The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War

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9780195071306: The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War

For five days in July 1863, at the height of the Civil War, New York City was under siege. Angry rioters burned draft offices, closed factories, destroyed railroad tracks and telegraph lines, and hunted policemen and soldiers. Before long, the rioters turned their murderous wrath against the black community. In the end, at least 105 people were killed, making the draft riots the most violent insurrection in American history.

In this vividly written book, Iver Bernstein tells the compelling story of the New York City draft riots. He details how what began as a demonstration against the first federal draft soon expanded into a sweeping assault against the local institutions and personnel of Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party as well as a grotesque race riot. Bernstein identifies participants, dynamics, causes and consequences, and demonstrates that the "winners" and "losers" of the July 1863 crisis were anything but clear, even after five regiments rushed north from Gettysburg restored order. In a tour de force of historical detection, Bernstein shows that to evaluate the significance of the riots we must enter the minds and experiences of a cast of characters--Irish and German immigrant workers, Wall Street businessmen who frantically debated whether to declare martial law, nervous politicians in Washington and at City Hall. Along the way, he offers new perspectives on a wide range of topics: Civil War society and politics, patterns of race, ethnic and class relations, the rise of organized labor, styles of leadership, philanthropy and reform, strains of individualism, and the rise of machine politics in Boss Tweed's Tammany regime.

An in-depth study of one of the most troubling and least understood crises in American history, The New York City Draft Riots is the first book to reveal the broader political and historical context--the complex of social, cultural and political relations--that made the bloody events of July 1863 possible.

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About the Author:

Iver Bernstein is Professor of History and African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.


"An original work in the historiography of Civil War America and labor history, and also synthesizes much of the current historical research. It stimulates and provokes. Most important, it recaptures much of the world we have lost."--New York Times Book Review

"Especially appealing...When Bernstein crosses historical genres, it's an almost synesthetic pleasure...The New York City Draft Riots establishes a world as it was lived in. Its outline shows clearly against the backdrop of our own populist racism, in what is still the unreconstructed North."--Village Voice

"An outstanding piece of social, economic, and political history, suggesting the benefits of integrating new and older historiography, the book also illustrates a pitfall or two that historians may wish to keep in mind...An excellent, revelatory book...His writing is clear and his immense research shines on every page."--Reviews in American History

"Detailed and sophisticated...An impressive book. Bernstein displays ingenuity in conceiving of the riots as something more than an abrupt, momentary episode, and he has dug deep to locate sources...Clearly the new interpretive authority."--Georgia Historical Quarterly

"Not since David Montgomery's Beyond Equality (1967) has the relationship between Civil War politics and the social history of the urban-industrial North been explored so successfully as in this study."--Journal of American History

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