What was the significance of the New York Draft Riots?

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timehiker75 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The New York draft riots of July 1863 reflected social tensions in Northern society. The Civil War created additional problems that exacerbated these tensions. The rioters were mostly poor Irish immigrants who were angry that the new draft law allowed rich people to escape the draft by providing substitute draftees and paying 300 dollars, which was an enormous sum of money at that time.

Much of New York’s textile industry depended on the supply of Southern cotton. New York had a strong economic relationship with the South. Southern sympathizers operating through numerous street gangs manipulated the racial prejudices of the Irish workers, especially their fear that black migrants would take their jobs, to direct their anger against the local black population and against the New York police, local abolitionists, and state and federal authorities.

During the riots, some black people in New York City became victims of lynching. As a result, many blacks moved out of the city and settled in New Jersey and other locations.

The Federal government had to bring several army regiments into New York City to restore order. Most New Yorkers supported the Northern war effort. The next attempt to draft New Yorkers into the Union army in August 1863 was successful and free of glitches.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Apart from what has been mentioned by Pohnpei, there were other major significant events that occurred soon after the draft riots. The draft riots that were instigated by a section of the public and the media supported by some local leaders were aimed at stopping the emancipation process being fronted by president Abraham Lincoln. These leaders supported the riots for mostly political reasons since power was seen to shift from democrats to republicans and the abolitionists. It was an opportunity to undermine the then union leadership and protect the white citizens from the looming competition. Instead the aftermath of the riots saw the strengthening of the Union League Club and renewed union of New York's elite and the blacks who chose to stay on. This later saw the establishment of a black regiment to support the war efforts. A public parade of the soldiers was done in New York and "In a powerful display, the parade publicly linked blacks with the leaders of the new order being ushered in by the Civil War." These soldiers would go ahead to fight side by side with their white counterparts to free the slaves in the South and herald a new chapter in the nation's history.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The major significance of the New York Draft Riots in the Civil War is that they showed the attitudes of many Northerners (especially Irish immigrants) towards blacks and towards the emancipation of slaves.

Many working class Northerners were completely against the idea of freeing the slaves.  They worried that the freed slaves would come to the North and compete against them for jobs.  Because of this, they were vehemently opposed to the Civil War and especially to the draft.  They did not think that it was right that they should have to fight in order to free slaves who would then come and harm their own livelihoods.

So, the major significance of these riots is that they show that the North was not the solid bloc of anti-slavery sentiment that we like to think it was.

pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The draft riots in New York demonstrated that not all Northerners were interested in freeing the slaves. During the riot, many African Americans were lynched, and the mob even burned down a black orphanage. Many working-class citizens of New York would be influenced by the draft; they lacked the three hundred dollars needed to buy a substitute to serve in their place. Even with the recent victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the war was not popular with many in the North due to the high mortality rates in the army. Northern textile workers were also hurt by the blockade which prevented Southern cotton from leaving the South. The draft riots proved that many in the North were unwilling to be forced to pursue a war that had turned into a war for emancipation as well as unification.