LABOR COMPETITION AND THE NEW YORK DRAFT RIOTS OF 1863
By ALBON P. MAN, JR.
Journal of Negro History, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4, October 1951
The New York draft riots of July, 1863, had their origin largely in a fear of black labor competition which possessed the city's, Irish unskilled workers. Upon emancipation, they believed, great numbers of Negroes would cross the Mason-Dixon line, underbid them in the Northern labor market and deprive them of jobs. Similar fears helped produce mass anti-Negro violence in World Wars I and II, also periods of acute labor shortage. The movement of Negro strikebreakers into the East St. Louis, Illinois, area, for example, touched off the demonstrations which occurred there in July, 1917, (1) while the upgrading of a few Negro employees signaled the start of the ugly Philadelphia transit strike of August, 1944.(2)
But the New York draft disturbances remain the bloodiest race riots of American history. Police figures on deaths among the white rioters ranged from 1,200 to 1,500, and it is impossible to know how many bodies of Negro victims of the lynch mobs were borne away by the waters on either side of Manhattan Island.(3) Significantly, the Negro population of the metropolis dropped 20% between 1860 and 1865, declining from 12,472 to 9,945.(4)
This article will seek to answer some of the more important questions bearing upon the white workers' dread of labor competition from contrabands: What predictions as to the consequences of emancipation were made by pro-slavery politicians and journalists between the campaign of 1860 and the sultry week of July 12, 1863? How did abolitionists and Republicans try to allay the fear stirred up
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in the minds of white workers by opponents of emancipation? Did former slaves within Union lines in the South really wish to go northward at that time? Was there any appreciable migration to the North? In addition, this article will examine the actual, rather than anticipated, labor competition between whites and Negroes in various occupations in New York, with special attention to the crucial longshore field and to the anti-Negro violence which marked the waterfront strikes of 1855 and 1863.(5) For that violence was to be repeated, intensified a thousand fold, in the draft riots immediately following the strikes of 1863.
At the outset, mention should be made of the fact that before the spurt in immigration in the decades of the forties and fifties, such occupations in New York as those of longshoremen, hod-carriers, brickmakers, whitewashers, coachmen, stablemen, porters, bootblacks, barbers, and waiters in hotels and restaurants had been almost wholly in the hands of colored men.(6) Domestic maids, cooks, scullions, laundresses and seamstresses were generally colored women. They were secure in these types of employment and earned relatively good wages. But with the huge influx of white foreigners, particularly after the Irish famine of 1846, their position changed radically.
The unskilled Irish swarmed into the menial occupations which had been monopolized by the colored. Offering to work for any wages they could obtain, they reduced the Negroes' earnings drastically and deprived many of employment.(7)
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As Frederick Douglass wrote, admonishing Negroes to learn trades or perish: "Every hour sees the black man elbowed out of employment by some newly arrived emigrant whose hunger and whose color are thought to give him a better title to the place."(8) Thus the Irish themselves had earlier subjected Negroes to the same job rivalry that Democratic politicians and journalists prophesied would be offered to the Irish by former slaves from the South. To those dire predictions, especially as uttered during the election campaigns of 1860, 1861 and 1862 and after the Emancipation Proclamation and adoption of the draft act in March, 1863, we shall now turn.
At the Democratic rally on October 8, 1860, to ratify the coalition Douglas-Breckinridge-Bell slate of presidential electors in New York, James W. Gerard, prominent lawyer and candidate for Congress, ventured a typical prediction of intensified Negro-white labor competition in the event of emancipation.(9) He warned his listeners-above all, his "friends from Ireland" and immigrants from other countries-that the Republican party was an abolition party:
Abraham Lincoln, if honest to his party, means to do his best that the free men of the North shall make free the laboring population of the South. (Cries of "Never," and cheers.) . . . I call upon all adopted citizens to stand up and vote against Abraham Lincoln, or you will have negro labor dragging you from your free labor.
