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

Introduction

The New York City draft riots had deep and troubling significance for midnineteenth-century Americans. For five days in July 1863, armed mobs interrupted enforcement of the first federal conscription and struggled with authorities for sway over the nation's manufacturing and commercial capital. What began on the morning of July 13 as a demonstration against the draft soon expanded into a sweeping assault against the local institutions and personnel of President Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party, as well as a grotesque and bloody race riot. The awesome destruction of property and life stunned a generation of urban Americans well familiar with street violence.1

In the context of the Civil War, the draft riots gave sudden focus to controversial questions that Northerners intent upon sectional unity would have preferred to ignore. National issues included the fate of federal conscription, the authority of the new Republican government in Washington, and the future of the post-Emancipation Proclamation war effort. At stake in New York were the social and political order of the city and, related to that, the meaning of this complex event for the status and aspirations of the city's diverse social classes. During the riots national and local issues became joined as Americans waited anxiously to see whether, or on what terms and under whose auspices, the powerful metropolis with its Democratic majorities and vast immigrant poor would participate in the war and the Republican project of nation-making. It is fair to speculate, as some Northerners did, that if Confederate General Robert E. Lee had pushed north from Gettysburg at the moment rioting erupted in New York City, European intervention would have stalemated the war. As it happened, Lee escaped south across the Potomac on the night of July 13. On July 16 and 17, five Union Army regiments ordered back from Gettysburg suppressed the riots, kept New York City behind the war effort, and preserved the ascendancy of the Republican Party in national politics.2

But it remains unclear whether the Republican Party or any other group emerged wholly victorious from the New York upheaval. The participants, victors, victims, origins, dynamics, and consequences--indeed the full significance-of the draft riots are still obscure. We do have a wealth of secondary literature describing the events of July as well as several accounts

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations xii
  • Introduction 3
  • Part I - Draft Riots and the Social Order 15
  • Chapter 1 - A Multiplicity of Grievances 17
  • Chapter 2 - The Two Tempers of Draco 43
  • Part II - Origins of the Crisis, 1850s and 1860s 73
  • Chapter 3 - Workers and Consolidation 75
  • Chapter 4 - Merchants Divided 125
  • Chapter 5 - Industrialists 162
  • Part III - Resolutions of the Crisis, 1860s and 1870s 193
  • Chapter 6 - The Rise and Decline of Tweed's Tammany Hall 195
  • Chapter 7 - 1872 237
  • Epilogue: The Draft Riots' Lost Significance 259
  • Appendix A - Uptown Social Geography, 1863 265
  • Notes 287
  • Bibliographical Essay 341
  • Index 349
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