Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don’t Know Much About History and A Nation Rising, gives you and your students the nuts-and-bolts of the four-day riots that began in New York City on July 13, 1863 in today’s post. The Draft Riots were a reaction to the Civil War draft law. The draft could be avoided by paying $300 or by hiring a substitute—giving rise to the phrase “a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.”
Students can get a feel for the New York City of the mid-19th century by reading Kevin Baker’s novel Paradise Alley. They’ll meet the runaway slaves and Irish immigrants who saught refuge in the slums of lower Manhattan. They’ll learn that $300 was “two years’ salary to an Irish hod-carrier from the Five Points.” And, they’ll be in the middle of those tumtultous four days that are still considered one of the most violent riots in American history.