On Immigration – The New York Orange Riots

A simian Irish Catholic and a priest carving up the Democratic Party

And so its 1870 and the Civil War is over, Lincoln is dead and Ulysses S. Grant has been elected President of the United States.

The Irish and German immigrant communities did not support Lincoln’s re-election in 1864 and didn’t support Grant.  When the Civil War broke out with the attack on Ft. Sumter in 1861 both communities were first to answer Lincoln’s call for troops – to save the Union.

Thousands of immigrants enlisted, forging regiments and divisions comprised entirely of their own – among them the  New York 69th, the “fighting Irish” and the Mozart Brigade, composed entirely of Germans.  Others were comprised entirely of troops from everywhere else.

They fought with bravery and distinction at Bull Run, Fredericksburg, the Peninsula, Antietam and Gettysburg – all the while Protestant Nativists and Abolitionists did everything they could to bar further Irish immigration, bar them from citizenship for up to 25 years, keep them out of high appointed office and deride their “Popery.”

When it had become apparent that the war would not be over quickly Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, changing the purpose of the war from Union to Emanicipation and, as voluntary enlistment dropped off, instituted the first draft conscription in 1864.

For the Irish it seemed that Lincoln and the abolitionists cared more about the welfare of black slaves than the Irish troops on the front lines and their families back home who felt attacked on all sides by Nativists and “Know Nothings.”

When the conscription order included those who had declared their intent to become citizens (required to seek naturalization) but weren’t actually citizens as well as a buy a substitute clause for $300 (allowing the well to do to escape the draft) riots broke out in the immigrant neighborhoods of New York, necessitating Federal troops to restore order.

The riots resulted in the Irish being depicted in newspapers and magazines as simian creatures wearing little green coats and hats, subservient to the Pope and a Democratic party opposing Lincoln.

Irish immigration fell off dramatically after the war while immigration from eastern Europe and Italy began to increase, though thousands of Irish men and women continued to settle in New York.  Meanwhile the Irish began to quarrel over the public school system, run by Protestants, demanding state aid for parochial Catholic schools.  The public schools of the time taught religion classes from the Protestant bible.

This issue split the Irish community bringing to the fore the echoes of Ireland and the enmity between the Green and the Orange. It all started with a picnic.

On July 12, 1870 an outing was organized by several New York lodges of the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternal group founded in Northern Ireland in the late 18th century to celebrate the victories in Ireland of the armies of Prince William of Orange over Irish Catholic forces.  July 12, 1870 was the 180th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, one of the climactic battles that secured English control of Ireland.

The Orangemen took particular pleasure in parading thorough the streets of Ireland on the 12th of July singing centuries old anti-Catholic songs, which of course Catholic Irish found humiliating and purposefully provacative. It always resulted in fights on Boyne Day eventually leading the British to ban the parades.

The year before, fights had broken out in New York on Boyne Day so  a year later the Orangemen decided to up the ante and organized an elaborate 5 mile march from Cooper Union on East 6th street to 91st street, the upper limits of developed Manhattan, where they planned a picnic and a dance.  Speeches from their leaders would recall the heroic exploits of their ancestors at Boyne.

As the parade stepped off from Cooper Union the participants wore their Orange sashes and ribbons and carried banners reading “Boyne,” “Aughrim” and “Derry,” the great Protestant victories in the war.  According to the Tribune “these were names odious to Catholic Irishmen who can only see them as a humiliation of their race and the overthrow of their nationality.”

The band played and the Orangemen sang their favorite sectarian tunes, including “Croppies,”   a pejorative name alluding to the cropped hair of Irish Catholics and certain religious orders.  It of course enraged Irish Catholic New Yorkers.

“Oh Croppies, ye better be quiet and still.  Ye shan’t have your liberty, do what ye will.  As long as salt water is found in the deep, our foot on the neck of the Croppie we’ll keep!”

On the way up Broadway the parade passed a group of Irish workers laboring in the street.  “White with rage. the whole body of men as if by common consent quitted work and carrying whatever tools he was working with went in a body toward the Elm Park” – the picnic grounds.

At the park the workers began throwing rocks and cobblestones over the fence at the 2,000 – 3,000 Orangemen and their family members.  The women and children ran for cover at the other end of the park while the men began throwing stones back.  Both sides eventually drew guns and the Tribune reported that the Orangemen seemed to have many more of these than the Catholics.  Shots were exchanged in rapid succession as men fell bleeding and wounded.