Speaking again later in the month, Gerard returned to this theme, cautioning Irish and German laborers not to vote Republican lest in casting their ballots to exclude slavery, they "exclude bread from their own table." (10)
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Likewise, General Leslie Combs, of Kentucky, declared at a Democratic mass meeting in New York during the campaign of 1860 that if the slaves in the South were liberated, they would come North and take away the jobs of white longshoremen and other laborers. He warned:
Let the four millions of slaves in the South be set at liberty, and left to their own free will and desires, and we should very soon have, not the great conflict so long predicted between free labor and slave labor, but a terrible conflict between white labor and black labor. (Applause.) ... The unemployed slaves will be found among you in sufficient numbers to compete with you at your wharves and your docks, and in every branch of labor in which white people alone are now employed.(11)
Pro-South business houses, too, brought pressure to bear upon their employees to vote for the fusion Democratic ticket, to preserve themselves from Negro competition. (12)
During the campaign of 1860, the virulently anti-Negro Herald also carried editorials foretelling catastrophe if Lincoln were elected. A wholesale exodus of four million Negroes from the South would occur. If they were anything like the fugitive slaves "of the most vicious and degraded, character" who had already emigrated to the North, it said on one occasion, they would refuse to work and would steal the fruits of Northern industry and burden Northern work~ers with taxes for their maintenance." The Herald did not hesitate to contradict itself in its arguments, however, for after dwelling one day upon the supposed laziness of freed Negroes, the tax burden for their support, and their criminal tendencies, on another day it would raise the spectre of job competition from apparently hard-working contrabands:
Hundreds of thousands will emigrate to their friends - the republicans -- North, and be placed by them side by side in competition
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with white men. Are you ready to divide your patrimony with the negro? Are you ready to work with him in competition to work more than you do now for Less pay? If you are, vote for the republican candidate. (14)
Similar to this was the final appeal of James Gordon Bennett, editor of the Herald, to Irish and German laborers on election day, 1860: "If Lincoln is elected to-day, you will have to compete with the labor of four million emancipated negroes.... The North will be flooded with free negroes, and the labor of the white man will be depreciated and degraded." (15)
Even the surge of patriotism which swept the city immediately after the attack on Port Sumter did not delete from Democratic newspapers the theme of Negro labor competition upon emancipation.(16) It was reiterated by the demagogic Fernando Wood in campaigning for the office of mayor of New York in the fall of 1861. He charged that his Republican opponent was the candidate of a party which would fill regiments with Irish and German laborers and then bring Negroes North to take their jobs away.(17) Wood also used the inconsistent argument that the support of contraband paupers in the North would be a crushing financial burden."(18) He played upon fear of Negro labor competition most often in bidding for Irish votes.(19) In the mayoralty campaign of 1861 the Herald once more used its stock prediction of the displacement of white workers, notably the Irish, by black workers, should the Republicans prevail.(20)
In the interval between the campaigns of 1861 and 1862, there were few allusions by politicians and press to the
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danger of Negro labor competition in the event of emancipation. But with the appearance of the preliminary proclamation of emancipation in September, 1862, and the Seymour Wadsworth contest for the New York governorship that year, the old warnings were re-echoed. George Francis Train, the Irish nationalist, said that the abolitionists were "combining to manacle the white man" and were engaged in a "conspiracy against the Irish," whom they sought to degrade by placing Negroes to work beside the(21) Another Irish-American leader, Richard O'Gorman, describing himself as "a sincere friend of the negro," spoke of the impolicy of freeing the black man from the civilizing restraints of servitude.(22) "May not these poor people, joying their newly acquired freedom, swarm on us here in the North?" he asked.
Congressman Samuel S. Cox, of Ohio, felt sure that New Yorkers would elect the Democratic candidate for Governor, Horatio Seymour, because "they would never consent to have negroes compete with them. "I Indeed, he suggested that when whites and freed Negroes clashed in New York's labor market, blood would flow and colored men would get the worst of it.(24) In his campaign pronouncements Seymour himself was more restrained in criticizing Lincoln's preliminary proclamation on the score of Negro labor competition.(25) Of course, the Herald ran true to form editorials on the menace of Negro labor, addressed to Irish and German laborers. "The Irish and German immigrants, to say nothing of native laborers of the white race, must feel enraptured," Bennett wrote, "at the prospect of hordes
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of darkeys overrunning the Northern States and working for half wages, and thus ousting them from employment.' (26)
Promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and adoption of the conscription act on March 3, 1863, caused a new outburst. The rabid New York Weekly Caucasian rejoiced that the Proclamation had led the Metropolitan Record, which had been the official organ of the Catholic Archbishop of New York, to oppose the war and asserted that its course was generally approved by Irish Americans, who did not relish the thought of having Negroes on their economic level.(27) The newly-formed Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge, an anti-emancipation propaganda group in New York City, published as its first pamphlet a letter written by Henry Clay twenty years before, depicting a horrible doom for white labor in the North if slavery were abolished. As Orestes A. Brownson, one of the few leading anti-slavery Catholics, wrote, Democratic leaders and journalists in this period convinced the Irish that in resisting the draft they were simply refusing to fight for their own economic suicide.(29)
How did Republicans and Abolitionists deal with these predictions of their opponents? In 1860 and 1861 they failed to answer them at all. In 1862, however, they began to grasp the fact that the labor competition argument was making a deep impression upon the working people of New York, particularly the Irish, and that it could no longer be allowed to go unchallenged. In fact, Horace Greeley declared on the eve of the election of 1862 that it was the most common argument advanced against the abolition of slavery.(30)
