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History of New York State/New York State: American Revolution to Civil War

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

This chapter explores the history of the state of New York from the American Revolutionary War leading up to the American Civil War. A particular emphasis is placed on the role of race in shaping New York’s history. After the American Revolution, independence was achieved for American citizens with the notable exception of African-Americans. Slavery was still a prominent institution embedded in American culture. However, the struggle for abolition was beginning to gain momentum. Emancipation was achieved finally in the midst of the Civil War in 1863 through President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. However, emancipation also led to increasing tensions between races. In New York City, Irish immigrants were particularly concerned that labour competition from freed African-Americans would jeopardize their own employment status. This tension, in tandem with the introduction of the Enrollment Act, precipitated the eruption of the New York City Draft Riots in July of 1863. Notable figures such as Horatio Seymour are also discussed, particularly within the context of the New York Draft Riots.

This chapter will also discuss New York culture, particularly in terms of theatre before the Civil War. African-American culture emerged in an attempt to maintain a sense of community. However, black theatres were often suppressed and even destroyed in some cases. Ironically, white theatre success came from emulating African-Americans on the stage. At the same time, New York City was becoming the publishing powerhouse of America. It benefited from a growing economy and high literacy rate to surpass previous leaders in the industry such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington.

African-Americans after the Revolution[edit | edit source]

Glimpses at the Freedmen - The Freedmen's Union Industrial School, Richmond, Va. / from a sketch by Jas E. Taylor.

The end of the American Revolution brought change and independence for American citizens. This did not mean however, that their freedoms would be shared with African-Americans. By the end of the War of Independence it was still legal for people to own slaves in New York, though slavery was never an integral part of New York’s economy. The struggle against slavery gained momentum after the war ended, when it became apparent that slavery would be allowed to continue in the newly independent country. Many African-Americans and a small but increasing numbers of whites came together to push for the emancipation legislation. This movement began to attract attention when a group of influential white men became involved and formed the Manumission Society in 1785. The abolition movement achieved its first victory when New York City passed an emancipation law in 1799. Despite this victory however, the law did not convince the majority of white Americans living in New York to accept African-Americans as equal citizens. This law failed to free any adult slaves, and instead freed only the children of slaves but only after a lengthy process was completed. Nevertheless, by 1810 there were 7,400 free African-Americans living in New York State which was a seven-fold increase from 1799.

Many newly freed slaves moved away from their former masters and into urban New York City, where many located to the outskirts of the city and created new African-American communities. The majority of freed slaves could not afford to buy their own homes, so many would either live with other families or work as domestics for white families. A few families were able to purchase their own property, for residential or for business purposes. Seneca Village was one such prominent African-American community that emerged at this time. It became the largest African-American holding in Manhattan and even included its own African-American Church. Rather tellingly, the community was destroyed in 1850 to make way for Central Park.

During this period, it was extremely hard for African-Americans to find employment. Many white Americans were still bitter about losing their slaves and would consequently refuse to hire them. As a result, many African-Americans were forced into menial jobs that white Americans feared or despised, such as chimney sweepers or domestics.

New York and the Civil War[edit | edit source]

Theatre Before the Civil War in New York[edit | edit source]

Blackface banjo player at circus

The struggle to maintain their culture and unity marked the development of African-American culture in New York City before the civil war. Music and dance were prominent in African-American society, with theatres—such as the African Grover Theatre in the 1820's—forming a cornerstone of the new cultural movement. These theaters also functioned as a method of resistance, for many African-Americans saw theatre and dance as the only mode of expression available to them, given that public office was essentially an all-white occupation at the time. African-American theatre productions were the equal of any by white Americans, but were not acknowledged as such because of the dominant American view of African-American inferiority. Black theatres were suppressed and, as noted above, Seneca village, which had been a thriving African-American community and cultural centre, was destroyed in the 1850s to make space for Central Park.

