Historical Society Luncheon Explores the “War Within the War”

Barnet Schecter spoke to a full house at the Rye Historical Society’s annual history luncheon, held earlier this month at American Yacht Club. The topic of his slide presentation was the New York City draft riots of July 1863. Mr. Schecter is the author of “The Battle for New York” and “George Washington’s America: A…

rhs luncheon
Published March 23, 2012 8:00 PM
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rhs luncheon

Barnet Schecter spoke to a full house at the Rye Historical Society’s annual history luncheon, held earlier this month at American Yacht Club. The topic of his slide presentation was the New York City draft riots of July 1863. Mr. Schecter is the author of “The Battle for New York” and “George Washington’s America: A Biography Through His Maps”.


By Bill Lawyer 


rhs luncheonBarnet Schecter spoke to a full house at the Rye Historical Society’s annual history luncheon, held earlier this month at American Yacht Club. The topic of his slide presentation was the New York City draft riots of July 1863. Mr. Schecter is the author of “The Battle for New York” and “George Washington’s America: A Biography Through His Maps”.

 

The scope of the riots’ injury, death, and destruction, held “deep in Union territory” during the height of the Civil War, made it, in Mr. Schecter’s words, a war within a war. Riots against the recently instituted federal draft quickly turned into attacks on the City’s small but vibrant African-American population, which was blamed for causing the war and draft.

 

Rye Historical Society president Jeanine Scott said that the topic and speaker were chosen to promote more interest in how Rye’s history ties into the broader trends of American and world historical events.

 

“We’re looking to attract Rye residents who haven’t been that active or involved in the Historical Society, particularly newer residents,” said Ms. Scott, who moved to Rye seven years ago. A native of England, she said, “history was all around us growing up.

 

Ms. Scott was elected president of the Society last June, and her goal is to increase membership and collaborate with other non-profits where possible.

 

That sentiment was echoed by past president and current board member Susan Morison. “We want to reach out and bring new people and new ideas into our membership.”historical society-harpersdraftriot

 

Mr. Schecter’s talk tied the draft riots into the broader issues of public debate over the purpose of the Civil War. Whereas some northerners wanted to abolish slavery and decisively defeat the southern insurrection, others, particularly those whose business interests depended on southern cotton, wanted the war to end quickly with no abolition of slavery.

 

Northern factory workers were afraid that if they went off to war, their places would be taken by the freed slaves coming from the south. And they couldn’t afford to pay the $300 exemption fee.

 

The Emancipation Proclamation and the federal draft law were “game changers” that came to a boil when the draft lottery began in New York City, just ten days after the Battle of Gettysburg, according to Mr. Schecter. He concluded that this event was a foreshadowing of the post-war battle between the Democrats and Republicans over Reconstruction, which ended in the presidential election of 1876.

 

Responding to a question from the audience, the speaker noted that smaller-scaled demonstrations occurred in other northern cities, including New Rochelle. But other than Boston, none involved a large number of people.

 

One couldn’t help but think of the Occupy Wall Street protests of recent months, and whether the issues of the 1% versus 99% could take on a more violent complexion.

 

But that’s the purpose of looking to the past: to seek guidance on current situations and what the future may bring.

 

In addition to enjoying an educational lunch, guests had the chance to purchase a variety of clothing and jewelry from high quality vendors. A portion of the sales goes to the Rye Historical Society.

 

Proceeds will be used to carry out a number of activities in the coming months, including a “Girls’ Night Out” April 19, and the “Walk Rye History” self-guided tour program, which will be launched in September.



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