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From the summer of 1862 on, Greeley and other Republican and abolitionist leaders undertook to refute it on every possible occasion. Whatever Negroes had migrated to the North had done so to escape slavery, they said. Eliminate, slavery, and the movement northward would stop, the Negro having an exceptionally strong attachment to the locality in which he was born, according to General Hunter.(31) Furthermore, with the terror of the auction block removed, the colored population of the North would go south, as it was by nature better suited to the climate there and more adept at raising cotton, tobacco, rice and sugar than earning a living at other pursuits in the North. It was therefore clearly to the interest of white workers, including Irish laborers, to support emancipation. (32)
This was the approach of James S. Wadsworth, in his message in October, 1862, accepting the Union party's nomination for Governor of New York and defending Lincoln's preliminary proclamation against the Negro labor competition arguments Daniel S. Dickinson, erstwhile Democratic leader, reasoned the same way, as did Secretary of War Stanton, Senator Charles Sunmer, Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts, Major General Cassius M. Clay (who was most disturbed by the effect of the competition idea upon the Irish), and Robert Dale Owen. (34)
Greeley also ridiculed the inconsistency of anti-emancipationists in contending that former slaves would work so hard and so cheaply that they would displace white men and then adding in the same breath that they would be indolent paupers whose upkeep would drain the public treasury.(35)
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In his extremely eloquent oration on the Emancipation Proclamation, on February 6, 1863, at the Cooper Institute, Frederick Douglass similarly heaped scorn upon such logic.(36) Once Greeley was bold enough to declare that even if there were an influx of fugitives into the North, it would not injure white workers, because the normal labor force of the North had been depleted by the demands of the army and needed supplementing.(37) The Negroes would produce as much as they would consume, he insisted, observing not very convincingly that they would, moreover, leave whites free to secure "higher, easier, better recompensed positions."(38)
Lincoln himself took note of the Negro labor competition argument against the emancipation program in his message to Congress on December 1, 1862.(39) His answer was colonization: "Reduce the supply of black labor by colonizing the black laborers out of the country, and by precisely so much you increase the demand for, and the wages of, white labor." But Lincoln denied that even without the deportation of freed slaves there would be any mass migration northward and supplanting of white workers, since Negroes would no longer have to flee from bondage in the South.
Unfortunately, information on whether there was actually any movement of freed Negroes from the South to the Northeast is scanty, incidental and inconclusive.(40)
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There is a hint here and there buried in the fine print of a Civil War newspaper, a random suggestion in an obscure pamphlet, but no authoritative or extended treatment of this interesting problem. The Tribune would, at one time, admit unqualifiedly that Negroes were leaving the South in considerable numbers to escape slavery. "Were slavery dead tomorrow, the main current of negro migration would flow southward, not northward," wrote Greeley in January, 1863.(41) To the same effect he declared in March: "There is at present a very general exodus of poor people from the region cursed by the Slaveholders' Rebellion . . . Black men are fleeing to escape from Slavery to traitors."(42) Yet within a month of making this last assertion he said of liberated slaves: "It is quite certain that up to this time many thousands have been liberated, but as far as we can learn, very few have come among us."(43) This, however, was contradicted in January 1863 by Fincher's Trades Review, which stated that a large number of colored persons had already reached the Northern states and that many of them were filling positions formerly occupied by white men. The leading labor paper of its time then proceeded to demand that the government place restrictions on the ingress of emancipated slaves into the North.
It is doubtless true that by the summer of 1863 thousands of former slaves had left Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi for Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas and Minnesota, despite stringent laws passed by some midwestern states forbidding the immigration of contrabands lest whites be deprived of employment.(45) So many Negroes left
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Missouri, in fact, that it was predicted that crops would perish or remain undeveloped for want of labor.(41) The codes of these states which excluded former slaves but urgently needed agricultural workers to replace men serving in the army were hotly denounced by abolitionists as examples of the absurd lengths to which fear of Negro labor competition could carry white people.(47) But the opposition to emancipation could still point to the northward movement of Negroes in the midwest and predict a similar influx into New York and consequent unemployment for white men. (48)
Into the Middle Atlantic states only a negligible migration of freed Negroes took place. The demand for colored labor in Washington, D. C., and on Maryland plantations exceeded the Supply.(49) Three hundred contrabands did arrive in Washington in the summer of 1862 from various parts of Virginia, but the men among them were promptly hired about government hospitals and camps and on public works, while the women did washing for the soldiers.(50) The advent of a small number of contrabands in Chester County, Pennsylvania, however, did cause some excitement, which was reported in the New York press. False rumors arose that they were so numerous that they took work away from whites and accepted employment for ten cents a day. These statements led to assaults upon Negroes in Northern cities.(51) When about a hundred fugitives who came from the South by boat landed in Philadelphia in March, 1862, an immense crowd greeted them with shrieks of abuse.(52) There was probably a trickle of Negroes into New Jersey also, for
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anti-administration forces there called upon the legislature early in 1863 to bar former slaves from the state.(53)
Some migration of Negroes to New York City did unquestionably occur, at least enough to give an appearance of validity to the predictions of politicians and press and the fear of the Irish proletariat regarding black labor competition.(54) Refugees may well have settled in the Five Points neighborhood, in close proximity to the Irish.(55) During the longshore strike a month before the draft riots it was reported that three carloads of contrabands had reached Jersey City and that the Negroes then took the ferry to New York.(56) One source suggests that the colored workers used to break the strikes of longshoremen in 1863 were emancipated slaves, but there is no definite proof of that.(57) It does, seem, though, that the Negroes sheltered in the Seventh Avenue Arsenal during the draft riots included contrabands,(58) and not to be forgotten is that shout by "someone with an Irish aacent" who interrupted Archbishop John Hughes's speech appealing to Catholics to abstain from rioting: "Let the niggers stay in the South!"(59) The following day, speaking of Negroes "that float hither from the South," the Freeman's Journal and Catholic Register urged that they be "driven out again, imprisoned or exterminated."(60) Such a furor could hardly have arisen without some pretext.
