vote, sit on juries, or hold any civil office, even if they are elected.

Move capital to central M.A.

Move the capital from Boston, a coastal city, to Springfield, a town in central Massachusetts.

How do we keep Massachusetts safe?
Proposals students consider:

Riot act

Sheriffs can stop gatherings of 12 or more armed people. Resisters will be imprisoned and lose all property.

Oath of allegiance

If rebels sign confessions and take an oath of allegiance to the state, they will not be executed or imprisoned.


A short video that lets students know what really happened.


Here are a few suggested discussion questions to pose at the end of the role-play.  Please feel free to use your own.

  • What similarities do you see between the Shays Rebellion and political conflicts today?

  • When is it justified for the government to disperse a protest?



Jenny Lim

Mattia Romeo

Greg Trefry

Testing & Evaluation

Camillia Matuk

Talia Hurwich


Leonard L. Richards, Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.


Library of Congress

Special Thanks

Richard Kermond

Steve Swett

Heather Willinger

Raj Nanda

Mordecai Moore

Nicole Sanderson

Matthew Goldman

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