On Immigration – The Orange Riots and the Aftermath

The Catholic Irish as depicted in Harper’s Weekly

And so it was July 12, 1871 – Boyne Day – and the Orange Order of Irish Protestants marched down Broadway, surrounded by 1,000 New York City Police and five regiments of New York militia.  The sidewalks and buildings held tens of thousands of Irish Catholics determined to see to it that that Orange Order did not march in peace.

By sunset, two policemen,  three militia men and sixty two civilians lay dead between 24th and 25th streets on 8th avenue.

The crowd had fled in all directions when the shooting started 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 aghast. Between 24th and 25th street one had to pick his way through the bodies, “the street clotted with gore and pieces of brain.”

The Irish World  called it the “slaughter on 8th Avenue.”

The mainstream New York press, which viewed the carnage in the context of the draft riots of 1863, called the outcome a victory over mob rule.

“Excelsior!  Law Triumphs!  Order Reigns! trumpeted the Herald.  The Times called the result “a noble vindication of the might of popular will and of the Justice which lives in the un-perverted instincts of a free people.”  Each brushed aside the frightful death toll and the soldiers failure to warn the rioters to disperse before firing, as was typical in instances of urban unrest.

The Tribune argued that this “unfortunate blunder…had one happy effect of cowing and crushing the rioters, saving the city from greater bloodshed.”

Harper’s weekly cartoon merely stated Bravo!  Bravo!

Of course Irish Catholics viewed the outcome completely differently.

“We demand justice” cried the Irish American.  A shower of rocks and even bricks does not justify over 60 fatalities.  “Murder has been done by wholesale and the murders must be traced and punished.”

Much of the blame, argued the Irish American, lay with nativists and those at Harper’s Weekly, whose stereotyping of the Irish (mostly by Thomas Nast) made it possible for troops to fire indiscriminately as if Irish lives did not matter.

Think of it without the hash tag:  Irish lives matter!

Harper’s regularly depicted the Irish as animals rather than human beings.

“Though oppressed, our people are not low; though wronged we are not guilty – though pictured with gorilla faces and misshapen forms by base bigots, we are men!  Irishmen, having free souls and spirit sufficient to work for freedom for our loved lnad.”

The riots did lead both Irish immigrants and native born New Yorkers to one shared conclusion – and they turned their wrath on William Tweed – “Boss Tweed” – the leader of Tammany Hall and the New York Democratic machine.

William “Boss” Tweed

Tweed and Tammany Hall played a major role in the politics of 19th century New York City and State. At the height of his influence, Tweed was the third-largest landowner in New York City, a director of the Erie Railroad, a director of the Tenth National Bank, a director of the New-York Printing Company, proprietor of the Metropolitan Hotel,  a significant stockholder in iron mines and gas companies, a board member of the Harlem Gas Light Company, a board member of the Third Avenue Railway Company, a board member of the Brooklyn Bridge Company, and the president of the Guardian Savings Bank.

Tweed’s greatest influence however came from being an appointed member of a number of boards and commissions, his control over political patronage in New York City through Tammany, and his ability to ensure the loyalty of voters through jobs he could create and dispense on city-related projects.

Tweed was not Irish but Scottish, born in New York.  And in the age of patronage, he gave the Irish jobs on city projects in return for their votes. Nothing happened in New York without Tweed’s support.  If you were a real estate developer and wanted the street in front of your property improved you went to Boss Tweed and paid your bribe.  Irishmen would do the work in exchange for their votes on election day.  If you didn’t vote for Tweed and work for his candidates, you didn’t work again on a plum city job.

But the Irish were furious that Tammany was doing nothing to punish those responsible for the carnage on 8th Avenue.  “Not one man, of all those we have put into office by our votes and influence, appears to have the pluck to come forward and demand that there shall be a full and fair investigation.”

Native born New Yorkers, in contrast saw the riots as a direct result of Tweed’s venality. “These frightful scenes will not cease until that corrupt party which depends for its existence upon the votes of the ignorant and vicious, loses its tyrannical control of our public life” declared the Tribune.

The Times went even further, calling the Irish “dupes” of Tammany imploring the Irish to free themselves from Tweed.  “The ax is already laid at the root of the tree and it needs a persistent series of strong and well directed blows to send it home.”

Thomas Nast began devoting virtually all his work to Tweed, depicting him and his simian Irish cronies as bloated vultures, devouring the city’s taxpayers or drinking champagne.  Readers nation-wide began to await his latest cartoon skewering Tweed and the Irish.