But that the pretext was small is apparent from the
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available information on whether the Negros of the South did really wish to go north in 1862 and 1863. Although it was well known that General Hunter, commander of the army's Department of the South, at Port Royal, South Carolina, gave passes to the North to all Negroes seeking them, he stated in July, 1862, that not more than a dozen had applied to him for such passes since his arrival.(61) Hunter branded the idea of a general migration of Negroes to the North a "carefully fostered delusion." The superintendent in charge of contrabands in Washington, D. C., made a special investigation into the supposed desire of former slaves to emigrate to the North and found it non-existent.(62) Of those who came under his charge during his first four months in office, not thirty-five were willing to go farther north.
The most thorough attempt to ascertain whether Southern Negroes wished to move to the North was made by a special committee of the Emancipation League.(63) Late in 1862 this committee sent a questionnaire to the different superintendents of contrabands in the South containing the following query, among others: "Do they desire to go North? In the event of general emancipation, and fair treatment at home, would there, in your judgment, be any disposition to go North?" Even though the question was obviously loaded, the answers received leave little room for doubt that the contrabands did not wish to leave the South. The reply from Fortress Monroe, Virginia, was typical: Very few are willing to go North, except for safety. I have had applications from large numbers wishing servants, and offering good wages, lying over for months, because of the unwillingness of any to go." The results of this survey were confirmed by a report of the American Freedmen is Inquiry Commission in June, 1863, that there was no
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disposition on the part of Negro refugees within Union lines in South Carolina and Florida to go north.(64)
The preceding pages have described the manner in which political leaders and journalists in New York played upon the fear of white workers that freed Negroes would compete with them for jobs. They have also discussed the extent to which there was a movement of contrabands from the South who could compete with them. It is now appropriate to look into the competition actually taking place between Negroes and whites before the draft riots of July, 1863.
Such competition was omnipresent in the South, to be sure. It greatly heightened the tension between Negroes and poor whites, with slaves used in skilled capacities both on plantations and in towns and cities, as well, where their masters easily underbid white mechanics. It extended to almost all branches of manual labor.(65) Everywhere the Southern white worker turned, the Negro seemed to deprive him of a job, except for the most dangerous occupations, in which it would be folly to expose a valuable slave to injury or death.(66)
In the North, some contrabands were competing with white workers by June, 1863, at least according to Fincher's Trades Review, and this development drew a cry for restrictions by the Federal government upon the movement of emancipated slaves into free states.(67) Although our information about racial competition in the longshore field, which will be explored below, is rather plentiful, the press was not very specific about other areas in which the new
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rivalry was occurring. Random reports did tell of trouble in Washington, D. C., where navy yard workers showed hostility toward twenty or thirty colored xalkers brought from Baltimore,(68) and of the replacement of white domestic servants by Negro contrabands in St. Louis.(69) The agitation throughout the North during the Civil War for state laws banning the immigration of Negroes from the South can also be taken as a probable indication of job competition between blacks and whites.
In New York, the ousting of the Democratic party from control of the Federal government in 1861 appeared ominously to bring even political patronage to Negroes. Colored men were appointed to positions in the custom house, replacing good Irish Democrats, said the newspapers, and depressing the wages paid custom house employees.(70) When, in July, 1862, Negro workers were substituted for whites on a ferry line in New York harbor, and the press carried rumors of contrabands' taking away the jobs of white men in Pennsylvania by agreeing to work for ten cents a day, it seemed high time to stop this trend.(71) The method of doing so which was applied by a mob of Irishmen in Brooklyn in August, 1862, may well have been suggested by attacks in recent weeks upon Negroes in Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio, and Evansville, Indiana.(72)
In the midst of an Irish neighborhood in south Brooklyn stood two tobacco factories.(73) All the employees of one were colored, numbering from fifty to seventy-five and consisting mostly of women and children. About 250 persons, colored and white, were employed in the other and worked harmoniously side by side. The resentment against the employment of the Negroes that had been smoldering among
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the Irish in that area finally broke into flames on August 4, 1862, when a mob of from two to three thousand whites, stirred up by pothouse politicians I talk of competition from contrabands, smashed their way into one of the factories, shouting "Down with the nagurs!" Many were drunk from liquor dispensed at the neighborhood's numerous rum-shops, where the attack on the factory was planned. Failing to reach the Negro employees barricaded on the second floor, they prepared to set fire to the place and were prevented from doing so only by the arrival of a strong detachment of police, who quelled the riot, after a fashion, by clubbing the, Negroes.
