Irish Immigrants and the New York Draft Riots of 1863

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The New York Draft Riots of 1863
In the summer of 1863 New York experienced one of the most violent protests in the American history. The riots were mainly in reaction to the Union draft for the Civil War, which Abraham Lincoln enacted when volunteers began to run out. The riots lasted for five days, and the mob consisted of almost 50,000 angry men who opposed to the Civil War, draft and Emancipation Proclamation. This paper will discuss how the Irish immigrants in New York affected the draft riots of 1863, and the reason behind their participation, exploring specifically the social, class and racial issues the Irish immigrants faced.

The United States saw an influx of Irish immigrants due to the Great Famine (potatoes) in Ireland. The Irish were misunderstood especially in New York because many of them came from the rural farm lands in Ireland. They were considered by many to be unskilled in manual labor and were not accustomed to city living. An article by the Geographical Journal noted that stereotypical Irish, “were always to be found crowded into densely populated, distinctively Irish quarters characterized by poverty, low-skilled employment, poor housing, crime and drunkenness” in New York as well as major British cities. The Irish were heavily discriminated against, and but were able to find low wage jobs that would have been threatened if more ex-slaves traveled to New York. Albon P. Man Jr., a writer for the Journal of Negro History, bluntly states, “The New York draft riots of July, 1863, had their origins largely in a fear of black labor competition which possessed the city’s Irish unskilled workers.” The Irish anxiety grew as the war continued because if the slaves were freed and the war ended the black southerners would move north and take their jobs for even less pay. The Emancipation Proclamation realized their fears.

The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, solidified the reason behind the Civil War....
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