Tweed as a money bag

Meanwhile, Irish associated with Tweed and Tammany began coming forward with hard evidence.  As evidence of theft and corruption mounted, Tweed tried to buy the Times to silence it but was thwarted by wealthy New Yorkers who acquired the shares instead.

Tweed tried to buy off Nast, offering him $100,000 to take a “sabbatical in Europe.”  Nast negotiated it up to half a million dollars (equivalent to ten million dollars today) before rejecting it.

On July 22, 1871 the Times published  ledgers obtained from Tweed Irish informants – it was a journalistic bombshell, equivalent in its day to the Pentagon Papers exactly one hundred years later.

Amid the unrelenting headlines, Tweed was arrested and indicted for fraud, found guilty and sentenced.  An appeals court ruled the sentence was in excess of the law for the crimes committed and he was relased.  He was immediately re-arrested on other charges and returned to prison – from where he escaped to Florida, then to Cuba.

He was boarding a vessel for Spain when he was detained and returned to New York where he died in prison awaiting a second trial.

Samuel Tilden, Chief Prosecutor of Tweed

The Chief Prosecutor against Tweed was Samuel Tilden, who would come within one Electoral vote of being elected President of the United States.

Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate would defeat him by offering southern electors the removal of all Federal troops occupying the south.  The southern electors voted for the Republican candidate rather than the popular vote winner in their own states.

It was the first time the winner of the popular vote would not become President.  It would not be the last.  It has happened twice in the past 20 years.

Tilden’s defeat opened the door to the Jim Crow south and segregation for the next hundred years.

William Russell Grace, the first Irish Catholic Mayor of New York

Back in New York, the first Irish Catholic Mayor of the city, William Russell Grace, was elected in 1880.

Born in Ireland to a well-to-do family, William and his father, James Grace, traveled to Peru in 1851, seeking to establish an Irish agricultural community.  James returned home but William remained, where he began work with the firm of John Bryce and Co., as a ship chandler.

In 1854, the company was renamed Bryce, Grace & Company, in 1865, to Grace Brothers & Co., and then W. R. Grace and Company.  It would become the dominant shipping company between North and South America.

Grace married while in Peru to Lillius Gilchrist, the daughter of a prominent Maine ship builder.and relocated with his new wife to New York.

Opposing the Tammany Hall candidate,  Grace was elected as the first Irish American Catholic mayor of New York City.   He conducted a reform administration attacking police scandals, patronage and organized vice; reduced the tax rate and set up a modern civil service system in place of patronage politics.

Grace would become a renowned philanthropist and humanitarian, at one point contributing a quarter of the aid delivered to Ireland aboard the steamship Constellation during the Irish Famine of 1879.  In 1897, he and his brother, Michael, founded the Grace Institute for the education of women, especially immigrants.

During his second term as Mayor he would gratefully accept  the Statue of Liberty from France for New York.


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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8 Responses to On Immigration – The Orange Riots and the Aftermath

  1. beetleypete says:

    This is interesting as always, Frank.
    But if I can (probably unfavourably) add another view. The Irish have always had an unusual sense of ‘entitlement’. Unlike other peoples, such as the Scottish, Welsh, and to some degree, the English, they have latched on to every misfortune or upset that has ever affected their ‘heritage’. This goes on today, with the ‘Boston Irish’, the ‘New York Irish’, and the Irish in Northern Ireland, England, and the Irish Republic. It is as if everyone in history (and still today) is to blame for their plight, and nothing is ever forgotten, right back to 1690, and long before that.
    To be honest, I am really tired of their shit. Sorry…
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toritto says:

      The Irish certainly can be fairly criticized. During the draft riots of the Civil War, Irish mobs (which didn’t support Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation fearful that free blacks would move north and take their jobs) attacked and burned the communities of free blacks in New York, lynched men and women and burned down a black orphanage, forcing thousands of free blacks to flee to long island and NJ. These actions had nothing todo with the draft. It is the primary reason they got so little sympathy from native New Yorkers during the Orange riots.

      Best regards from Florida.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jfwknifton says:

      I would endorse that wholeheartedly. If the rest of the United Kingdom had a referendum as to whether Northern Ireland should remain in the EC by becoming part of the Irish Republic, there would be an overwhelming vote to get rid of them. We have had enough of their hatred for each other.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. charlypriest says:

    Since I am an American history buff I had read some of these things, but you really did your job and obviously gave me much more information . Thanks for the post, it was really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jennie says:

    Thank you, Frank. Your history clarifies what I know, and much more.

    Liked by 1 person

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