The rioters may be said to have won their point, however. Although one tobacco factory closed down entirely, the proprietor of the other promised not to hire any more colored workers.(74) Thus the effectiveness of mob violence in reducing black labor competition was fully demonstrated. Greeley raged, but his editorial lectures to the rioters were scarcely of a type which would cause them to repent, conceding the very competition that had incensed them in the first place. In a characteristic piece he flayed Democratic leaders for playing upon the Irishman's fear of black labor competition and then continued in this dubious manner:
Least of all have the laboring white men of the United States, native or foreign, cause to hate the negro. He takes off from them the discredit of the lowest social place, and does offices which leave them free to compete for the higher rewards of industry.... The fugitive colored porter, waiter, or stevedore promotes some shrewd Irish lad to keep a shop, to become constable, or alderman, or to go to Congress. . . . The transformation of four million chattel slaves into four million free citizens ... will benefit no class so much as that whose tasks they assume and whose toils they relieve.(75)
In the weeks following the attack on the tobacco factory, there were a number of cases in Brooklyn and New York
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City in which gangs of Irishmen beat up individual Negroes.(76) A secret organization of workingmen formed in New York at this time inserted in its otherwise radical statement of principles a warning about the danger of emancipated slave labor.(77) In refusing to work with Negroes, the longshoremen, whose strikes and anti-Negro violence will be discussed presently, were not unique. The Tribune cited the typical experience of a Negro cooper, a refugee from the South, who had just been refused work at several barrel-making establishments in New York. The employer at each place told him: "Yes, I have work; I would like to employ you; but my journeymen would all leave me if I did, and I cannot."(78)
Another movement of workingmen at this time expressed apprehension about Negro competition. It consisted of whites concerned over the importation of cheap labor from abroad by employers, with the cooperation of the Lincoln administrations Iron and shipbuilding workers, in particular, faced the prospect of wage reductions occasioned by an influx of foreigners. Early in February, 1863, they held a mass meeting at Tammany Hall, primarily to protest the importation of foreign labor. It is noteworthy, however, that they also adopted an angry statement denouncing steps by employers "to bring hordes of blacks from the South, as well as whites from Europe, to fill the shops, yards and other places of labor, and by that means compel -us to compete with them for the support of our families." To cope with this menace, they declared their intention "to effect a common organization of all the artisans and laborers throughout the country against the anticipated inundation of contrabands in Northern cities." One speaker at this gathering of ironworkers charged that
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their masters had already started to introduce contrabands in their midst.(80)
But the fiercest competition, with the most violent and far-reaching results, occurred in the longshore field. The remainder of this article will be devoted chiefly to an analysis of longshore work, labor organization among waterfront workers, their strikes of 1855, 1862, and 1863, and their violence against Negro strikebreakers.
Almost all longshoremen in New York City were Irish.(81) Strictly speaking, it is incorrect to classify their work as unskilled labor.(82) It required a degree of special competence to perform the more difficult branches of the work which could be acquired only by years of experience and which raised it above the level of what is ordinarily known as common labor. It was, however, an exhausting, hazardous, casual, and oversupplied occupation.(83) The irregular employment of longshoremen resulted in unstable earnings which made a settled standard of living impossible.(84) One of the persistent complaints of striking longshoremen in 1855, 1862, and 1863 was that they averaged only three or four days of work a week. At the October, 1862, pay rate of $1.50 a day, this meant that they earned between $4.50 and $6.00 a week, which was low even according to Civil War wage standards.
Their irregularity of employment and hanging about piers in the hope of being hired also led longshoremen to drift into waterfront bars and encouraged drinking.(85) Many of the waterfront assaults on Negroes by longshoremen during the spring of 1863 and at the time of the draft riots
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planned in groggeries on West Street and South Street, across from the piers.(86) Press reports to that effect were borne out by the testimony of the police captain in charge of stopping fights between whites and Negroes along the waterfront in April, 1863: "The trouble is due more to the influence of rum than anything else."(87)
Nevertheless, having no steady jobs to be endangered, longshoremen flared up at bad treatment more quickly than men in other trades. Hence their readiness to strike."(88) The first longshore strike in New York of which there is record took place in February, 1836, when for several days the men paraded through the streets and before the docks in what amounted to a kind of picketing's.(89) The strike of 1836 eventually became so violent that the civil authorities called out a regiment of soldiers, which, abundantly supplied with ammunition, established itself at City Hall, thereby intimidating the longshoremen.
The earliest permanent associations of New York longshoremen were formed for benevolent purposes. The Longshoremen's Union Benevolent Society, the organization of longshoremen most frequently mentioned by the press during the first two years of the Civil War, was founded in 1852 and had as its chief functions to provide relief to members who were injured or sick, to aid in the burial of deceased members, and to give financial assistance to their widows and orphans.(90) It was overwhelmingly Irish in make-up. But although members complained at its meetings of the high cost of living during the war, calling for wage increases and threatening to strike, the Longshoremen's U. B. Society, as it was called, never had any power as a labor union in the present-day sense of the term.
