tv Zachary Schrag The Fires of Philadelphia CSPAN May 9, 2022 6:10am-7:01am EDT
greetings from the national archives flagship building in washington dc which sits on the ancestral lands of the nakaji tank peoples. i'm david ferry archivist of the united states and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today's virtual author lecture with zachary m schreg author of the fires of philadelphia which describes the events surrounding the anti-immigration riots in philadelphia in 1844. before we begin i'd like to tell you about two upcoming programs. you can view on our youtube channel.
on thursday, july 8th at noon amy stone will discuss the man who hated women her new book about anti-vice activists and us postal inspector anthony comstock and on thursday, july 15th at noon. we'll hear from paul lettersky who in 1965 was assigned to assist the legendary fbi director jay edgar hoover. lettersky's new book the director describes his years in hoover's inner circle. we lived through periods of unrest people may be tempted to look nostalgically to the better days in the past a thoughtful closer. look at those long gone days. however, may reveal that the conflicts of the present have deep roots in the past. several times in the two and a half centuries of her history the established have set themselves against those considered outsiders. the question who is an american is asked again and again in philadelphia in 1844 the objects
of attack were irish catholic immigrants incited by nativists seeking social and political power rioters pursued people and destroyed buildings. the book will hear about today the fires of philadelphia relates an episode unfamiliar to many in an era that is often overlooked in us history survey classes. zacharya, schrag studies cities technology and public policy in the united states in the 1920th and 21st centuries. he's the author of three other books the great society subway ethical imperialism and the princeton guide to historical research his scholarly articles and essays have been published in several journals magazines and newspapers. he has received grants and fellowships from the national science foundation the gerald r ford foundation and the library of congress and has been awarded the society of american city and regional planning histories. john reps prize and the journal of policy in history ellis
holiday prize. her moderator for today's program is dan horner an urban historian of 19th century british north america. he is the author of taking to the streets which received the canadian historical associations cleo award for the best work on quebec history in 2020. he's an associate professor and the chair of the department of criminology at ryerson university in toronto where he teaches courses on public order urban space in historical criminology. now let's hear from zachary schrag and dan horner. thank you for joining us. thank you. thank you for that introduction. and thank you to the national archives for organizing today's event and for inviting us to to speak about this really fascinating book and this really fascinating moment in the history of philadelphia and i think in the history of the united states i am going to take a couple of minutes to to sort of give an introduction to the
book and and we'll have a i have some some questions for for zachary schreck some some pulling notes some really interesting themes from this book and then we'll have a few minutes at the end for for questions from viewers. so let me begin by talking for a couple of minutes about this book with the fires of philadelphia. zachary schreib pulls us on to the streets of that city in 1844 readers are given a front row seat to a long simmering conflict between the city's growing irish catholic community concentrated in the working class suburbs of kamzin and south work and nativists american-born protestants with a deeply rooted hostility towards catholics and their claims on american citizenship. this becomes the central conflict around that pulls the city into violence during these tumultuous months in 1844. this is a work of exhaustive
social political and cultural. but i think it really gets a balance right in terms of being rooted and very careful archival work, but also being a really entertaining text as well a real a real page turner. i found it to be i think i read it and and a handful of handful of sittings kind of gobbling down 80 or 100 pages at once. it really pulls readers and shrag introduce introduces us to a number of the figures who would come to play a role in the in the violence and the debate surrounding it. i like career grifter and and native and natives journalists lewis levin elite. militia, captain george cadwalater ambitious. cleric bishop, kenrick and sheriff morton mcmichael to name only a few of the colorful characters who make their way through the pages of this book. and describing the violence that engulfed the city and saw entire neighborhoods seemingly. go up in flames. we get a unique perspective on
just how combustible philadelphia was during this period as was gripped by fraught debates over the ability of irish catholics irish catholic immigrants to assimilate into the body politic and like i said earlier, this is really the sort of the fundamental debate at the heart of this conflict at the core of nativist of the nativist thinking that shrag describes was the assertion that catholics with their loyalty to the clergy and ultimately in the mind of nativists to to rome post a fundamental threat to the values of the american republic and the city of philadelphia's social fabric. so try kind of walks us through this violence that engulfed first the neighborhood of kensington and then and then south work and then eventually parts of parts of inner city, philadelphia as as well and i won't go through all of this, but he walks us through this this trajectory of violence and and efforts to restore order onto the streets of the city. i could talk about this for hours, but i want to get to our
