NYC Draft Riot of 1863...if history matters...

lause at att.net lause at att.net
Mon Aug 19 19:16:59 MDT 2002


As a representation of working class sentiment...even of
New York Irish working class sentiment...the so-called
Draft Riots of 1863 are utter and complete rubbish.
Yet, this is the only single mention of the working
class in Ken Burns' CIVIL WAR documentary...and in most
general overviews of the subject.

Just a few off-the-cuff responses on the subject...

There were legitimate grievances over conscription,
which allowed you to buy your way out for $300.  There
were labor meetings that addressed that question.  These
meetigns, a continuation of the local pre-Civil War
Industrial Congress have been regularly conflated into
the July 1863 riots.

In fact, the riot was sparked by Democratic politicians
using the most blatant racist appeals, and it was but
the bloodiest of a series of such riots the
officeholders of that party had raised since 1829. For a
generation, the Irish had formed the base of the New
York City Democratic machine and, as was the case in
these earlier riots, the rioters were those who worked
for the city and its contractors, together with the
unemployed.

Did it represent white working class?  Well, it was a
very skewered sample.  A sizeable portion of the class
had VOLUNTEERED to fight for the Union, including New
York's fighting Irish brigade.  Notwithstanding all the
after-the-fact neo-conservative interpretations of these
people as having been unchanged in their 1861
indifference--or even hostility--to blacks, the evidence
clearly indicates a radicalization of their views by
1863.

As the riots raged in the city, the former head of its
Industrial Congress, Benjamin Price killed in action
while leading a company of New Yorkers that July.

Among the troops from Gettysburg rushed to put down the
riot in New York was the 7th Ohio, commanded by William
R. Creighton, a member of the Cleveland Typographical
Union who had risen through the ranks partly through
attrition--and his luck wouldn't last through 1863.

So, it is a gross oversimplification to equate the
political tactics of opportunistic nineteenth century
city machine politicians with the interests of the
working class.  Workers, especially the organized
workers were expressing their interests quite
independently...in a war that had become one of
history's great struggles for human freedom.

Solidarity!
Mark L.







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