Friday, July 5, 2013

NYC Draft Riots of 1863, Race and Finance

Have our times gotten better or worse?

 On July 13, 1863, as the second day of a new military draft lottery in New York City got underway, demonstrations broke out across the city in what began as an organized opposition to the first federally mandated conscription laws in the nation’s history, but soon morphed into a violent uprising against the city’s wealthy elite; its African-American residents; and the very idea of the Civil War itself. The New York City Draft Riots, which would wreak havoc on the city for four days and remain the largest civilian insurrection in American history, exposed the deep racial, economic and social divides that threatened to tear the nation’s largest city apart in the midst of the American Civil War.

Thanks to its status as the business capital of the United States, New York City was a deeply divided city at the start of the Civil War in April 1861. Its merchants and financial institutions were loath to lose their southern business and the city’s then-mayor, Fernando Wood, had called for the city to secede from the Union. Meanwhile, to the city’s poorer citizens, the war increasingly came to be seen as benefitting only the rich, as the coffers of the city’s elites filled with the financial spoils of battle and the conflict became known as a “rich man’s war, poor man’s battle.” The passage of the nation’s first military draft act, in March 1863, only worsened the situation. Not only did it allow men (presumably only the wealthy) to buy their way out of military service by paying a commutation fee of $300 (more than $5,500 in today’s money), it also exempted blacks from the draft, as they were not yet considered American citizens. Opposition to the draft was widespread across the North, and in New York, some of the loudest critics of the bill could be found in city government, as politicians (primarily Democratic) railed against the legality of the bill and its impact on the city’s working class poor.

Read more at:

The following commentary courtesy of guest author J. Marselus VanWagner

That small brief from gave some keen insight into social and economic dynamics which are still of great concern to us today, both for New York City and as American people overall.

In general, the average American vastly oversimplifies the American Civil War and ignorantly believe that it was a war to end slavery. This premise is almost entirely false, and has been brought about through revisionists of history, particularly in the public school system, where most of us have had our worldview fed to us from a tin can.

Many readers may be surprised to learn certain incongruous facts about the Civil War as it pertains to race. The fact that New York City almost seceded from the Union in 1863 is one such fact shown in the article above. Another fact is that New Jersey, a Union state, still had slaves at the end of the Civil War. It was not until January 1866 that they ratified the 13th Amendment freeing the last Negroes held in bondage there.

While President Abraham Lincoln seems morally opposed to the practice of slavery, some of his own words show that the issue did not carry the same weight as true racial equality, which only became a concern for Americans a century later. Moreover, his own words betray a glamorized notion that some of our revered national heroes, like Lincoln, were any better than the hypocrites who occupy the same office in the modern era.

"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race." - 4th Lincoln/Douglas Debate, 1858

Ol' "Honest Abe" was just another politician after all.

Ultimately, the issue of slavery has nothing to do with liberty for blacks, but simply an economic weapon to use against the Confederacy of southern states opposed to an imperial Federal government. 

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it..." -Abraham Lincoln, publichsed response to Horace Greeley, 1862

The Civil War was as the Confederacy said all along, a war of independence, based on the same spirit as the American Revolution which freed the colonists from the oppression of a King who was beholden to elitist financiers. The bankers.

Read more on that subject in the following article:

U.S. Federal Authority Is Martial Law

Of course, this is not to say that racial tensions were not a very real dynamic then, even as they are today. This is also not meant to diminish the abhorrent practice of slavery either, and the horrors that both black and white folk were subjected to in the centuries before the Civil War, as victims of slavery. (Yes, white people were slaves too.)

On the one hand, we must consider that slaves were not universally beaten, raped, and abused as revisionist history would lead us to believe. After all, a slave was a very expensive piece of  "property." One might compare owning a slave in those times, to owning a luxury automobile in these times. One does not intentionally go out and beat on a brand new Mercedes or BMW simply because they can. Often a slave might be treated as a prized "possession." Doing harm to a slave made about as much sense as blowing the motor in your brand new BMW. Then again, ignorant asses will do that, and ultimately, we are still talking about treating a human being as a possession, no matter how well they were treated.

But we should also consider that all slaves were not Negroes imported from Africa. Granted, by the time of the Civil War, blacks were the vast majority of slave laborers in the Continental United States. Nonetheless, the practice of slavery still persisted as a legitimate economic structure, not necessarily based on race alone. New Orleans, for example, became a hub of Creole persons. In the Caribbean, Scots, Welsh, and Irish persons made up a large population of slaves and indentured servants. To a lesser extent, whites has also served as slaves even in New England states.

One might even see the first military draft in American history as a form a slavery, or indentured servitude, forcing free men into military service in which they might very well die, even if they were paid a pittance for their efforts. This notion certainly played an important part in the psychology behind the NYC draft riots. Not only were poor white men being drafted for a war that was not at all their own cause, but the wealthy were able to buy their way out.

Then, as now, war was a rich man's game paid in poor man's blood. 

Essentially, poor whites were being forced to fight and die for the right of poor blacks to compete with them for low-wage jobs. And because blacks were not citizens, they were legally exempt form the draft in a war that was ostensibly meant to be a fight for the liberty of their own race.

Of course, there was a bigger political and economic paradigm behind the Civil War, but for the Irishman on the street, who was seen as little more than a "white nigger" by the powers that be, abolition meant unemployment and starvation for them and their families as former slaves would flood the workforce and eviscerate labor bargaining for even menial labor. Not necessarily based on race even, but sheer numbers.

The same article referenced above tells us:

A labor demonstration earlier that year had turned violent, as had a protest by the city’s white, largely immigrant dockworkers, who refused to work alongside African-American workers. The two groups, on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder, had long jostled for the city’s lowest paying jobs, and tensions had only increased as the war continued.

In other words, the elite financiers exploited racial tension to exempt themselves from paying a living wage to their laborers, and let them duke it out in the streets to fight for the scraps left over from their fortunes.

The same plan in various forms has been put into effect several times in the years since the Civil War, driving homemakers into the workforce, extending retirement age, and cultivating the influx of virtual slave labor today from Latin America. The net result has been devastating to the American labor force and leaving the minimum wage settled at a rate below the standard of the slave's living.

Oh, but you're not a slave, you get paid. Whereas in yesteryear, even a slave owner had to pay for your clothes, your housing, and even your medical care.

So what do we conclude here? What has history told us? That poor people will be divided and conquered by the power elite, along easily inflamed lines of inherent, perhaps instinctive bigotry and racism. Our instincts tell us that a man of a different color, a person of another gender, hell, a person who has a bad tattoo, is competition and therefore an enemy. All the while, we are blinded to the fact that the real enemy remains aloof, and untouchable. 

We can always find a reason why a person is "different" and therefore not as "worthy" as you. But the truth is, none of us, no matter our color or affliction is any better than another. And in our hearts, we know this.

And of the blacks in the NYC riots? They got their asses kicked that time. Poor folk. Poor folk vs poor folk in fact. What a shame. As before then, even in those racial times, NYC tried to be a bastion of racial equality, and failed under economic pressure by the same bastards that are doing it to us today.

Quote from article above:

Many of those who stayed relocated from their racially mixed neighborhoods to areas with an elevated police presence or to the relative safety of the outskirts of the city.

Also see:

John Decker

Top 5 Greatest Bar Brawls in American History

When gangs of thugs put out your fires

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