our questions. i think that the the book leaves us with these a few sort of piercing questions one of which is the the role of violence in in shaping american democracy we think of this period as sort of a formative one in the in the evolution of america's democratic institutions, i think it's really important so that to to remember that a lot of these conflicts were playing themselves out not only on the editorial pages of the local press but also on the streets of cities like philadelphia, we see some really interesting insights into changing practices of authority in the city the debates over the need for professional police departments and and other such institutions to restore order in these rapidly growing rapidly growing cities along seaboard of the united states and finally it leaves us with some questions about what comes after the violence. how does the city rebuild itself
after after these these events occur? how do individuals who were profoundly impacted by these events begin to rebuild their lives. and and how does this fit into those larger narratives of american history during this period the history of philadelphia and even in sort of the the biographies of the people who lived through these events. so those are some of the really i think profound questions that the fires of philadelphia will leave readers with they certainly left me with some of those questions. but as i said, i didn't want to take up too much time in sort of talking about about the book before bringing in professor shrag to talk a little bit more about this and i have some questions here that i thought i would start us off with so welcome. thank you. thank you zachary shank for for joining us today. so i wanted to start off with a question here. you paint a picture from the outset of the book of philadelphia as a city that struggled with social unrest the the riots of 1844 were not
entirely novel to the city. there had been repeated outbreaks of violence in the in the previous decade. why was this the case? why was philadelphia so so mired in this kind of in this sort of bloody violence to what degree is this city's history in the first half of the 19th century distinct from those of other growing american cities during this period well, thanks so much, dan, and thanks for those kind words about the book. i think it could be helpful to think about the early 19th century as the period of rapid change and even chaos that it was, of course, you have the revolutions in the united states and france and haiti and also efforts at greater democratization and the british empire. you also have the industrial revolutions. so new technologies of steamboats and railroads and mechanized looms coming. on as well as changes in agriculture that help fuel a rapid population expansion in many parts of the world not least of which ireland so all of
these combine to really unsettled people and people are moving and in vast numbers tens of thousands of people moving across oceans. you have rapid city growth again in places in europe as well as in the united states, new york, philadelphia, boston, cincinnati, baltimore, all of them are rapidly growing so to that degree, philadelphia, i don't think is unique but rather one part of a much larger urban network of rapidly growing cities all of which are kind of up for grabs. and so when tens of thousands of irish immigrants appear in relatively short period of time the city has to decide where they fit are they only going to be poorly paid workers who are expected to do what they're told or are they going to have their own piece of the pie both in terms of economics and and space but also in terms of political power and so in that sense, it's very hard challenge that the
city is facing. yeah, that's i mean, that's really interesting. i i i've gotten a sense of reading about other cities during the same period that there was you know, originally, you know a certain level of immigration was acceptable because it was assumed that people would move off to the agricultural kind of frontier that they would sort of continue the the push westwards across the north american continent. and what's interesting. i i find really interesting about the 1840s is you hit this moment where all the sudden because of industrialization and because of the growing scale of immigration you get you get a larger segment of that immigrant population who are who are looking to stay in these things and that sort of seems i got that sense a little bit here that was sort of all of a sudden you you see the this emergence of an urban you begin to see the emergence of an urban kind of migrant working class and that's kind of unsettling to i guess to some people in the city. yeah, i think i think it's oscar
hamlin's boston immigrants points this out. austin had seen waves of immigrants pass through through the port but they just sort of waved them on, you know, keep on going west, please. oh, yeah, and once the irish arrived in such numbers that they can't move west they don't have the resources many of them are poorer than immigrants from scandinavia or germany or other european lands, or they may not want to they're building communities. they're building churches. they're building schools. that becomes a more contentious issue and some of the older established families in these cities become quite concerned that they are going to lose power and not recognize the city of their ancestors. and i guess that's what puts democracy at such a really at the heart of this right is because they're worried about they're they're all sudden seeing that, you know, you know the principle of you know, you know a vote for you know, every man having the opportunity to vote all of a sudden they
