What Was the Largest Riot in American History?

The history of riots in America is long and complex. One of the most infamous riots in American history was the New York City Draft Riots, which took place in July 1863.

The Draft Riots were a series of violent protests against the Union Army’s conscription of men to fight in the Civil War. For four days, mobs of mostly Irish working-class men rampaged through the streets of Manhattan, attacking African Americans and burning buildings.

The Causes of the Draft Riots

The primary cause of the Draft Riots was anger over conscription. The draft was particularly unpopular among working-class men who could not afford to pay for a substitute to take their place in the army. The draft also exempted wealthy men who could pay a $300 fee, leading to accusations of class discrimination.

However, there were other factors that contributed to the outbreak of violence during the Draft Riots. Anti-black racism played a significant role, as many Irish immigrants saw African Americans as competition for jobs and housing. Additionally, there was widespread dissatisfaction with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had declared all slaves in Confederate territory free.

The Violence Begins

The violence began on July 13th, when a mob attacked the Provost Marshal’s office where draft lotteries were being held. The rioters set fire to buildings and attacked police officers who tried to intervene. Over the next few days, the violence escalated as more people joined in.

African Americans were Targeted by rioters, who attacked them on sight and burned down their homes and businesses. Many black New Yorkers fled the city or went into hiding during the riots.

  • By July 15th, over 50 people had been killed.
  • The following day, Governor Horatio Seymour finally called out state militia troops to restore order.
  • It took several more days for the military to fully quell the violence.
  • In total, over 100 people were killed and hundreds more were injured.

The Aftermath

The Draft Riots had a lasting impact on New York City and the country as a whole. The riots demonstrated the deep racial and class divisions in American society, as well as the fragility of civil order during times of crisis.

The riots also had political consequences. Many Democrats, who were opposed to Lincoln’s war policies, used the riots to argue that the Union cause was doomed and that peace negotiations with the Confederacy were necessary.


The New York City Draft Riots were the largest riot in American history, both in terms of casualties and the number of people involved. The riots were a tragic reflection of the tensions between different groups in American society during a time of great upheaval.

Today, we can look back on these events as a reminder of how far we have come as a country, but also how far we still have to go to truly overcome racism and inequality. It is up to all of us to continue working towards a more just and equitable future for all Americans.