Blackface Stereotypes

In fact, many Americans believed that any redeeming features of African-American culture had originated from its interactions with white culture. This is reflected in the phenomenon of the “minstrel show," in which a group of white men, wearing “blackface“ made from a burnt cork paste, satirized African-American culture. Minstrel shows portrayed African-Americans as dim-witted, lazy, and happy-go-lucky. This would continue as a form of entertainment for white Americans until after the Civil War. From 1770 to 1860, relations between African-Americans and whites were uneasy, and minstrel shows were a way to show African-American inferiority, which ultimately reassured white Americans that the hierarchy of the pre-revolutionary years was still in place. On the New York stage at the time, African-Americans played the smallest roles, if any, and were not allowed to play in the minstrel shows. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in the 1850s about the life of a slave, became one of the most popular minstrel shows in New York. Blackface actors turned the book into a melodrama depicting the life of a slave as light-hearted and agreeable, which is very different from what the book presents. Ironically, the success of the minstrel shows was dependent on the very culture they mocked and denigrated. Many blackface actors even prided themselves on their ability to act like African-Americans, which illustrates the racial contradictions of not only New York but the entire nation at the time.

New York and Military Ingenuity[edit | edit source]

USS Monitor (on the right) in action with CSS Virginia, 9 March 1862

Upon the outbreak of civil war on April 12, 1861, blockades of all Confederate ports were ordered by President Abraham Lincoln. Due to the sheer numbers of ships and manufacturing capabilities of the North, the Confederate Navy seemed to be blocked in their ports. A new weapons race had broken out between the Confederate states and the Union. It was evident that the North had the advantage in manufacturing; therefore the South had to turn to quality over quantity. After months of fighting blockades, the South caught a break when they captured a Union navy yard that was meant to be scuttled. After seizing the navy yard, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory, saw the advantages of one of the seized ships, USS Merrimack. Although it was burnt out, it was rebuilt with metal armor. This was the birth of true terror among Union Navy sailors once reports of a metal ship began surfacing on the horizon. The new ironclad ship would be renamed the Confederate States Ship (CSS) Virginia.

In response the CSS Virginia, the Union Navy began to experiment with designs of their own ironclad ship. The Union Navy approved and decided on three ironclad ships to build for their fleet. The first, arguably most detrimental to the North’s success, is the United States Ship (USS) Monitor, the first ironclad warship commissioned by the United States Navy during the American Civil War. Designed by Swedish engineer and inventor John Ericsson, the USS Monitor was much smaller in comparison to her rival CSS Virginia. Although small, the USS Monitor had key characteristics that would prove to be vital to her success. The ship was relatively flat, only exposing the drivers box, ventilation pipes and two cannons that could turn 360 degrees in a turret. The ship was also capable to maneuver in shallow waters thanks to its shallow depth. While the ship was built largely in Ericson's yard, the building was also divided among several other yards to speed up the manufacturing process. This construction tactic helped to produce the ship in record time of 118 days, a marvel for even the ship building standards of today. Being the first ironclad ship of the United States Navy, she was the untried pride and joy.

Engraving of Monitor sinking

On March 8, 1862, the CSS Virginia sets her sights on the Union Navy blockading the Hampton Roads. This blockade by the Union Navy is preventing any foreign aid coming to the Confederate ports, perhaps even European forces that wish to interfere with the Civil War. The Virginia would prove to be an unstoppable force compared to the wooden vessels of the Union blockade. The Virginia would sink or render useless three ships in quick succession, the USS Minnesota, USS Cumberland and USS Congress. Later that very evening, the USS Monitor would arrive in Hampton Roads. The ensuing engagement was the first ironclad battle ever to be recorded, marking a new era from wood and sail ships to iron and steam ships. After several hours of fighting, both ships remained functional, but the Monitor was able to claim success because it had protected the remaining Union Blockade, perhaps saving the war.

The CSS Virginia was later to be scuttled on May 11, 1862 by its Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall in an effort to keep the ship falling into Union hands. Later that year on December 31, the USS Monitor was also sunk. it was claimed by high seas in a violent Atlantic storm while under tow by the USS Rhode Island.

News Media and the Civil War[edit | edit source]

Printing House Square in New York City, a section of Park Row in which most of the city’s major newspapers were located.

By the 1860s, New York City had become the powerhouse of publishing in the United States. New York's favourable position stemmed from a growing economy, a white-male literacy rate of over 90 percent by mid-century, and a significant drop in postage rates. The widespread adoption of Samuel Morse’s telegraph was also integral to the expansion of news media, particularly during the Civil War, and the telegraph became one of the newspapers' major channels of distribution. By 1860, New York City constituted about 2 percent of the country’s population but produced over 37 percent of its publishing revenue. With seventeen daily newspapers by 1861, New York surpassed cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington that had previously been leaders in publishing. Printing House Square had become the hub of American journalism.

