(fwd from Yoshie Furuhashi) Labor Competition and the New York Draft Riots of 1863

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Mon Dec 23 07:48:15 MST 2002

Labor Competition and the New York Draft Riots of 1863
Journal of Negro History, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4, October 1951

The New York draft riots of July, 1863, had their origin largely in a
fear of black labor competition which possessed the city's, Irish
unskilled workers. Upon emancipation, they believed, great numbers of
Negroes would cross the Mason-Dixon line, underbid them in the
Northern labor market and deprive them of jobs. Similar fears helped
produce mass anti-Negro violence in World Wars I and II, also periods
of acute labor shortage. The movement of Negro strikebreakers into
the East St. Louis, Illinois, area, for example, touched off the
demonstrations which occurred there in July, 1917, (1) while the
upgrading of a few Negro employees signalled the start of the ugly
Philadelphia transit strike of August, 1944.(2)

But the New York draft disturbances remain the bloodiest race riots
of American history. Police figures on deaths among the white rioters
ranged from 1,200 to 1,500, and it is impossible to know how many
bodies of Negro victims of the lynch mobs were borne away by the
waters on either side of Manhattan Island.(3) Significantly, the
Negro population of the metropolis dropped 20% between 1860 and 1865,
declining from 12,472 to 9,945.(4)

This article will seek to answer some of the more important questions
bearing upon the white workers' dread of labor competition from
contrabands: What predictions as to the consequences of emancipation
were made by pro-slavery politicians and journalists between the
campaign of 1860 and the sultry week of July 12, 1863? How did
abolitionists and Republicans try to allay the fear stirred up in the
minds of white workers by opponents of emancipation? Did former
slaves within Union lines in the South really wish to go northward at
that time? Was there any appreciable migration to the North? In
addition, this article will examine the actual, rather than
anticipated, labor competition between whites and Negroes in various
occupations in New York, with special attention to the crucial
longshore field and to the anti-Negro violence which marked the
waterfront strikes of 1855 and 1863.(5) For that violence was to be
repeated, intensified a thousandfold, in the draft riots immediately
following the strikes of 1863....

[The full text of the article is available at

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