During the Civil War and in the summer of 1863 the fighting between the Northern and Southern parts of the United States was closing in on a climax of death and destruction. At the time President Lincoln faced two particular problems with the situation. First, how to end slavery and second how to keep the ranks of the Union Army from becoming depleted. After considerable thought, he chose a solution for both problems: an emancipation proclamation and a wartime draft.
The proclamation itself focused solely on ending slavery by making it illegal in the United States. It did not give enslaved Blacks the full freedom that White Americans enjoyed. One reason for this is that Lincoln favored buying time for the South to come to terms with the new law, and to gradually allow Black slaves an opportunity to choose a life for themselves once freed. Both Northern and Southern Americans had conflicting views on slavery as a whole, but the majority of all cared little for slaves once free and even disliked their assimilation into American society even more. Perhaps Lincoln felt by allowing a slow progression of this adaptation, a change that might prove easier to adapt to for all.
The wartime draft allowed an unlimited supply of able-bodied men, either age between 25 and 35 or between ages of 35 and 45 depending on their marital status, to serve in the Union Army by way of a lottery system. The lottery system was a recruitment tool used to draft individuals and not just sweep any and all men that qualified. It was meant to be a fair system. However, if you were wealthy you could get out of the draft by paying a bit of cash. This was hardly fair to those of lower income classes who never stood one chance to dodge the draft. Many folks in New York also perceived this solution as particularly federally intrusive to their lives. It increased focus on slavery politically as three groups vied for their attention on the national stage: the New York Democrats which included Irish migrant workers, Republicans who remained neutral on the topic of slavery and Abolitionists who vigorously rallied the public support for the end of slavery with marches and speeches. Finally, it incited anger with the White male working population who felt the law was tipped unfairly toward them by favoring Blacks and immigrants to whom the draft law did not even apply.
These groups clashed in July with deadly consequences. On the 13th, the day of the draft lottery, violence erupted, as tempers grew out of control. Working class men began attacking the very people they felt the federal government aimed to support in the draft. They attacked Irish immigrant workers naive of the American justice system. They attacked Blacks: women, children and elderly. These victims were easy targets and could not defend themselves because they did not have the same right within the law as White Americans. Another reason rioters targeted African Americans was because of their progression toward upward mobility. For example, they destroyed a black-owned orphanage, a business created for the sole purpose of Blacks helping Blacks. These institutions’ did not interfere with White society, so why was this threatening? Perhaps the upward mobility by free or freed Blacks was a threat politically to Democrats and a reason for them to publicly protest the Republicans and the government itself.
Lincolns two solutions did affect the United States significantly, but it did not unify the nation, as he had desired. To quell the riot and fighting federal troops were ordered in to control crowds, establish curfew and authority and, bring order to the city. The draft stayed, and the anger and rage lingered on for years to come. Tensions increased between ethnic groups and whites. Now the country was not only divided by north and south but between race and ethnicity as well.
Some White citizens did support African Americans and came to their defense to try and fight back against or protect them from violence. However, there were too few of these groups to make a difference. No one directed their attention to the political systems in place that seems to incite further racial problems between different ethnicity in New York at the time.
The Draft Riots remains a spot of contention within the history of the United States as a nation. What has yet to be determined is why the nation focused more on the government to end the war and bring peace and less focus on ending racial tensions and bringing the nation together racially and ethnically.
The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/317749.html.
New York Draft Riots
Four Days of Fire: The New York City Draft Riots
Civil War Draft Records: Exemptions and Enrollments by Michael T. Meier