Four figures dominated New York’s meteoric rise in news publishing: Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, Henry J. Raymond of the New York Times, William Cullen Bryant of the New York Evening Post, and James Gordon Bennett Sr. of the New York Herald. Of these four, the Tribune was the most influential; through weekly and semi-weekly editions it amassed a readership stretching from Maine to California, numbering three hundred thousand subscribers and as many as a million readers in total. To the farmers of northern New York State and northeastern Ohio, Greeley’s publication became what one contemporary historian called a “political bible.” As the Civil War catalyzed the already ongoing politicization of newspapers, editors like Greeley became increasingly influential in shaping politics. Greeley himself—after shifting his support from Stephen Douglas to Abraham Lincoln—was a powerful factor in the latter’s nomination at the 1860 Republican convention.

Owners and editors were not the only ones whose influence expanded with the New York publishing industry. Thomas Nast, an illustrator, also became an important player in presidential politics during the 1860s. Nast began as an artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News but was working for Harper’s Weekly by 1862. By mid-decade he had eschewed the decorative, sentimental, patriotic pictures he had formerly produced in favour of the caricatures and satirical cartoons for which he would become famous. Nast’s impact on the war did not go unnoticed by his contemporaries. President Lincoln said that “Thomas Nast has been our best recruiting sergeant,” while Ulysses S. Grant, whose political career was tied in some ways to Nast’s illustrations, commented that the artist “did as much as any one man to preserve the Union and bring the war to an end.”

Editorial staff of the New York Tribune, with a young Horace Greeley second from the left. Henry J. Raymond, the future founder and editor of the New York Times, is seated on the far right.

Extreme competition in New York for both quantity and quality of war reports led many editors to build up extensive organizations with representatives near the war-zone in Washington and other cities, but also in the field and with the fleet. War correspondence quickly became the centerpiece of news media in New York. In the first two years of the war, the major papers in New York spent between $60,000 and $100,000 annually on war correspondence, in contrast to the more modest $10,000-$30,000 of papers in Boston and Philadelphia. Due to rising costs, however, the only New York paper to retain such spending in the second half of the war was the Herald; as one contemporary noted in 1866, “Never did any journal in any country maintain so vast an expenditure for news.”

The dramatic growth of New York’s newspapers in the 1860's stimulated several changes and innovations in the industry. As circulation increased, owners demanded drastically higher rates for advertisements; Greeley, for example, said of the Tribune: “We lose money on our circulation by itself considered, but . . . we can command such Advertising and such prices for it as will render our enterprise a remunerating one.” This development precipitated the first advertising agencies. Increased circulation also demanded improvements in printing, and in August 1861 the Tribune introduced the process of stereotyping (already widely used in book publishing), which was soon adopted by the Times and the Herald. The period saw other improvements in typographical equipment as well as changes in newspaper conventions, including the widespread use of Sunday and afternoon editions, as well as Henry Raymond’s popularization of the “display headline.”

Social conceptions about news reporting were also being challenged during the war. One recent study by Mary M. Cronin examines the case of Albert Richardson and Junius Browne, two correspondents for the Tribune who, in May 1863, were captured by Confederate troops near Vicksburg, Mississippi and imprisoned for almost twenty months. The Tribune was among the most hated publications in the South, and Richardson and Browne, as representatives of it, were held without parole for that very reason. Cronin concludes that “even enemy authorities saw journalists, to an extent, as different from individuals in other occupations,” and sees this case study as indicative of the developing social status of the war reporter.

Horatio Seymour[edit | edit source]

Horatio Seymour (1810-1888) was a life-long New York State Democrat who did not care much for an elected office or the political machinations that accompanied it. He supported slavery only because he believed that upsetting the South by fighting it was not worth the gains to be made. He also believed the government's partisan interests to be subordinate to states' rights in keeping the Union whole and at peace. As an effective speaker with a cultured respectability, he was urged by his party to run for state office.

Horatio Seymour - New York State's controversial governor was accused of inciting and condoning the violence of the riots.

Seymour was governor from 1853-54, during a period of vigorous fighting within the party that weakened his administration and resulted in him being a single-term governor. His endorsement as a Peace Democrat of Stephen Douglas in 1860, his support of the Crittenden Compromise, and his vocal criticism of Abraham Lincoln brought him back into the political spotlight as the Civil War progressed, many believed Seymour was even a secret accomplice to the confederate cause. When hostilities erupted, Seymour had supported the Republican government but soon became an ardent critic of Lincoln's specific war policies, including the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the emancipation of slaves, and the conscription of young white men. Increasingly strident anti-war and anti-emancipation sentiment propelled vast numbers of Democratic candidates, including Horatio Seymour, into New York state and federal offices during the 1862 bi-elections.

