Home chapters Chapter 6 - Race Riots and Revolution - Preview
Home chapters Chapter 6 - Race Riots and Revolution - Preview

Chapter 6 - Race Riots and Revolution - Preview

“I have just taken a piece of artillery intended for the use of the rebels. It lies corner of Fifty-second Street and North River. What disposition shall I make of it?” a telegraph sent from Captain Shelley U.S.A. read. “Use it against the enemy,” was the reply.

The rebel artillery had been seized in Manhattan where luxury cruise liners of the White Star and Cunard Lines, including the Lusitania—whose sinking would bring America into World War I—would sail forty years later. 

“The papers are filled with accounts of mobs, riots, burnings, and murders in New York,” Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles wrote. 

On a fiery July night, Winston Churchill’s grandfather manned a Gatling gun in the New York Times building. The then-Republican paper was likely to be one of the first targets. The Ochs Sulzberger family, which included Democrats and Confederate sympathizers, would only take over the paper a generation later and help to mold it into a bastion of Democratic Party politics. 

 Leonard Walter Jerome, a Republican journalist, racehorse enthusiast, and investor who had made and lost fortunes, was one of the paper’s stockholders. While Jennie, his nine-year-old daughter, slept in a Manhattan Second Empire family mansion near Madison Square Park, the “King of Wall Street” left his home to prepare for war on Park Row not far from the Five Points.

Henry Jarvis Raymond, the co-founder of the New York Times, who had played a key role in the creation of the Republican Party, had man aged to obtain three of the Gatling guns that had only been patented a year before. The machine gun, capable of firing 200 rounds a minute, had been rejected by the notoriously conservative Union Army leadership, forcing General Benjamin Butler to buy a dozen of them with his own money at $1,000 apiece. The Army hadn’t wanted the ultimate weapon, but Raymond understood its force multiplier potential. With a Gatling, a man could hold off a mob

Raymond had gone to the battlefield along with his paper’s correspondents. Now the battle was here.

“Our City, having given her Militia at your call is at the mercy of a mob which assembled this morning to resist the Draft & are now spreading fire & outrage,” read a telegram sent to Lincoln. “Several buildings in different wards are in flames & the ‘Times’ and ‘Tribune’ offices are at this moment threatened.”

Printing Square, the city’s Newspaper Row, where rival papers glared at each other adjacent to the centers of power—City Hall, Wall Street— and the true powers at Tammany Hall, where journalists and politicians could buttonhole each other, had begun a war of words.

Democratic papers like the Daily News and the New York World would not just be attacking the New York Times and the New York Tribune in their editorials—the mob they had incited was here to win the argument with violence that the Democratic press could not win with words.

The rival presses were not just competing newspapermen. Raymond at the New York Times was the chairman of the Republican National Committee whom Lincoln had dubbed his “lieutenant general in politics,” while Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune had provided the name for the Republican Party. If the Democratic mob had succeeded in destroying both papers and killing their leaders, it would have also decimated the Republican Party.

President Lincoln refused to reach a decision on a commission to investigate the Democrats’ role in the riots. “If I had said no, I should have admitted that I dare not enforce the laws, and consequently have no business to be President of the United States.” 

 But the alternative, Lincoln said, would be to have “touched a match to a barrel of gunpowder. You have heard of sitting on a volcano. We are sitting upon two; one is blazing away already, and the other will blaze away the moment we scrape a little loose dirt from the top of the crater. Better let the dirt alone—at least for the present.” 

“One rebellion at a time is as much as we can conveniently handle.”

President Lincoln never did get an opportunity to handle the other rebellion. In the spring of 1865, he was dead. 

Learn more of the untold story of the Civil War in Chapter 6 of Domestic Enemies: The Founding Fathers' Fight Against the Left