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Negro-white friction on the waterfront became pronounced in the middle fifties. In December 1854, the merchants of New York reduced the wages of longshoremen from $1.75 to $1.50, using as one reason for the slash the allegation that the Longshoremen's U. B. Society had "attempted to dictate to them."(91) A strike, not led by the Society, broke out. Gangs of strikers visited ships from which other longshoremen were still unloading cargo, forced them to desist, and beat them as they came ashore. The merchants, however, called the police, under whose protection the work of loading and unloading vessels was resumed. When employers replaced striking Irishmen with colored labor, anti-Negro violence resulted, with the whites trying to prevent the blacks from working.(92) But, handicapped by the fact that shipping was slow at the time, the strike petered out in the ensuing weeks.(93) The Negroes, having served their strikebreaking purpose, were gradually discharged by the merchants, and by the middle of February, 1855, only a few were still working, in the employ of shippers who had taken the lead in the movement to reduce wages.
There is no evidence that the Longshoremen's U. B. Society called the strikes of 1862 and 1863. By the time of the Civil War it had evidently abandoned any pretense to trade union action and confined itself exclusively to benevolent, social and Irish functions, including annual balls and St. Patrick's Day parades.(94) Its members would turn out six hundred strong on the latter occasions, dressed in handsome green and gold regalia and carrying Irish and American flags and the Society's imposing banners.
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Scattered items in the press in June and July, 1863, indicate the existence of one or two other organizations of longshoremen at the time of the draft riots. In June, 1863, a Longshoremen's Association was established and within a week enrolled three hundred members.(95) During the riots it was said that white workers, in driving the Negroes from the docks, were insisting that longshore jobs be held exclusively by members of the Longshoremen's Association and such other whites as they permitted upon the waterfront.(96) The only other longshore labor organization mentioned during the strike of June, 1863, was a Joint Committee of the North and East Rivers, which agreed upon a general rate of wages to be asked of the shippers.(97)
In the interval between the winter of 1854-1855 and October, 1862, no major labor disputes occurred on the city's waterfront. In the autumn of 1862, however, the strain of having to buy with 1855 wages goods sold at war-inflated prices became too great for the longshoremen, who were then working only three days a week. On October 20 they struck. Through a representative committee they demanded that wages be increased from $1.50 a day to $1.75, overtime rates raised, and the working day reduced from nine to eight hours, giving as their reason for wanting more pay "the advanced prices of food, clothing, and other necessaries."(98) Alongside one editorial on the danger of an influx of Negro labor into the North, the Herald published another supporting the strike, which the next day brought fulsome praise from the chairman of a strikers' meeting at
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the Battery.(99) What role, if any, Negro strikebreakers played in this dispute is not clear, but it appears that the longshoremen failed to win an increase in wages at that time.(100)
For late in January, 1863, workers in one section of the waterfront were informed that thenceforth their pay would be only $1.12 a day instead of the $1.50 they had been receiving previously.(101) This action of the merchants started a labor war on the docks of New York which, except for brief truces, continued till the draft riots in July. Upon reduction of their wages the longshoremen went on strike. They were willing to go back at $1.25 a day provided they were employed permanently, claiming that their irregular work on the waterfront often compelled them to seek jobs elsewhere or remain idle much of the time. Press accounts of two longshore strikes in March, 1863, which refer to $1.12 a day as the prevailing rate of wages, indicate, though, that the cut was put into effect on a wide scale and that the January strike against it did not succeed.(102) But on March 23, 1863, longshoremen working on the North River piers of the Erie Railroad Company, having previously won back part of the slash and restored their wages to $1.25 a day, struck for $1.50.(103)
When the company foreman refused to yield to their terms and announced that he would employ other workers in their places, a thousand men gathered in the street in front of the pier. No disturbances broke out until the foreman hired a gang of Negroes to move bales of cotton. Instantly the crowd fell upon the Negroes with sticks, stones, and fists and drove them from the waterfront. The company then agreed to pay $1.50 a day but declined to hire
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about half the strikers. At first some measure of solidarity was shown by the group, as those whom the company offered to take back held out for the reemployment of the others. By the next morning, however, this unity had disappeared. The company hired all but sixty of the most militant strikers, and work resumed under strong police protection.(104)
The example set by the Erie Railroad longshoremen was immediately followed by employees of the Hudson River Railroad, who struck for an increase in wages from $1.12 a day to $1.50 and notified the company's directors that they would not allow any other persons to take their places for lower wages. Nevertheless, with a squad of police standing by, the company did hire both white and colored strikebreakers. Although here no violence actually broke out, the defeated workers seethed with resentment against those replacements whose dark skin made them stand out conspicuously and rendered them easy targets for revenge.
