Religious Bigotry, Ethnic Hatred, and Lynch Mobs
Though the war had a chilling effect upon Cincinnatians trading southward, by 1863 it was a boomtown supplying the Northern military and “filling large orders for iron and steel products, uniforms and wagons. In a few years, the profits amassed into great fortunes.”
Lincoln’s administration maintained the patriotism of the West with lucrative military supply contracts. Cincinnati’s political system became corrupt, and its leaders notorious for controlling elections and manipulating judges and juries.
The Courthouse Riot of 1884 occurred after German worker Wilhelm Berner and mulatto accomplice Joe Palmer murdered their employer, William Kirk. Though the judge, after the trial and confessions, sentenced both to 20 years in prison, the bribed jury returned a verdict of simple manslaughter.
The “Boss” Cox mentioned below was George B. Cox, a saloonkeeper who ran Cincinnati’s Republican political machine, which Ohioan William Howard Taft called a “local despotism” for the benefit of big corporations.
Religious Bigotry, Ethnic Hatred and Lynch Mobs
“Between 1830 and 1840 the population grew by 85 percent, reaching 46,338 residents, and made Cincinnati the fastest-growing city in America, sixth in population and third in manufacturing. In the 1830s and 1840s, Cincinnati’s population was composed mainly of native-born Americans from the Eastern Middle Atlantic and Upper Southern States.
Travel writers described it as a Yankee city with a pleasant blend of Southern ease and charm. But a new ethnic element appeared in the Thirties, when people from the fragmented states of Germany discovered Cincinnati.
Many of them clustered north of the canal in an area that they called Over-the-Rhine, where they built churches, houses, tenements (street-level shops with residence above), and small commercial buildings.
The new Whig party, intellectual successors to the Federalists, advocated government funding of “internal improvements,” primarily canals, highways and railroads . . . (Southern and eastern-based Jacksonians opposed federal funding for sectional projects that would chiefly benefit Kentucky, Ohio and the “West.” By the 1850s, entrepreneurial railroads radiated out from five depots in downtown Cincinnati like spokes on a half-broken wheel.
From 1835, German-speaking people were coming to Cincinnati in large numbers. The first were predominantly Protestants and Freethinkers, but Roman Catholics soon outnumbered them. By 1840, one-third of Cincinnati’s 75,000 citizens were German-speaking, of which an estimated two-thirds to three-fourths were Roman Catholic. The Irish . . . were also arriving in considerable numbers after 1840 . . .
As their numbers grew, so did hostility from the native-born majority. The Nativist riots of the 1840s and the political activities of the Know-Nothing party in the 1850s were indicative of the continuing bigotry toward Catholics and immigrants. In the 1870s and 1880s . . . Native-born Americans often blamed poor pay and labor conditions on the surplus of recent immigrants and freedmen. Social and political tensions grew over issues of class, race, ethnicity and criminal justice.
The city had a record of street violence, but there was no precedent for the Cincinnati Courthouse Riot of 1884, one of the bloodiest riots in American history. What began as a meeting in Music Hall . . . to discuss corruption in the justice system (a bribed jury had found a confessed murderer guilty of manslaughter only) ended with a lynch mob engaging law enforcement officials in a three-day street battle.”
After the riot, Cincinnati turned to George “Boss” Cox to stabilize city government.”
(Architecture in Cincinnati: An Illustrated History of Designing and Building an American City, Sue Ann Painter, Ohio University Press, 2006, excerpts pp. 30; 35-36; 45; 94-97)