On March 3, 1863 Congress passed the Enrollment Act, which Governor Seymour vehemently opposed as unnecessary and unconstitutional, since Congress was not allowed to raise military units. Seymour believed that the needs of the union army could be fulfilled by volunteer enlistments alone. As a New Yorker, he also felt the draft was extremely biased since quotas for troops were much higher in metropolitan areas that had voted Democrat in the 1860 election. Throughout the spring Seymour assailed conscription by giving inflammatory speeches, promising to have it rescinded or, at least, delayed while maligning the Republican administration that had initiated it.

His unremitting opposition culminated in a speech given July 4 at the Academy of Music in New York City, in which he warned the audience of bloody insurrection when the draft commenced. He would later be criticized for inciting such action with his inflammatory rhetoric, but also for choosing to leave on vacation in New Jersey as the draft began.

Seymour then returned to New York in the midst of mayhem during the second day of rioting, calmly addressing the mob as "My Friends" and renewing the call to abolish the draft outright while doing little to help restore order. Two days later, as the rioting subsided, he wired the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, requesting New York and Brooklyn regiments be brought home to deal with the "great disorder."

Contemporary political cartoon showing Horatio Seymour confronting the mob and addressing them as "My Friends".

Order returned to New York City but partisan media establishments began assigning blame for the escalation of violence and destruction the city had just endured. Democratic newspapers singled out the aged General John E. Wool (responsible for the military defense of the city) for his ineffective response to the initial rioting. Governor Seymour was chastised in Republican publications, such as Harper's Weekly, for his inflammatory speeches before the draft and during the rioting, his absence early in the conflict, and his reluctance to request help from Washington. Seymour laid blame himself, writing highly critical letters to the president criticizing the administration for the draft's unfairness and poor timing in light of the depleted security forces. The letters would also state that Congress had no power to raise armies by compulsion alone.

The draft was reinstated a month later. Political leaders in other states felt strongly that if a peaceful draft were held in New York, acceptance of the process would be achieved throughout the nation. At the same time, Horatio Seymour and Samuel Tilden were successful at lobbying the government to reduce quotas from 26,000 draftees to less than half that amount, thus making conscription more palatable. With New York overflowing with troops to quell any uprisings, the draft re-started without incident on August 19. With a smaller pool of eligible citizens to draw from, states also began enlisting African-Americans to create "colored" regiments, but Governor Seymour barred such units from being raised in New York State. Only after it was clear that quotas of white soldiers would not be met by volunteers or by the draft did the governor reconsider and allow African-Americans to enlist.

In the 1864 elections, Seymour would have preferred a conservative civilian for presidential candidate, but grudgingly supported ousted General George B. McClellan in his challenge to Lincoln's bid for a second term. Lincoln won under the Unity Party banner, as did most Republicans. Once again, Seymour was swept from office largely due to the schism between his Democratic Peace and War Party factions that provided no unified vote.

Horatio Seymour participated in one more national election, vying finally for a Democratic presidency in 1868 against General Ulysses S. Grant, this time in opposition to the Radical Republicans and the southern Reconstruction movement. He lost the election not because of Democratic divisiveness but because of voters' recollection that Horatio Seymour ultimately chose protection of southern states' rights over supporting the northern war effort.

The New York City Draft Riots[edit | edit source]

The New York City draft riots of 1863 were considered one of the worst civil disturbances in American history. In an attempt to escape the federal conscription policies, a mob gathered on July 13 and attacked police officers, while setting fire to buildings where draft lotteries were taking place. Although the violence is often blamed solely on the measures enacted to enlist increased numbers of troops, the causes are far more numerous and complex.