The next month, April, new strikes broke out among the longshoremen of lower Manhattan. Their exact wage demands are not clear, but for three days mobs of Irish longshoremen, inflamed by drink, beat up Negroes found workiing on the waterfront and chased them from the docks, shouting "Drive off the damn niggers" and "Kill the niggers." (105) "They were determined, they said, that the blacks should not drive white labor out of the market, and remonstrated against the employment of negroes along shore."(106) Four or five hundred white longshoremen took part in these disturbances, and with difficulty the Metropolitan Police saved from lynching a couple of Negroes who tried to defend themselves. At least two hundred colored longshoremen
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were employed on the docks at that time, and according to police they did not receive less than the usual rate of wages. In the course of this outbreak, crowds of longshoremen also hunted down and stoned Negroes in other sections of lower Manhattan besides the waterfront, pursuing all the colored porters, cartmen and laborers within sight until routed by the locust batons of the police.
Greeley regarded the episode as the natural result of the persistent efforts of the pro-slavery press of New York to strengthen its readers' prejudices and to persuade them that "white men were to be cheated out of work by an immigration of negroes." Said he further:
If 'longshoremen or any other class of laborers do not choose to work with negroes they need not. No law compels them. But the negro, as well as the white man, has a right to work for whoever will employ and pay him, and the law, and courts, and police, and public opinion ought to protect him in that right, and will.(107)
May was a quiet month on the waterfront, but trouble flared up again early in June, when the longshoremen of New York stopped work en masse, demanding an increase in pay to twenty-five cents an hour during the regular working day and overtime of fifty cents an hour after 6 PM. Five hundred of them marched from pier to pier, inducing men who were still working to quit. Their number swelled as they proceeded. When non-strikers at one pier balked at leaving work, they were attacked by the strikers and compelled to desist until the police arrived and gave them protection.(108)
After a week of fruitless negotiation between committees of strikers and shipowners, the United States government stepped in. It was a now-familiar story: Army transports, supposed to sail with cargoes of ammunition and other supplies, were being held up by the strike.(109) Accordingly, about 150 deserters from Governor's Island and
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sixty-five convalescent soldiers from Bedloe's Island were put to work loading the transports, as a detachment of regular troops stood guard with fixed bayonets and nearly five hundred policemen patrolled the waterfront.(110)
But the strike grew despite this formidable show of might opposing it. By the middle of June three thousand longshoremen were idle.(111) On June 18, however, a group of important shipping firms gave notice that they would pay $2.00 for a day of nine hours and twenty-five cents an hour overtime, and that was probably the formula on which the strike ended. One thousand of the strikers accepted it by returning to their jobs the next day.(112)
While the longshoremen were thus engaged in June, 1863, (with the impassioned support, it might be noted, of the pro-slavery Daily News), occupational groups closely related to them struck successfully for higher pay.(113) These included workers on canal boats and barges in the lower part of the city and freight handlers on the Hudson River Railroad and the New York Central. Another strike of Erie Railroad employees for a wage increase occurred.(114) Again the company hired strike breakers, although it is not certain that they were Negroes, and again the strikebreakers were assaulted by some of the old employees.
Similar work stoppages for higher wages took place in other northern cities during the Civil War. Negroes were often used as strikebreakers, with uniformly violent results.(115)
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Such strikes are important as a partial explanation of the draft riots in those places. Perhaps the most serious disorders broke out in Buffalo. In August, 1862, striking Buffalo longshoremen demanded higher pay and sought to keep non-strikers from continuing to work at the former rates, but the racial aspect does not seem to have entered into their struggle at that time.(116) The same is true of another strike of longshoremen and grain shovellers in Buffalo in May, 1863, when they won an increase in pay to $1.50 a day.(117) Only a week before the draft riots, though, some Buffalo shippers tried to replace Irish longshoremen with colored workers, and violence ensued, with three Negroes slain and twelve badly beaten.(118) Not only did Irish longshoremen seek to prevent Negroes from working on the docks, but, in addition, mobs of other whites attacked colored inhabitants of the city generally. A prominent Democratic politician was heard to declare publicly that every Negro and every Black Republican ought to be driven out of town.(119) More truthfully than they knew, the editors of Fincher's Trades Review commented on the Buffalo situation two days before the draft riots began : "This, we fear, is but the beginning of the end." (120)
The result of this labor strife was that when resistance to the draft started in New York on July 13, 1863, longshoremen formed the van of the mobs.(121) Deputations recruiting
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rioters thoroughly canvassed the waterfront, so that by the second day of the upheaval the loading and unloading of ships in the harbor had stopped, except at a wharf here and there which happened to be under the guns of an armed vessel.(122) No colored dockhands were to be found on any pier.(123) Negroes who ventured on the streets near the waterfront or near saloons frequented by longshoremen were horribly tortured and beaten to death by bands of longshoremen and their bodies cast into the East River and Hudson River.(124) One reporter described conditions about the piers thus:
So determined and bitter is the feeling of the 'longshoremen against negroes that not one of the latter dares show himself upon the docks or piers even when a regular employee of the place. The white workmen have resolved, by concerted action, to keep colored men from this branch of labor, and have evinced, by their conduct toward their former comrades in work, a spirit as murderous and brutal as it is illiberal and selfish. It is a prevalent rumor, to which the authorities give full credence, and which the 'longshoremen seem proud of, that scores of these unfortunates have been thrown into the river and drowned, for no other reason than that they were obnoxious to the sensitive-minded individuals of a lighter color. (125)
