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The state of New York in the 1860s


Erie canal in New York
Erie canal in New York

The 1860 presidential election divided the generally antislavery Northern states from the proslavery Southern states. New York gave its 35 electoral votes to Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party in this crucial election. However, not all New Yorkers favored Lincoln’s efforts to save the Union. Mayor Fernando Wood of New York City and many merchants, caring little about slavery, wanted the city to remain neutral so it could maintain its commercial ties with the Southern states, as well as with the North. Poor immigrants also opposed Lincoln’s policies, especially his stand against slavery. They feared free blacks would compete with them for jobs and bring them economic ruin.

However, most citizens rallied to the Union cause in the American Civil War (1861-1865), which began a month after Lincoln was inaugurated and Southern states had started to secede. One-third of the casualties of the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 were soldiers from New York. But as the war dragged on, enthusiasm declined. In 1863 Congress passed the first military draft law, but allowed exemptions for men who could pay $300 or hire substitutes. This provision, called the “Rich Man’s Exemption,” caused widespread anger among the poor workingmen of New York City, especially Irish immigrants. When the law took effect in July 1863, a mob burned the draft headquarters, then rampaged through the city, lynching blacks, burning neighborhoods, and looting.

Federal troops had to be pulled off the battlefield to end the Draft Riots, in which more than 1,000 people were killed and about $2 million in property was damaged.

The Civil War strongly affected New York’s development. Although some industries boomed, the rate of industrial growth slowed down. Factories making war goods ran extra shifts, but cotton mills cut back to half time. Factory workers suffered a cut in buying power because prices rose faster than wages. On the other hand, rural New York prospered because of rising farm prices. This boom was offset in the long run, however, because the countryside lost thousands of young men to the Army and, after the war, to the cities. The war also brought with it a considerable amount of corruption and illegal profit making. The war did little to improve the conditions for the free blacks of New York. Discrimination kept them in the lowest-paying jobs and poorest neighborhoods, and politicians paid little attention to their plight. "New York" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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