Causes[edit | edit source]

In 1863, New York city was divided into two separate sections. The first, or the upper part of the city was occupied by upper or upper middle class families. The lower half of the city however was filled with immigrants (mostly from Ireland) who found themselves in less than favorable economic positions, due to a lack of work. The riots were not only expected but predicted by many wealthy financial advisers who were more than aware of this economic situation that plagued the residents of the lower city. As well, even before the Enrollment Act was passed by the government in March 1863 many of the working- and lower-class people felt that they had been betrayed by their governing system. Many concluded that the lower classes were not being represented by a democratic system but rather a “desperate and powerful organization” which did not care about their livelihood. The problem that existed here was that many of the Irish immigrants were escaping the potato famine in their own country and were promised a better life in America. What they seemed to find however was a government that favored the upper classes and neglected the basic needs of the other citizens. Moreover, many upheld the idea of the constitution in the United States and this included the reaping of personal benefits linked to freedom and liberty, not something that was seen in the governmental action of passing an enrollment act. This act brought tensions to the surface for many immigrants as they felt that they should not have to fight a war that did not pertain to their position in the country, that is, they cared little for the suffering of the slaves. In addition, they saw the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1st 1863 as a threat, since it declared all slaves in the remaining states of rebellion as freedman, which they saw as a competition for low wage jobs. These tensions mixed with the racial burdens surrounding jobs that also existed in New York City before and during the Civil War, would quickly become a fueling force in the riots of 1863.

Economic Struggle[edit | edit source]

Before the Civil War broke out, the economic position of many people living in New York state was less than adequate. Between 1820 and 1860, the population of New York City had grown seven-fold, from 123,706 to 813,662. This caused many problems for the swelling urban populations overwhelming the resources and limited jobs vacancies in New York. In addition, immigrants migrating to the United States to find a better life were struggling to find employment and thus struggling financially. The economic divide was reflected where different social classes lived; the wealthy moved up geographically in the city while those earning less settled in the lower areas, resulting in the drastic and physical segregation of society.

New York enrollment poster June 23, 1863, a mere twenty days before the Draft Riots broke out.

Many immigrants were forced to live in lower areas of the city where they met a large African-American community, which was also struggling to survive within the city. Much of the white population of New York was hostile toward African-American communities. Articles written in The Times, a newspaper at the time, angrily tried to displace the African-American community by arguing that they did not belong in the city at all. Many articles within this paper show how many people felt the burdens of war through the increasing prices of necessities, such as food and clothing and equated this struggling with lack of jobs available to them. These economic tensions began to mix with the pre-existing racial issues, which led to feelings of hatred towards both the government and the upper classes as well as the African-American populations. It was these racial tensions, mixed with a faulty democratic government, that would culminate in the Draft Riots in 1863. As many of the lower class white population felt, they were being forced to fight a war by a hypocritical government for the freedom of people that they saw as a threat to their already fragile economic existence. In this way, the situation can be classified as and "insult to injury" sort of action and reaction on behalf of the rioters.

The Enrollment Act[edit | edit source]

It was on March 3, 1863, that the federal government finally took the power over conscription with the Enrollment Act. Formerly, it was each state’s jurisdiction to follow this act and as a result it was far easier to avoid service by using various connections locally. Once the federal government held the reins it became almost impossible to evade service. One clause however allowed men to pay $300 in order to avoid conscription. At the time, $300 was prohibitively expensive to everyone but the elite upper class. This led to great dissent among the lower classes as they felt the act was undemocratic and forced them to fight a “rich man’s war” for the freedom of those who they did not support. Those who were rich enough to pay the $300 fee, or those who could hire a substitute to fight in the war in their place, were resented during the draft lottery. It was actions like this on behalf of the government that not only solidified the tension between the lower class white Americans and the government, but also gave this same group of people more reason to resent the African-American people around them. It is important to remember that at this time, African-Americans were not able to go to war and as a result some felt as though they had gotten off quite easy. They were being "given" their freedom but it required little to no work on their behalf - this was the common thought at the time.

The Irish and African-Americans[edit | edit source]

The mob that comprised the riots in 1863 was largely Irish Catholic, and a lot of the tension was directed towards the African-American community. Scores of poor Irish men and women came to New York City during the potato famine in Ireland to take up the unskilled jobs that were formerly monopolized by black people. After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, many believed that their jobs would be stolen from them by the flood of freed slaves from the South. As this was a time where the economy was just starting to become forgiving and economic situations finally bearable, job loss was not something that people were willing to contend with. The African-Americans were seen as competition for jobs, which were scarce enough to begin with. Moreover, they resented the idea that they would have to give up their hard-earned jobs to African-American men who were not going to be called to fight. As many felt, the second that they left for war, their jobs would be filled by an African-American who had been granted freedom at no cost to himself. Since New York already ranked second among Northern population of African-Americans, many Irish had no love for the Union cause during the Civil War due to this racial tension and this added to the already well-established harsh feelings about the war effort.

