New York Draft Riots

Monday, July 13, 1863 to Thursday, July 16, 1863

Sketch of the New York draft riots from an 1863 issue of The Illustrated London News. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

The New York City draft rioters, made up mostly of recent Irish immigrants, protest the 1863 Enrollment Act, which mandates that all male citizens (and male immigrants filing for citizenship) between the ages of 20 and 45 enroll for the military draft. The rioters are especially adamant about the commutation provision, which allows drafted men to pay for a substitute to take their place or a $300 fine to avoid military service, leading many to label the conflict a "rich man's war, poor man's fight." The protests quickly turn into a race riot, with the Irish protesters attacking African Americans due to a long history of competition with blacks for low-wage jobs, and due to the federal conscription act explicitly excluding freed blacks from the draft because they are not considered citizens. More than 100 civilians are killed in one of the most serious civil disturbances in American history.


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