realize that the numbers are starting to are starting to not go in their direction if things continue this way, so that's right and interestingly the native born americans don't really try to restrict immigration. i think at some level they would like to but most of their effort is not to keep people out as much as it is to keep them down to say that if you are an immigrant from another country, you should have to wait not five years to become a citizen and vote and have full privileges but 21 years is there they say if an american boy and of course women are not voting at this point, but if american boy is born on american soil, he has to wait 21 years to vote so irish, you know 30 year old should also have to wait 21 years to vote after arrival and people are very quick to point out that this would create a kind of not permanent but semi-permanent class of you know immigrants who don't feel that they have a
stake in the country. don't feel that they are participants the democratic process and and may not want to obey laws in which they have. no say, um, you may not want to pay taxes on which they do not vote that whole taxation with that representation, but that is the nativist platform is 21 years to vote. let's keep them subordinate to native born citizens and in some cases the losses say that even if you've been here 21 years if you're not made of born you shouldn't be able to have a government job. not just you know as mayor but as police officer or as culvert digger, so they're trying to carve out special the native form. that's fascinating. there's there's so many great and really evocative, you know depictions of of the violence in this book. this is what i was telling people earlier about sort of the page turning quality of this, um in describing the violence is aftermath you write movingly in a number of places about the
about the losses suffered during the riots as a result of injury. i i really like this because i find and in some early histories of you know, rioting and collective violence. we you know, sort of the human cost of this isn't really isn't really considered. so i i really like the way that you did this, but you talk about so you talk about the losses software during the riots as a result of injury that's destruction of property and people's residences and death. do you think that this sense of of loss and of grief shaped people's reaction to the violence and to what degree do you think that so one of the fascinating stories of violence, i think in general is the way that different. kinds of injury and death have different significance to people and we see that in our own age. where an airplane crash will, you know be on the front pages for days or weeks and meanwhile, we are losing 30 to 40,000 americans a year to automobiles and no one seems to notice that goes on page b3 because those people are just as injured or
just as killed but it's a kind of violence that we take as background noise. most americans do anyway there are obviously some people who are pushing for better safety and the same is true of person to person violence. where a brawl in the street or a raid of one volunteer fire company on another volunteer fire company's house that creates a lot of destruction is regarded by a lot of philadelphia as annoying unfortunate, but also somewhat expected and oh, it's another weekend in the summer. there's been another brawl in the street what happens in spring and summer of 1844 that think really shocks people in part is the sustained level of violence. where instead of being one saturday night. it's actually going on for several days and that makes a difference in people's minds that oh these people had a chance to sleep on it and they decided they still wanted to go out there and fight and then also the targets of violence which in both the episodes
there's a series of riots in may and a second series in july and in both cases catholic churches and other catholic institutions are attacked and even people who may be very skeptical of the catholic church for various reasons are appalled to see houses of worship attacked and in some cases destroyed and so that puts a different meaning on the violence then had it been a fire hall or a political building those were bad enough but a church that that really impressed people. yeah. yeah. no, i i really got that the sense of that that it was a different kind of a different kind of violence. it was impacting people in a different way. and and yeah that that's some really interesting let interesting kind of alliances that form in terms of you know, some people reacting you know despite having some sympathies to towards the nativists some people reacting very strongly too, you know houses of worshiping being burned and
stuff like that. yeah, so that was that was something that was really interesting that came out of the book to me. um, the book captures a really compelling moment in regards to urban governance. we see the the halting and kind of clumsy efforts on the part of the authorities to restore order to the streets of philadelphia. we see a variety of institutions that we can think of this broadly there there mandate being to to make the streets order whether we're talking about militia companies fire companies all these sort of institutions that existed in cities are you know cities like philadelphia too, you know impose and kind of foster public order and we see them being either unable to accomplish. this are actually helping to perpetuate the unrest and so what degree do you think that these rights help spur the development of what we might think of as a modern police force. great, so i you know in the 1840s police power existed on kind of a spectrum you could have everyone from justice
