The New York City Draft Riots

10 October 2016

The part of the Conscription Act that really caused an uproar was not only the fact that it forced men to go and fight in a war whether they believed in its cause or not, problem with this act was an that the person could pay an exception fee of 300$ to anyone able to pay it meaning wealthy people often didn’t have to fight. Another legislative decision during the American Civil War that caused much controversy throughout the United States was President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that partially freed the slaves in Confederate and Union States.

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The Emancipation Proclamation was issued after the victory at Antietam, Maryland. This changed the goal of the war from preserving the Union to destroying the system of slavery. Lincoln received not only from the Slaves but from many white Americans as well. Lincoln even made it possible for them to join the military and instilled the belief that they were fighting for their freedom. By the mid nineteenth century American had seen a wave of Immigrants, many of whom were Irish and German, as a result of the potato famine, various land enclosures and revolutions.

Germany and Irelands immigration is a result of rapid population increase, high unemployment rates and most notably Ireland’s strong dependence on the potato. The great famine caused great starvation and the immigration of Irish people to the United States. The Germans fled Germany to escape economic hardships and sought to escape the political unrest caused by riots, rebellion and a revolution in 1848. The Germans had little to no choice but to come to America because other countries would not accept German Immigrants. Immigrants from both countries came to America looking to lead a better life.

Thes Immigrants did not find the typical “American Dream” they found misery and lived in overcrowded slums. German immigrants during the time were more skilled and intellectual than the Irish immigrants, which were mostly former peasants. Irish Immigrants lived in the Five Point District, being that it was a very poor and dangerous place it averaged a murder every night. New York residents of different religions did not get along. There was nothing but distrust and animosity between Irish-Catholics and Native-Protestants. Natives believed that the Irish were Catholic spies who worked for the Pope.

What added to the Natives believing this conspiracy was the poster that were put up that implied an Irish Immigrant conspiracy to take over the United States. Even though the Irish-Catholics and Native-Protestants had their share of differences amongst each other, the color of their skin is what brought them together against African-Americans. African Americans who had partial freedom and rights at the time were able to take part in society as a protected member, but were still seen as the bottom of the social pyramid in New York City. Competition for jobs was coming amongst New York’s lower classes.

Native New Yorkers believed that the Irish immigrants were stealing all the jobs from them by let their employers know they would work for less money than the Native New Yorkers would, The Irish worried African American, who because of racism and job scarcity, were willing to work for lower wages to would steal jobs away from them. Both the Natives and Irish believed that African-Americans represented a threat to their job security. For example, In the early years of the Civil War, Employers hired African-American to replace workers on strike in disputes at the Staten Island Ferry, the Custom House, and the docks of New York City.

In 1862 two to 3 thousand white workers from Brooklyn threatened to burn down two tobacco factories unless several hundred black workers left the factories. When the African American did not leave the factory, the mob started to light fires until they were chased away by the police. The labor tensions and demand for work created distrust and hatred among the different ethnic factions in New York. Throughout the North and South, New York City was known as the North’s most southern-most city in terms of sympathy and its economy.

New York City’s economy was completely connected to the slave and cotton economies of the south states. For example, New York business insured and financed southern products and slaves, bankers accepted slave property as collateral for loans, New York ship owners benefited from the massive shipping industry built around transporting cotton and newspaper editors benefited from southern subscriptions to their newspapers. New York’s businesses and even its whole economy had an interest in maintaining slavery and the southern system. As a result, New York was mainly a Democratic town.

While most of the New Yorkers may have embraced the ideals of the Democratic Party, as the Civil War broke out, New Yorkers rushed to the cause of preserving the union because they did not support succession. In September of 1862, George B McClellan’s Union Army defeated General Robert E Lee’s Confederate Army at Antietam, Maryland. President Abraham Lincoln used the victory at Antietam to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln hoped to turn the Civil War from a political battle to preserve the Union into a moral battle against the evils of slavery.

At this Point, New York’s immigrants were being asked to fight a war for the freedom of African Americans, the same African-Americans that were accused of stealing jobs from white men. New York Democrats quickly broke into two separate factions. War democrats—Consisted of businessmen and the majority of Tammany Hall politicians that supported fighting to the victory and were against many of Lincoln’s agenda for the nation. The complete opposite, Peace Democrats united under ex-mayor Fernando Wood’s Mozart’s Ha;; and they wanted to return the Union to its previous form with slavery existing in the south.

The National Conscription Act was the act during Lincoln agenda that set the lower class citizens into a rage leading to the riots, because of the conditions of which the act consisted of. In the beginning og the war, the Irish and other ethnic groups fought and died to preserve the Union. Now they were almost being forced into the military to fight for the freedom of African Americans. The proclamation allowed African Americans to join the military was perceived as an insult to the Irish, an ethnic group that feared African American as a threat to their economic stability.

Although small, another significant problem in New York was that the Conscription Act eliminated the earlier draft exemption of members of New York’s volunteer fire regiments. Even though their members represented only a tiny part of the population, and since they were an organized forced, their organized resistance would be the spark to set off the violent draft riots. The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 is significant because it occurred during a pinnacle period in American History which is the Civil War. The Civil War is period in history where the citizens challenged the government based on their feelings during a time of crisis; this event should be considered an inspiration for future generations. The riots were a combination of class and racial tensions that resulted in a upward-directed attack against city elites, who had exploited the immigrants and working-class and a downward attack against African Americans, who became the symbol of the war due to New York City’s political and social history. It was a moment when all of the city’s troubles were exposed.

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