"In the Midst of Strange and Terrible Times": The New York City Draft Riots of 1863

By Cruz, Barbara C.; Patterson, Jennifer Marques | Social Education, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

"In the Midst of Strange and Terrible Times": The New York City Draft Riots of 1863


Cruz, Barbara C., Patterson, Jennifer Marques, Social Education


"From one point of view, this is doubtless the darkest fourth of July which has dawned on us since the commencement of our National existence.

From another, we sincerely believe that it is the brightest ..."

Horace Greeley, NEW YORK TRIBUNE, 18631 (1)

IN THE ABOVE QUOTATION, written on July 4, 1863, ardent abolitionist Horace Greeley was referring to the ongoing Civil War in the United States. Greeley's statement ominously foreshadowed mounting socioeconomic and racial tensions, which, in the days after he penned those words, exploded into one of the most violent episodes in New York City's history--the Draft Riots of 1863. These have been called by one historian "the largest civil insurrection in American history other than the South's rebellion:" (2)

During the New York City Draft Riots the city's own inhabitants unleashed a torrent of violence and destruction that chiefly targeted African Americans. What originated as a protest against the enforcement of the Conscription Act quickly escalated into a riot that erupted at the volatile nineteenth century crossroads of race, class, and economic competition. In a letter home, the great American poet Walt Whitman wrote: "So the mob has arisen at last in New York. It seems the passions of the people were only sleeping and burst forth with a terrible fury.... We are in the midst of strange and terrible times." (3) In the end, more than one hundred people were killed, hundreds more were injured, and dozens of buildings were destroyed in a rampage that lasted nearly a week.

The 1863 New York City Draft Riots are much more than simply a long-ago or isolated disturbance. This historical event offers students a unique opportunity to analyze and understand how the interaction of complex social issues such as ethnicity, economic status, and immigration can be multifaceted and far-reaching.

The Enrollment Act of Conscription: Opposition

When the Civil War first broke out, no one envisioned a protracted battle. Many believed the war would last no longer than ninety days. At first, it was not difficult to find men to fight for either side. But while men rushed to enlist at the beginning of the war, as the conflict wore on, it became increasingly problematic to enlist willing soldiers. The Confederacy had already instituted a draft in April 1862. The Union introduced its draft in 1863; Congress passed the Conscription Act on March 3rd. Single men, aged twenty to forty-five and married men, aged twenty to thirty-five were eligible to be drafted. Some citizens supported the measure, believing that "The administration is acting wisely in ordering the immediate enforcement of the draft.... The conscription is necessary," according to a New York Times editorial. (4) However, as soon as the draft was declared, rumblings of dissent could be heard throughout the North. Some of the balking was a result of the commutation provision, that is, that drafted men could either pay $300 directly to the government, or they could hire a substitute to fight in their stead. Considering that $300 was more than the average laborer's annual salary, it was obvious that only wealthy men would be able to utilize that provision. Thus, the conflict came to be known as "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight."

Opposition to the draft was made evident in several cities. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a mob broke windows in the marshal's office and attacked police officers. (5) The state's governor, Joseph A. Gilmore, warned the federal government that if conscription quotas were to be enforced, Washington would have to send a regiment. (6) In Boston, there was immediate opposition to the Enrollment Act. At least 500 people rioted in protest. Swift action by city and state authorities resulted in minimum destruction of property and loss of life. Violence was indiscriminate; African Americans were not targeted in the Boston disturbances and no blacks were listed among the dead or wounded. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"In the Midst of Strange and Terrible Times": The New York City Draft Riots of 1863
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.