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whenever any “form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government.”

 

The one thing that will guarantee defeat in any argument is to allow the other side to define the terms of the basis of the argument. The cause of the Southern States in revolting against the union formed by the Constitution of 1787 was the abrogation of their sovereign rights by the federal government. By leaving the union they resumed their inherent rights as sovereign states. Slavery may have been a cause – it was certainly not THE cause – but for the past century and one half the South has been portrayed as the home of depraved feudalist denying the aspirations of the wretched of the earth yearning to be free while the north is pictured as a tower of strength lighting the way to peace and equality.

Fernando Wood noted the difference between north and South when he wrote that, “The Almighty has fixed the distinction sir, and, by no legislation, by no partisan success, by no revolution, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction,” and while that is certainly true from a sociological and cultural perspective even that is not the true nature of the conflict. It took the Washington Times of 1863 to pinpoint the case in an 1863 headline, The nation is at this time in a state of Revolution, North, South, East, and West, and a revolution is not a civil war – it is the forcible removal of one part of a nation from another creating separate sovereign nations.

The draft riots of 1863 are simply the proof that not even all of the states in the northern alliance were in sympathy with the usurpation of  powers by the Lincolnites and their suppression by military force would continue to echo through history at St. Petersburg and Beijing. Before the first shot was fired it was observed that, Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the north has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief, and nothing changed after the last sword was sheathed.

The devil’s own work : the Civil War draft riots and the fight to reconstruct America    New York : Walker & Co. : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck, 2005  Barnet Schecter Draft Riot, New York, N.Y., 1863 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xiii, 434 p. : ill., maps, ports. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [413]-422) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

On July 4, 1863, Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army retreated from Gettysburg and the union began its grinding march to phyrric victory in its war of aggression. Nine days later, the largest riots in American history broke out on the streets of New York City, nearly destroying in four days the financial, industrial, and commercial hub of the nation. Northerners suspected a Confederate plot, carried out by local Southern sympathizers; however, the reality was more complex and far-reaching, exposing fault lines of race and class still exist today.

Angered by the Emancipation Proclamation, issued six months earlier, and by Abraham Lincoln’s imposition of the first federal military draft in U. S. history, which exempted those who could pay $300, New Yorker’s raged against the social change embodied by Lincoln’s administration. What began as an outbreak against draft offices soon turned into destruction of property, and assaults on New York’s black community. The draft riots drove thousands of blacks to the safety of their own communities hastening the formation of neighborhoods including Harlem.

As Schecter portrays in The Devil’s Own Work, the cataclysm in New York was anything but an isolated incident; rather, it was a microcosm — within the borders of the supposedly loyal northern states — of the larger Civil War between the north and South. The riots erupted over the same polarizing issues – the scope of federal authority over states and individuals – that had torn the nation apart. And the riots’ aftermath foreshadowed the compromises that would bedevil Reconstruction and delay the process of reunification for more than 100 years.

The story of the draft riots come alive in the voices of passionate newspaper rivals Horace Greeley and Manton Marble; black leader Rev. Henry Highland Garnet and renegade Democrat Fernando Wood; Irish soldier Peter Welsh and conservative diarist Maria Daly; and many others. In chronicling this violent demonstration over the fight between illegitimately assumed despotic power and the ardent defense of civil liberties in a time of war, The Devil’s Own Work sheds new light on the Civil War era and on the history of protest and reform in America.

 

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