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

CHAPTER 3
Workers and Consolidation

During the draft riots workers pushed aside the middle- and upper-class reformers of the Republican Party and sought to intervene in politics on their own terms. To explain how workers came to behave so assertively we must look for earlier evidences of this politicized style of class relations. Historians have provided scant clues. While many scholars have stressed the leading role played by the Republican middle classes in the national transformation of mid-nineteenth-century America, few have located wage earners within the context of that middle-class initiative.1 Further, one finds little mention of politicized struggles between workers and reformers in the literature on the 1850s labor movement. Instead the fifties have frequently been characterized as the seedtime of an apolitical and wage-conscious craft unionism. John R. Commons and his associates, Norman Ware, and other students of the mid-century labor movement pointed to the New York City strike wave of 1853-54 as the first expression of a "modern trade unionism" preoccupied with "pure and simple" economic issues and permanent unions. Wages and organization, and not politics, contended Commons and his followers, were the concern of the 1850s labor agitation in New York and other American cities.2

One need only begin to read the passionate working-class debates over organization and politics in the fifties to sense that the problem of workingclass political consciousness in those years was far more complicated than the Commons school would have it. Those debates do bear out Commons's threshold premise: that many workers became disenchanted with the usual practices of the major political parties and began to search for other structures and institutions. But many New York City workingmen would have felt uneasy with Commons's characterization of their activities as a retreat from politics and reform. They would have instead portrayed the fifties as the dawning of a new age of social and political experimentation.

When Horace Greeley told the spring 1850 meeting of the American Union of Associationists that "so long as society remains in its present incoherent and warring state, the contests of its political parties must partake

-75-

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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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