Honors Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Epperson, Madalyne. Provocations of Civil Disturbances in the North During the American Civil War: A Case Study Concerning the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska - Lincoln. May 2021.


Copyright Madalyne Epperson 2021.


From escaping British tyranny to demanding justice for racial inequalities, American History is littered with profound instances of civil disorder. The largest of these civil and racially-charged urban disturbances occurred in New York City in July 1863, as the American Civil War raged in the background. Over the course of four days, instances of rioting, murder, and arson continued to escalate until a noteworthy 4,000 Union troops were called from the Gettysburg Campaign in order to quell the anarchy. What could have possessed New York City’s masses to commit such a dramatic uprising? The investigation began with a robust literature review, as the exact provocations of the protests have been a point of contention between historians for decades. Using existing research as a guide, primary literature was compiled and a more complete picture appeared. Of the many motives, the most significant causes of mounting tensions revolved around the growing income inequality and fear of labor competition within the city. An analysis of decades of New York’s tumultuous history before and after the American Civil War serves to contextualize the problems facing the various economic and ethnic groups of the city. It is clear that New York City was a powder keg ready to explode by the time the rioting commenced in 1863.