Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New York Draft Riots

Although a majority of the people, both north and south, supported the war, that did not mean that there was no opposition. One issue that brought great resistance to Abraham Lincoln was the conscription laws. In February, 1863 a new law was passed making men aged 20 - 45 eligible to be drafted, but someone who was willing and able to pay $300 or hire a substitute was exempt from service. This exception really angered many in the north. They saw the draft as making the struggle a rich man's war and a poor man's fight since the wealthy could pay their way out.

On July 11, 1863 draft riots broke out in New York City. New York had been economically tied to the south before the war, and the mayor had called for the city's secession. A large part of the population was Irish immigrants, who did not want the slaves freed as they would enter the competition for the low paying jobs that the Irish were already having trouble finding.

When the February law began to be implemented riots quickly broke out. Crowds formed, smashing windows, cutting telegraph wires, lighting fires, and hunting down free blacks. All available troops had been sent to join the army, so the only forces available to fight the riot were the police. They were too weak to keep the rioters under control. The police superintendent himself was attacked by the mob and badly wounded. When the mob went after the offices of the New York Tribune, a Republican paper, the staff repelled the rioters with Gatling guns. The mob continued to look for blacks, lynching some and burning their houses and businesses.

It rained and many of the fires that had been started were put out. But the mob reassembled the next morning, and continued their reign of terror. They went to the homes of the famous Republicans and attacked them. The governor tried to help the situation by speaking at City Hall and telling the crowd that the conscription act was unconstitutional.

The army attacks

Meanwhile, Lincoln had to call back troops from the army to put down the riot. The New York militia and several regiments of Federal troops made a forced march to the city. After a little fighting they were able to stop the riot over the next two days. The casualties had been very heavy for a riot. It is estimated at least 120 civilians were killed and 2,000 wounded. At least 11 blacks were lynched. 50 buildings were burnt and $1 - $5 million of dollars of damage done. The draft was resumed without further protest, and turned out to be not as bad as had been anticipated. Of the 750,000 selected only 45,000 went into the service.


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