Paramilitary Groups, Riots on the Streets of New York City

The estimable Richard Rabinowitz has another history exhibit on display at the New-York Historical Society. The subject is Abraham Lincoln’s first visit to New York. This is a fascinating tidbit from the review in The New York Times:

Lincoln’s supporters formed an organization, the Wide Awakes, with its own paramilitary uniforms and songs. In 1860 30,000 Wide Awakes marched in a five-hour torchlight parade through New York City streets; one of their torches, amazingly, is on display here.

And later in the same piece:

…in July 1863, that war of words turned bloody. A telegram from the Republican financier John Jay to Lincoln announced, “Our City is at the mercy of a mob.” In four days of riots, partly inspired by opposition to military conscription and its exemptions for the wealthy, looting and destruction were aimed not only at Republicans like Greeley but also at black New Yorkers. The Colored Orphan Asylum was pillaged and burned, and the Colored Sailors’ Home was attacked. An order from Lincoln (displayed here), following close on the heels of the battle at Gettysburg, declared martial law.
Calm was restored, but with 120 dead and 2,000 injured, the exhibition notes, it was “the worst civil disorder in the nation’s history — except for the Civil War itself.”

Useful perspective next time someone says that the nation is as polarized as it’s ever been.