Abraham Lincoln's Order That Sparked the New York City Draft Riots of 1863

July 7, 1863

Add to History Board Share Print
Back to The Collection
See full images and transcript
Abraham Lincoln's Order That Sparked the New York City Draft Riots of 1863
Document Signed
1 page | SMC 1084

Quick Reference


      "New York, in its earlier history, stands preeminent among the cities of the country for the frequency and violence of her riots. But up to the year 1863 — with the Doctor's Mob of 1788, the riots of 1834, 1835, 1837, 1849, and the 'Dead Rabbits' exploits of 1857, not to mention Mayor Wood's performances with his 'own' police in the same year, all garnishing the record — New York is not easily excelled. In 1863 she added to that record the worst, bloodiest, most destructive and brutal riot of all. It goes by the name of the 'Draft Riots.'"
                                 -Daniel Van Pelt, Leslie's History of Greater New York.  (1899)
      The second largest civil insurrection in American history took place in the middle of the largest, when, during the Civil War, the city of New York erupted into three days of race riots, brought on by Lincoln’s draft call for more New Yorkers to fight for the Union. The City, which had already furnished too many soldiers at the beginning of the war, was by the summer of 1863 furnishing too few, and so was susceptible to the first conscription act in United States history, passed March 3, 1863, authorizing the President to draft citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 for a three-year term of military service. If, however, a draft-eligible man could pay $300 – the equivalent of $5,000 today – he could procure an exemption from service.

      To the New York Irish working class population eligible for conscription, this exemption meant that there was an element of privilege in play – which soon enough, ignited the passion of class warfare. Mobs of outraged laborers attacked, on the morning of July 16, the Provost’s Office, and then moved on fashionable homes and hotels.  

      From hatred of those “better-up,” it was but a skip and jump to hatred of those “lower-down,” and African Americans, whom many immigrants viewed as competition for scarce jobs, became the mob’s target. Adding to the incendiary nature of the riot was the fact that the militia was at the Front, and the City – with its armory – lay open to the marauding rioters. With the police outnumbered and the troops absent, the mob held sway, its savageness culminating in an attack on the Colored Orphan Asylum and subsequent clubbing to death of a nine-year old girl hiding under her bed. Altogether some 120 people died, many horribly, during the three days of rioting, before order was restored – by the returning troops, the suspension of the draft, and rain.
      When the violence had subsided, there was talk of the President appointing a special commissioner to investigate the causes of the riots. Lincoln demurred. “One rebellion at a time,” he said, “is about as much as we can conveniently handle."
      Document Signed, as President, partially printed and accomplished in manuscript; 1 page, quarto, Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., July 7, 1863.
      Read More

      all pages and transcript

      Page 1/1

      Page 1 transcript

      Washington, D. C., July 7, 1863.

      I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States of America, and Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy thereof, having taken into consideration the number of volunteers and militia furnished by and from the several States, including the State of New York, and the period of service of said volunteers and militia since the commencement of the present rebellion, in order to equalize the numbers among the Districts of the said States, and having considered and allowed for the number already furnished as aforesaid, and the time of their service aforesaid, do hereby assign Four Thousand Five Hundred and Thirty-eight as the first proportional part of the quota of troops to be furnished by the Sixth DISTRICT OF THE STATE OF New York under this, the first call made by me on the State of New York, under the act approved March 3, 1863, entitled "An Act for Enrolling and Calling out the National Forces, and for other purposes," and, in pursuance of the act aforesaid, I order that a draft be made in the said Sixth DISTRICT OF THE STATE OF New York for the number of men herein assigned to said District, and FIFTY PER CENT. IN ADDITION.

      IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

      Done at the City of Washington, this seventh day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States, the eighty-eighth.