The resistance to Lincoln’s conscription law became violent on July 13, 1863 as mobs fought New York City police and soldiers in the streets. With that State having predominantly Democratic voters, Lincoln seemed to levy a higher draft quota there and poor Irish immigrants would bear the brunt of forced military service — and feared freed blacks flooding North and taking all laboring jobs held by Irish. The author below relates that “Negroes had been hunted down all day, as though they were so many wild beasts, and one, after dark, was caught, and after being severely beaten and hanged to a tree, left suspended there until [police took] the body down. Many [blacks] had sought refuge in police stations and elsewhere, and all were filled with terror.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
New Yorker’s Resist Conscription
“The ostensible cause of the riots of 1863 was hostility to the draft, because it was a tyrannical, despotic and unjust measure – an act which has distinguished tyrants the world over, and should never be tolerated by a free people. Open hostility to oppression was more than once hinted in a portion of the press – as not only a right, but a duty.
Even the London Times said: “It would have been strange, indeed, if the American people had submitted to a measure which is a distinctive mark of the most despotic governments of the Continent.”
It might as well be said, that because settling national difficulties by an appeal to arms has always been a distinctive feature of despotic governments, therefore the American people should refuse to sustain the government by declaring or prosecuting any war; or that because it has always been a distinctive feature of despotic governments to have naval and military schools, to train men to the art of war, therefore the American people should not submit to either.
[If troops] enough can be raised on a reasonable bounty, it is more expedient to do so; but the moment the bounty becomes so exorbitant as to tempt the cupidity of those in whom neither patriotism nor sense of duty have any power, volunteering becomes an evil. We found it so in our recent war.
The bounty was a little fortune to a certain class, the benefit of which they had no idea of losing by being shot, and hence they deserted or shammed sickness, so that scarce half the men ever got to the front, while those who did being influenced by no higher motive than cupidity, became worthless soldiers.
If a well-known name, [or] that of a man of wealth, was among the number [conscripted], it only increased the exasperation, for the law exempted every one drawn who would pay three hundred dollars towards a substitute. This was taking practically the whole number of soldiers called for out of the laboring classes.
A great proportion of these being Irish, it naturally became an Irish question, and eventually an Irish riot. It was in their eyes the game of hated England over again – oppression of Irishmen.”
(The Great Riots of New York, 1712 to 1873; Joel Tyler Headley, editor, Dover Publications, 1971, excerpts, pp. 137; 139; 149. Original published by E.B. Treat in 1873)