The New York Draft Riots of 1863 began as a violent protest against rules that allowed wealthy Americans to avoid serving in the Civil War. The protests, largely led by working-class white immigrants, quickly turned into racist conflict. The Colored Orphan Asylum, for example, was burned to the ground. All 233 orphans were evacuated before the violence, depicted in the illustration above.

Illustration courtesy Library of Congress

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  • On July 13, 1863, poor and working class New Yorkers protested new rules that allowed wealthy Americans to avoid military conscription (the draft). These protests quickly turned violent, setting off the worst domestic conflict in American history outside the Civil War itself. 
    The price to avoid the draft was $300 (almost $6,000 in 2014). Men who paid this fee were able to work or go to school instead of serving in the Civil War.
    The New York Draft Riots turned into a race riot. Many white immigrants to New York were uncomfortable with the Emancipation Proclamation, issued earlier that year. In addition to racist prejudice, these immigrants feared increased competition for jobs from newly freed African Americans. As a result, African Americans, their homes and businesses were targeted by rioters. More than 115 people died in the riots, including police and rioters.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Civil War Noun

    (1860-1865) American conflict between the Union (north) and Confederacy (south).

    competition Noun

    contest between organisms for resources, recognition, or group or social status.

    conscription Noun

    mandatory military service. Also called the draft.

    domestic Adjective

    having to do with policies or issues within a nation.

    draft Noun

    mandatory military service. Also called the conscription.

    Emancipation Proclamation Noun

    (1863) declaration by President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War that freed all people held as slaves in most rebellious states.

    fee Noun

    price or cost.

    immigrant Noun

    person who moves to a new country or region.

    increase Verb

    to add or become larger.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    prejudice Noun

    unfair feeling for or against someone or something without basis in reason.

    protest noun, verb

    demonstration against a policy or action.

    race Noun

    arbitrary grouping of people based on genetics and physical characteristics.

    racist Adjective

    community or government policy of denying certain rights to people based on their ancestry, usually signified by skin color.

    target Verb

    to establish something as a goal or aim.

    violent Noun

    strong, destructive force.

    wealthy Adjective

    very rich.

    working class Noun

    social class of workers, usually performing manual labor.