NY Draft Riots

Source: African-American Registry

In 1863, federal troops were sent to quell race rioting in New York, when Irish immigrants attacked the city’s black population after learning that the new conscription law meant that they would likely be drafted to fight a war on behalf of blacks. The controversy grew more intense when it was revealed that conscripted men could buy a waiver for $300, which led to charges that it was a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” Black neighborhoods were burned and many blacks were lynched from lampposts. After four days of rioting, the bloodshed finally ended with more than 100 killed. Similar riots took place in Philadelphia and Detroit.

By 1860, war was inevitable. Anti-slavery forces in the northern and southern slaveholding states were at an impasse over the balance of political power, with southern states threatening to secede from the Union with the election of Abraham Lincoln. The Civil War years were a particularly contentious time in the U.S. The debate over slavery was more an issue of economic competition than racial oppression; southern slave owners feared the loss of wealth and political power, while European immigrants in the North were afraid that newly emancipated slaves would compete for jobs.

  • Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860; he pledged to pass homestead legislation and opposed the spread of slavery. His victory provoked South Carolina to secede from the Union.
  • Harriet Jacobs’ autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, was published in 1861. The book chronicled Jacobs’ life under slavery and the seven years she spent hiding in an attic before making her escape to freedom.
  • The Emancipation Proclamation was published in northern newspapers in September of 1862. It freed slaves in Confederate states, but not border states or territories.
  • In 1863, the governor of Massachusetts began recruiting African Americans and formed the first black regiment-the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers.
  • In August 1863, a group of Confederate sympathizers led by William Quantrill invaded Lawrence, Kansas, the state that was the site of many bloody battles over slavery, and killed 180 people.
  • In November of that same year, Lincoln dedicated a Pennsylvania cemetery and delivered the Gettysburg address.
  • Race riots took place in Memphis and New Orleans in 1866. That same year the Ku Klux Klan was formed in Tennessee.
  • In 1870, Congress enacted the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1870 to stop southern white resistance to African American political gains under Reconstruction.

Frederick Douglass

Credit: National Archives Gift Collection, George K. Warren, 1879

“The mind does not take its complexion from the skin.
– Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was an American abolitionist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer. Born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland near Tuckahoe Creek, he managed to escape bondage and became influential in ending slavery in the U.S. In 1863, Douglass conferred with President Abraham Lincoln on the treatment of black soldiers, and with President Andrew Johnson on the subject of black suffrage.