The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War

By Iver Bernstein | Go to book overview
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Preface

I began this project in 1980 on a suspicion that New York's ugly riot against the Civil War draft might tell us much about the intricate and often obscure processes that gave rise to modern urban America. This riot was one of those unusual events important in its own right--it mattered in the war and in the life of the city--and important for its illumination, like a flash of lightning, of a darkened historical landscape. Veiled alliances and animosities, rarely articulated definitions of authority and justice and configurations of power were all disclosed. The Civil War context of the draft riots made the social and political tableaux exposed by the event stand out in bold relief. Because of the wartime preoccupation with national loyalty, any form of participation in or association with the violence was tainted with treason. Inaction was suspect: one had to declare against the rioters to demonstrate loyalty to the government and the war. This charged political climate explained the extraordinary self-consciousness of New Yorkers during the violence. All had to clarify their views and proclaim allegiances. Here, it seemed, a contentious world lay open to view.1

The long journey from that suspicion in 1980 to this book was made possible by generous funding from the Graduate School of Yale University, the Mrs. Giles M. Whiting Foundation, the Yale Council on West European Studies, the Stephen Charney Vladeck Fellowship at New York University, the Division of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Faculty Research Grant Committee of Washington University, St. Louis.

I am also grateful for the patient attentions and creative suggestions of the librarians and staff of Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University; the New York Public Library; the New-York Historical Society; the New York Municipal Archives and Records Center; the Rare Books and Manuscripts Divisions of Butler Library, Columbia University; Houghton Library, Harvard University; the Tamiment Institute at New York University; the New York State Library, Albany; the National Archives; the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the Library of Congress; the Huntington Library, San Marino, California; and the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Special appreciation is reserved for Idilio Gracia

-vii-

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