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10.V.A

New York City (NYC)
Draft Riots of 1863

 
 
New York Draft Riots
Photo Credit: Tenement.org
 
     
 

The Draft Riots of 1863 lasted for a total of five days. They broke out two years after the Civil War began in 1861. Two days following the first draft lottery, at approximately 7 am, violent riots, looting and lynching broke out. Throughout the five days of the riot, thousands of people, mostly Irish mobs, terrorized and destroyed NYC. In addition to destroying homes and businesses, mobs specifically targeted African-Americans and the wealthy. Those who supported the abolitionist movement were also in danger. By the fourth day, NYC resorted to extreme measures by firing cannons at the angry mobs. By the evening, more than 4000 trained troops were fighting to control the violent mobs. Finally, by the next morning, the rioters were subdued. The death toll was estimated at 119; however many numbers have been exaggerated. The draft riots had a detrimental effect on the African-American community in downtown Manhattan. Frightened by the violence and hatred directed at them, many fled the area to live uptown; in an area we now call Harlem.

The social and political unrest in NYC amongst working class immigrants had been building since Abraham Lincoln announced the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The bill, which freed slaves from the confederate states, was one that encouraged the abolitionist movement to fight harder for equality. By 1862, many abolitionists (both white and black) had arrived in New York to protest against slavery. An increase in support for African-Americans had already irked many conservative minded working class New Yorkers; particularly the Irish. The Irish, already going through economic hardship were concerned about competition they would potentially face if freed blacks from confederate states migrated to New York. As the negative sentiment for working class against African-Americans grew, the federal draft law further enflamed their hatred. This draft forced all men between the ages of 20-35 to enlist in the union army. This law applied to all except the African-American population (since they were not considered citizens) and those who could pay the $300 exemption fee.

The riots were also partly incited by the anti-abolitionist articles in NYC newspapers. Written by supporters of the confederacy, they aimed to inflame the feelings of the working class against African-Americans. As a result, negative stereotypes towards them were precipitated by the press. Newspapers journalists also made sure to encourage feelings of class resentment amongst the Irish. Many wealthy abolitionists established charities to uplift African-Americans; however, no such efforts were made to help the equally destitute Irish immigrants. This created a perception that the working class was losing power as African-American's were gaining status in New York.

Despite the violence caused by the draft, many changes were made to alleviate the burden on the working class. The amount drafted was decreased to 12,000 men, down from the original goal of 26,000. The draft itself was moved to a later date and 10,000 soldiers were stationed in NYC to avoid a repeat of the incident. Those rioters who had participated in the violence were jailed. Despite the overwhelming prejudice against them, many African-Americans volunteered to join the union army. They formed a separate African-American unit which was commended for its discipline and dedication to the cause by several sources.

 
     
 

Visit Additional Major NYC Riots:
Harlem Race Riot (1943)
Harlem Race Riot (1964)
Stonewall Inn Riot (1969)
Crown Heights Riot (1991)

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Sources:
tenement.org-1863_draftriots
uchicago.edu