University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Carisle Riot and its Aftermath – December 1787- March 1788

On 26 December at Carlisle in Cumberland County a Federalist celebration of Pennsylvania’s ratification of the Constitution was broken up by a riot, and the next day opponents of the Constitution burned effigies of Chief Justice Thomas McKean and James Wilson, the two principal speakers in behalf of the Constitution in the state Convention.

Depositions were collected and sent to the Supreme Court which issued a warrant on 23 January for the apprehension of twenty-one named rioters, including John Jordan, presiding judge of the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas. The men named in the warrant appeared before two justices of the Court of Common Pleas on 25 February. Most of the men accepted the offer of a parole until their cases could be heard, but seven men refused and were jailed.

Shortly thereafter hundreds of Cumberland County militiamen, and a few militiamen from Dauphin and York counties, started for Carlisle to release the prisoners. On Friday, 29 February, some “Anticonstitutionalists” and others offered to provide bail, but the prisoners refused to accept it. Meanwhile, before the militiamen entered the town early on Saturday morning, 1 March, each militia company had appointed a man to serve on a militia committee. Furthermore, a delegation of five men from Dauphin County arrived in Carlisle. They met with the “new Federalists,” and proposed “terms of accommodation.” The “new Federalists” then met with the militia committee and reached an agreement to request the Supreme Executive Council to end the proceedings against the men named in the warrant.