US History and Culture, 1828-98
Dr. Andy Wilson
New York City Draft Riot, 1863: East Coast Heroes or Ruthless Vigilantes?
The Civil War was met by mixed emotions from many different people. On one side you have those people who were proslavery and felt that this war was a personal attack upon their beliefs. But on the other side you have those who were anti-slavery and felt that the war was being fought on behalf of slaves who wanted their freedom. The enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 was met with mixed emotions. For some people, this was exactly what they wanted. To them it was a huge leap towards equality. However, for some New Yorkers, this was their worst fear. They knew that once slaves were emancipated they were very likely to flee north and thus create more job competition for the already established New Yorkers.
The Conscription Act that was passed in April of 1863 by Congress also caused tension among the people of the working class in New York City. It called for all men between the ages of 20-45 to be enrolled into two groups. The first class which was made up of single men from 20-45 years old and the second was married men between the ages of 20-35 years old. The second group would only be called to be drafted if the entire first group was drafted or was excused from military service. Excuses could be granted for a variety of reasons such as mental or physical disability, a widowed or elderly parent, or the being the sole supporter of orphaned children. A draftee could also be excused from service by finding a substitute or by paying a $300 commutation fee. To add fuel to this already burning fire, antiwar newspapers published attacks on the draft law that were aimed at inciting the white working class citizens. They believed that their own political power and economic status was on the decline as African-Americans appeared to be gaining power.
On July 11, 1863, the first Federal draft... [continues]
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