Riots[edit | edit source]

In 1863, President Lincoln and the Union were suffering from a significant lack of support for the war effort. The Union ranks were rapidly depleting due to both casualties and an increasing number of desertions. Furthermore, the three-year volunteers who had fought in the war since its commencement in 1861 were approaching the end of their enlistment terms, and many were not willing to reenlist. Earlier attempts to raise more volunteers had failed and were often met with popular resistance, such as in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin the previous year where citizens were unhappy with the forcefulness of their government. In response, the federal government proposed the Enrollment Act, which was passed by Congress in March of 1863. It pertained to all “able bodied male citizens of the United States” between the ages of 20 and 35, in addition to unmarried men between the ages of 35 and 45. Those who met these criteria were selected based on a lottery system placed during "Draft Week", which seemed fair in principle but was riddled with inconsistencies and unfair outs that marginalized the lower classes. Several regiments of militia were sent to New York to quash rioters in opposition to the draft. the draft seemed to unfairly target the lower class because of buyouts that only the rich could afford.

It is important to note that although New York was in the north, it was a pro-slavery state that experienced many racial problems of its own. Many New Yorkers had invested in the cotton industry and the gold rush, producing a vast amount of wealth. The war consequently halted much of the profit New Yorkers were absorbing from the Confederate states, creating a disgruntled merchant class with an aggravated mentality towards the war. Furthermore, New York's substantial immigrant population was increasingly nervous about the Emancipation Proclamation. Freed slaves posed a direct threat to economic stability within the class system as it created competition among a lower class already experiencing high unemployment. Thus while the draft was the initial cause of the riots, the New York Draft Riots were race riots as well. This can be seen in the "Causes of the Riots."

When the Emancipation Proclamation shifted the war’s focus to slavery, tensions over colour escalated and African-Americans became the symbol of overwhelming public frustration to conscription and even the war itself. In addition to the race tensions, class animosities also existed in New York and were heightened by the Enrollment Act. In an attempt to soften the blow of conscription on propertied men and non-supporters, a commutation clause was included in the legislation. Drafted men had the option of paying a $300 exemption fee, or to present an “acceptable substitute” to serve in their place. The result, however, was that the burden of the draft fell largely on the poor. It worsened the problem presented by the Emancipation Proclamation because the Enrollment Act targeted young, single men who also held the responsibility of supporting wives and families economically. Resentment was thus directed towards the citizens who had the resources to be exempted from the draft. When the riots began, this resentment was manifested in the targeting of New York’s upper-class citizens.

Execution of an African-American during the Draft Riots.

On Saturday, July 11, of 1863 draft officers arrived in New York City to begin the drawing of names for conscription. While the first day passed without incident, due to hopes that the conscription would be ruled unconstitutional in court, enormous tensions were brewing. On Monday, July 13, there was an escalation in violence by citizen mobs predominantly of Irish decent, that erupted in the city, killing at least 105 people. Certain populations were targeted specifically, including the upper class and the African-American population as mentioned previously. For example, the Colored Orphan Asylum was burnt to the ground as a way of striking at African-Americans and the idea of free blacks. The rage and violence directed towards African-Americans can also be seen through the example of William Jones. Jones was an African-American laborer who was walking home on July 14 when he was targeted by the mob, lynched, and hung from a lamp post. His corpse was then mutilated and burned. There was a 20 percent decrease in the African-American population between 1860 and 1865, from 12,472 to 9,945, due to the riots and the dangers they posed to the livelihoods of the African-American populations.

Rioters clashing with federal troops in the streets of New York City. By July 16, there was a strong military presence in the city. The following day, federal troops managed to contain the demonstrations by use of force.

This violence was sustained for four days mainly because of the lack of military presence in the city. Lasting four days, the rioters were opposed by Major General John Ellis Wool and a greatly diminished military force of 400 harbor troops and 600 militia personnel who arrived on July 13. As mobs often are, this one was out of control, quickly escalating from trying to prove their point, to destroying things such as street cars, telegraph lines and private property . In the dock areas of the city the violence was especially bad.

