seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Beginning of the New York City Draft Riots

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ProtestantismThe New York City draft riots, one of the more regrettable incidents related to Irish American history, begin on July 13, 1863 and continue through July 16. Known at the time as Draft Week, they are violent disturbances in Lower Manhattan, widely regarded as the culmination of working-class discontent with new laws passed by Congress that year to draft men to fight in the ongoing American Civil War. The riots remain the largest civil and racial insurrection in American history, aside from the Civil War itself.

The cry of “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” is the cry of many in the Northern states. The rioters, predominantly Irish immigrants, are overwhelmingly working-class men, who resent that wealthier men, who can afford to pay a $300 commutation fee to hire a substitute, are spared from the draft, worried that the eventual emancipation of blacks will rob them of their jobs, and are egged on by some politicians and Southern agents.

Initially intended to express anger at the draft, the protests turn into a race riot, with white predominantly Irish rioters, attacking blacks throughout the city. The official death toll is listed at either 119 or 120 individuals. Conditions in the city are such that Major General John E. Wool, commander of the Department of the East, says on July 16 that “Martial law ought to be proclaimed, but I have not a sufficient force to enforce it.”

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln diverts several regiments of militia and volunteer troops from following up after the Battle of Gettysburg to control the city.

The military does not reach the city until after the first day of rioting, by which time the mobs, have already ransacked or destroyed numerous public buildings, two Protestant churches, the homes of various abolitionists or sympathizers, many black homes, and the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which is burned to the ground.

The area’s demographics change as a result of the riot. Many blacks leave Manhattan permanently, many moving to Brooklyn. By 1865 their population falls below 10,000, the number in 1820.

Through the years the story is told as if only Irish riot, but in fact many besides the Irish take part, and many Irish policemen, fireman, priests, and trade unionists are among the most influential in quelling them. Still, it cannot be denied, a large number of Irish do participate in the burning of the black orphanage and murder of blacks in the city. This unfortunate episode leaves a lasting stain on the reputation of New York’s Irish community.

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