Civil War and Reconstruction (1861-1877)
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The worst episode of large-scale urban violence in American history, the New York City draft riots were sparked by the passage of conscription laws which made thousands of male New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 45 eligible to be drafted into the Union Army. Poor and working-class New Yorkers, many of them Irish immigrants, were especially…

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Item Type: Article/Essay
Date: 2005

The so-called "Twenty Negro Law," enacted by the Confederate Congress in 1862, allowed an exemption from military service for slaveholders who owned twenty or more slaves. In effect, this allowed large plantation owners and overseers to avoid serving in the Confederate Army, leaving the bulk of the fighting to poor southern whites, small farmers…

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Item Type: Article/Essay
Date: 2008

This account, originally published as a series of articles for the New York Times, details the activities of police in the 6th precinct during the 1863 Draft Riots. The 6th precinct was in the northern part of the 6th Ward, home of New York's "Five Points" neighborhood.

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Item Type: Book (excerpt)
Date: 1863

In this political cartoon from Harper's Weekly magazine, illustrator Thomas Nast portrays the figure of Columbia, a symbol of American democracy, comforting and protecting a Chinese man from a working-class immigrant mob. Nast likely created the text pasted on the wall behind them by combining actual and invented debate from the time. The caption…

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Item Type: Cartoon
Date: 1871

John F. Shorter, an African-American solider writing on behalf of his fellow members of the Massachusetts 55th Regiment, addresses President Lincoln over the issue of unfair pay. Shorter charges that he and his fellow soldiers have received no pay after more than a year of service, that they have been offered only seven dollars a month (slightly…

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Item Type: Diary/Letter
Date: 1864

Although the attitudes of many white Union soldiers toward slavery and emancipation ranged from indifference to outright racial hostility, others viewed the issue as central to their participation in the war. The following quotations, taken from letters, diary entries, and contemporary newspaper interviews with white Union soldiers, reveal the…

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Item Type: Diary/Letter
Date: 1861

After emancipation, former slaves throughout the South articulated their hopes and expectations for full citizenship. In this letter to the newly created Freedmen's Bureau, a group of African-Americans in Virginia list the economic and social needs of their community, and request assistance in finding homes. Joseph R. Johnson, a white notherner…

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Item Type: Diary/Letter
Date: 1865

The Staunton Spectator was a Whig newspaper that opposed Virginia's secession from the Union. Despite their state's subsequent status as the seat of the Confederacy, Virginians, like many residents of the Upper South, remained divided over the issue of secession in the months after South Carolina and the other states of the Deep South declared the…

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Item Type: Fiction/Poetry
Date: 1861

In July 1876, 17-year-old Frank Thomas recorded his experiences on a trip in Philadelphia in these diary entries. Chief among the city's attractions was the Centennial Exhibition. A showcase for American industry, agriculture, art, and architecture combined with patriotic displays celebrating a century of American independence, the Exhibition was…

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Item Type: Diary/Letter
Date: Circa 1876

Death and dissolution are the predicted outcome in this 1874 Harper's Weekly cartoon as a grinning death's head dispenses "the demon rum" while patrons brawl in the back room and horrified innocents look on. While alcoholism posed a serious health threat to the Irish immigrant community, the neighborhood saloon also played a more benign role, as…

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Item Type: Cartoon
Date: 1874