Another observer likewise noted that longshoremen made
no attempt to conceal their determination to keep negroes ... from that sort of labor. They insist upon it that the colored people must and shall be driven to other departments of industry, and that the work upon the docks, the stevedoring, and the various job-work therewith connected, shall be attended to solely and absolutely by members of the 'Longshoremen's Association, and such white laborers as they see fit to permit upon the premises.(126)
The mobs along the waterfront which attacked other Negroes besides dock workers consisted, in all likelihood, of
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white longshoremen.(127) Next to the colored dock workers, waiters and other Negro employees in downtown hotels and restaurants were-the chief. objects of the rioters' fury.(128) One firm, fearful that its property might be destroyed by demonstrators who believed it to have employed colored persons, sought to avert that fate by placing in the window a sign in conspicuous capitals: "No niggers in the rear."(129)
It is not contended here that the competition of Negroes with whites ceased completely with the draft disturbances. Indeed, as early as Saturday, July 18, the last day of the riot week, a few colored workers began to pursue their usual vocations in public without being molested.(130) On Monday, the 20th, more colored people, including waiters in several restaurants, summoned up enough courage to return to their jobs, and this trend continued in the succeeding days, to a point where even some Negro longshoremen returned to the docks of the Erie Railroad Company.(131)
But the committee of merchants formed to give relief to colored victims of the riots was forced to admit that after this civil war within a Civil War many Negroes discharged by employers who feared destruction of their property because they had hired colored workers were not taken back in their old positions, despite years of service. White workers who wished to drive their competitors from the city were responsible, said the merchants, for pressure upon
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employers not to reinstate Negroes. They also persuaded the street railway companies to refuse colored persons permission to ride on their cars, making it difficult for or them to travel to work.(132)
To alleviate these conditions, the committee kept its office open as an employment agency after it stopped dispensing financial relief,(133) in pursuance of a resolution, adopted at its first meeting, on July 18:
That we will exert all the influence we possess to protect the colored people of this city in their rights to pursue unmolested their, lawful occupations.... That we will not recognize or sanction any distinction of persons of whatever nation, religion, or color, in their natural right to labor peaceably in their vocations in the support of themselves and those dependent upon them.(134)
Brave talk this, but its implementation was another matter. As the more timorous merchants and transportation companies continued to withhold jobs from Negro former employees, their brethren connected with the committee could only shake their heads and repeat that the whole sorry mess was the result of the merchants' having tolerated months ago the dictation of striking longshoremen as to whom they should employ and on what terms.(135)
That many, Negroes were not restored to their old jobs is also clear from editorials in the Tribune after the riots. Greeley urged the merchants of New York to welcome Negroes back "to any work they are able and willing to do at a satisfactory price," and, in a thrust at the Irish, urged that colored persons --- "American born and bred" - be protected in the exercise of this right.(136) Failure to do so meant capitulation to the demands of the rioters:
The mob exults in the belief that, if it failed in its other objects, it b~m at least secured ~' possession of the labor of the city, and has driven the blacks to seek work elsewhere. . . . It is the duty of
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merchants and other employers to take pains to recall their workmen immediately, and assure them of permanent protection.(137)
Greeley observed, nevertheless, that reluctance to reemploy Negroes persisted.(138) Of course, the great decrease in the city's colored population by 1865 also indicated a drop in the employment of Negroes.(139)
To review the main points of this article, Democratic leaders and newspapers in New York, from the secession crisis to the draft riots, constantly harped upon the note that if the slaves were freed, they would flock north and take away the jobs of Irish laborers. The election campaigns of 1860, 1861, and 1862 and Lincoln's emancipation program were the occasions for their heaviest barrages of propaganda on this score. Republicans and abolitionists were slow to answer their opponents' predictions. When they finally did reply, they argued that elimination of slavery would forestall any danger of an inundation of blacks.
Although information about the actual movement of Negroes during the Civil War is sparse, it appears that some northward migration of contrabands did take place. It was small, to be sure, but enough seemingly to give point to the warnings of anti-administration politicians and journalists and to alarm the New York proletariat, despite surveys proving that the great majority of former slaves had no desire to leave the South.
Rivalry for jobs between Negroes and Irishmen in New York had existed before the Civil War, and employers had occasionally hired black workers to break the strikes of white workers. During the war, with the numerous strikes for higher wages which it brought, the use of Negro strikebreakers by employers became much more frequent, particularly in the longshore field, dominated by the Irish. In the first half of 1863 the longshoremen of New York went
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On strike after strike for increased pay, only to see their places filled by colored men working for less money under police protection. While longshore wages gradually rose, white labor on the waterfront was, obsessed with the fear of competition from Negroes which needed only the commencement of the draft to be transformed into wholesale murder. The violence infficted upon black workers on the docks and in other occupations by the draft rioters did, in fact, result in a decline for some years to come in the job rivalry which the former had offered. Thus the rioters partially achieved their aims.
ALBON P. MAN, JR.
New York, New York