The gun fire caused a stampede of picnic goers out of the park and toward the avenues and street cars pursued by the Catholics.  “Stones and bullets were fired through the windows into the cars literally packed with women and children, while fire was returned from inside.”  Battlefronts erupted all throughout the area with cobblestones, picks and shovels.

Only by nightfall did the fighting end, leaving 8 dead and dozens badly injured.  The press found it incomprehensible that more New Yorkers didn’t die in the mayhem.

As one might imagine, reaction to the riots broke down on religious lines.  Protestants blamed the bloodshed on “base and brutal Celts; the gorilla is their superior in muscle and hardly inferior in moral sense.”  Signs like “Down with Popery!” were necessary as the Irish were against freedom and liberty, public schools, the bible, science, progress, all who don’t agree with the infallibility of the Pope and enlightment.

Since the Catholics had instigated the violence, such accusations were difficult to refute.  They tried to explain why the sight of Orangemen parading through the streets awakened such traumatic memories and violent response.  Americans don’t know or forget how these Orangemen treated us when they had the power and would do so again if they were able.  Taunts concerning these past humiliations and outrages in Ireland could not go unanswered.

These arguments drew little sympathy from Protestant New Yorkers.

A Thomas Nast cartoon picturing gators with Bishop mitres coming to America

Thomas Nast, the noted cartoonist began to focus more and more on the “Catholic menace.”  He portrayed the Pope covetously eyeing the United States as his next home as Italian unification put his sovereignty in Rome into question.  He depicted American Catholic leaders attempting to blur or erase the separation of church and state, aided by simian Irish thugs.

Nast’s anti-Catholicism became more and more vituperative after the 1870 Orange riot.

As Boyne day 1871 approached, New Yorkers began to fear the worst if the Orangemen celebrated again.  Irish Catholics demanded the Boyne Day parade be forbidden as it had been in Britain.  Orangemen insisted in their right to march and peaceably express their views as the Catholics did on “their day” – St. Patrick’s Day.  The “decent Irish” should have theirs!

Police Superintendent James Kelso, after discussions with Tammany Hall, the Irish political machine, decided there would be no Boyne Day march “in order to preserve public peace.”

“Has it come to this?” one outraged Protestant complained to the Tribune; “that the Irish Catholics have sold the most bad whiskey, made the most drunkards, created the most riots, committed the most murders, polled the most votes with the least number of voters and now hold the most offices and receive the most amount of public money, they are now to dictate who shall and who shall not enjoy the liberty of American citizens?”

The Orangemen for their part indicated they would comply with Kelso’s order – no parade on Boyne Day.

During this time, former NY Governor Hoffman was angling for a Presidential nomination in 1872.  He did not want to be associated with Tammany’s “capitulation to the dictation of Irish Catholics” which might damage his chances.  So at 11:00 PM the night before Boyne Day, Kelso’s order was reversed.

Six regiments of the state militia would protect the marchers.  The Catholics vowed the Orangemen would not march in peace.

By early afternoon on Boyne Day tens of thousands of Irish Catholics lined the parade route, some simply to watch the scene, others armed with stones and brick bats and pistols, determined to put a stop to what they considered an affront to their religion and their persecuted Irish forebears.

The few hundred marchers were surrounded by a thousand police and flanked by several thousand militiamen.  One of the militiamen in front was Thomas Nast.

Down 8th avenue they were pelted by bricks and rocks, especially from the surrounding buildings.  The militia started firing at snipers while police used their truncheons to beat back the crowds.  Eventually, the 84th regiment fearing for their lives fired a volley into the crowd  Shooting became “reckless and indiscriminate”

The crowd fled in all directions and then reported the Times, in one of the most egregious acts of bad taste in New York’s history, the band struck up “a lively tripping quickstep”  and the Orangemen marched away “leaving the dead still on the street.”

The scene on the street was one of gore and horror, leaving grown men ahast. Between 24th and 25th street one had to pick his way through the bodies, “the street clotted with gore and pieces of brain.”

Two policemen, three militiamen and 62 civilians were killed on what the Irish World called the “Slaughter on Eighth Avenue.”

The reactions to the slaughter in my next post.


About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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1 Response to On Immigration – The New York Orange Riots

  1. beetleypete says:

    Of course, we are very familiar with the ‘Glorious 12th’ here, and songs like ‘The Sash My Father Wore’. That old enmity has never gone away in Northern Ireland, and erupted in the decades of violence, bombings, and murder, calmly called ‘The Troubles’.
    Looking forward to part 2.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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