Homes of notable republicans were also attacked. The city’s only protection on the outbreak was the Metropolitan Police, who managed to hold back great parts of the mobs and ensured some kind of confinement of the violence, which saved Wall Street and Government buildings. Records indicate that at least 3 policemen died during the riots and almost all suffered some kind of injury. This is explicitly seen through the Superintendent of Police, John Alexander Kennedy, who had been identified by the rioters and was severely beaten to death. The regular military or militia regiments were otherwise engaged in the war effort. In fact, at the end of July, the Union Army was deployed in Pennsylvania as a result of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), where federal forces had achieved a major victory. The War Department, recognizing the seriousness of the situation, quickly sent several Pennsylvania and New York regiments to the city to suppress the persisting violence. The army responded with deadly force, and by July 17, the largest demonstration of civil disorder in American history was subdued.

Though there was significant resentment towards the authorities, both civil and military, some rioters actually joined forces with law enforcement to help put a stop to the rioting. This change of heart by some echoed the earlier sentiment of the protesters as they merely wanted to stop the draft by destroying ledgers of names in the upper parts of the city. On the morning of Thursday, July 16, Archbishop John Hughes delivered an appeal for peace from his residence near St. Patrick’s . Later that day four thousand federal troops fresh from the Battle of Gettysburg arrived in the city. Within hours, they faced off against rioters in what is now the city’s Murray Hill neighborhood, and it is this battle that would become the final clash of the New York City Draft Riots . The military was harsh and unforgiving in their suppression of the rioters. Furthermore, the draft had been suspended temporarily to encourage the mob to halt their rioting . This decision was quickly vetoed by the city council who did not want the mob to think rioting was the way to get what they wanted .

A drawing in Harper's Weekly depicting two white men about to beat a African-American man during the riot.

The mob was mainly comprised of working-class white men between the age of 25 and 35, and unmarried men between 35 and 45, which was the same demographic eligible to be drafted. The Enrollment Act only pertained to “able-bodied male citizens of the United States," which caused even further tensions between the African-American and white communities of New York City, given that African-Americans were not considered citizens at the time. Many Irish immigrants also took part in the protest, primarily over the difficulty of finding employment rather than in opposition to the draft itself. They were losing jobs to African-Americans and in that way the Irish immigrants and the other rioters had a common enemy.

The plight of the Irish in the riots is symptomatic of the rampant inequality that was part of American society at the time. The Irish were facing increased competition from freed African-Americans and simply wanted to get by, having little interest in a war between two old American brotherhoods fighting for economic supremacy. In addition, many of the Irish had recently immigrated, so they were very familiar with the injustices of living within a vassal state of Britain. The draft appeared as yet another instance of the English (played here by Anglo-Americans) trying to subjugate the Irish population, just on another continent. The fact that only Anglo-Americans could afford to buy out of conscription soon made the draft an almost entirely Irish question in New York. Thus, the initial political (and abstract) objections to the draft were swept away by momentously practical matters: the Irish felt they were being targeted by Anglo-Americans, which proved to be the ignition for multiple points of contention among the lower classes of New York.

It is estimated that over 100 people were killed in the riots in New York City with many more injured, but recent research calculates about 500 deaths. The reasons for not having exact numbers are owned to the fast removal of the dead bodies, often hurried outside of the city or secretly buried. There was a vast amount of damage done to the city due to fires and widespread looting that took place, with the property damage estimates as high as $5 million (about $60-100 million in today’s dollar). The government did investigate the riots and made 443 arrests, but only 19 men were ever convicted. The New York City Draft Riots demonstrated the turmoil going on in the city in regards to racism, immigration, and the labor market at a time when the country was already at war with itself. One historian has even called the Draft Riots “the largest civil insurrection in American history other than the South’s rebellion."

Repercussions[edit | edit source]

The long term damage to New York’s African-American population due to the New York City Draft Riots was significant. The population of African-Americans greatly decreased after the riots as many decided to leave New York due to the hostilities that they faced in the city. Of those who did remain in the city, they relocated from their racially mixed neighborhoods into areas with an elevated police presence or to the relative safety of the outskirts of the city . One month after the riots, New York City’s Civil War-Era draft resumed, this time peacefully, and concluded ten days later . Due to physical deferments, exemptions and commutations, fewer than 2,400 of the 80,000 men drafted from New York State entered the United States Army through the new draft. There was one group of American citizens who did join the armed forces willingly, patriotically and without legal action. In March of 1864, the city’s first all African-American volunteer troop regiment of one thousand men marched through the same streets that had held the riots just a year before. Some African-American clergymen dispensed aid to those in need and collaborated with local newspapers to convey a desire to move forward and live in an atmosphere of peace and fairness. The city of New York was finally starting to look inclusive of the races that existed and now thrived within its borders.