citizen going out to try to restore order to the sheriff pulling men off the street and giving them little paper badges or if they were lucky cloth badges that said they were now deputy sheriffs and part of his posse. you have night watchman who's main job was to light lamp some cry the hour, but could be pulled into service you had constables who again were out there serving warrants not really fighting crime in the way a modern police officer word, but we're expected to break up fights in philadelphia proper, which at that point was just the central part of what we now know as philadelphia. there is a small police force a few dozen men. and all of these could have some effort to subdue violence again break up a fight, but if things got really bad they were not nearly strong enough to do so and so the backstop for all of this was the volunteer militia in the united states in the 1840s. there were essentially two malicious systems. there was one that theoretically
encompassed all men from ages 18 to 45. they would drill once twice maybe three times a year. not really very enthusiastic about it. not very skilled and not people you would want in an emergency the people who you would call out in an emergency were the volunteers and these were men who had uniforms and would drill as often as once a week and were excited to be there. they're kind of like the volunteer firefighters of 21st century america. very enthusiastic very well trained and they would come out and increasingly in the 1830s. they are called about to riot duty whether it's a strike whether it's an attack on african-american community whether it's some kind of violence people. pulling up the rails of a railroad. they don't like the militia would come out and for the most part they don't shoot people. they occasionally if they're cornered, they'll shoot people that happens in providence in
1831 and again in cincinnati in 1842 in new york. they're often clubbing people with the -- of their musket, but not actually firing the muskets and no one is really sure how bad things would have to be for these folks to use the full power of their firearms against their fellow citizens. and so that's really sort of what's up at stake in philadelphia in 1844 in the mate riots. they come close but don't actually shoot anyone and in the july riots the crowd pushes things too far and point the militia fires into the crowd and that sparks a really full battle overnight with not only the militia firing their cannon, but also the mob steals some canon and fire them at the militia and so it's again a scale of violence that had not been seen in an american city for generations. right. i mean i thought that was really interesting and the whole question of you know, are these are which you know, we we see
come up sometimes with the with the police and of crowds into the 20th and and into the 20th century is the question of like are they going to are these are these troops going to follow orders to you know to you know to to turn on their own to on their fellow citizens, you know, we saw things like this happen in eastern europe in the in the 1980s and you know similar types of questions like to what degree can we count on the loyalty of the troops to to follow orders when it comes to firing on their own citizens, so to see that playing out in american city, i think was was really interesting. and again, i think points to some really interesting questions about you know, that larger kind of edifice of democracy and how this functioning during this period so i found that very very interesting. one of the things that helps these events kind of leap from the pages of the fires in. yeah, is is the richness of the source material? i think this was something that really jumps out at readers how
you know things like newspapers and and pamphlets and stuff like that how you know how how rich a text they provide in terms of helping a historian like yourself kind of describe these events and and how they unfolded. i was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the archival material that you are drawing upon here and and the strategies that you employed in your way through it. yeah, so this was a book that took me more years than i care to admit in part because the vast and unexpected richness of the material. so newspapers were quite plentiful you this is the early years of what was called the penny press so it used to be a newspaper with something of a luxury item. only merchants who really needed to know the prices of cotton and liverpool would care about that but by the 1830s and especially the 1840s it's relatively inexpensive to print a newspaper relatively inexpensive to purchase one. so you have more than a dozen. i'm not sure the exact count of
think as many as 18 daily newspapers at a time in philadelphia. some of them are wigs some of them are democrats. some of them are native. some of them claimed to be neutral but have a certain slant you have weekly papers representing the catholics for our presenting the presbyterian for representing different religious groups one representing the militia. it's it's basically by for militia officers some of these is no longer exist. you can't find at least i couldn't find a single issue of the irish citizen, which i would love to have read, but others have been preserved some have been digitized some on microfilm some i had to go to library cleaning the library for congress and turn over those pages of 170 year old paper very delicately and carefully, um to get those stories and in some cases. i mean, it's amazing what they would print they would be trials where they would have people with writing in shorthand. so you have the verbatim testimony of oh, he said this to me and i have actual dialogue i can hear the 1840s in other
cases. they would print official reports. so general can walter is report to his commander major general patterson in some cases people would write long letter to the editor or cards as they were sometimes called saying hey, this is what happened to me and then they would get you know, someone would be angry about that and they would write their own response either in the same or different newspaper. have editorial duels between the newspapers. so the newspapers are absolutely amazing. i also have the chance to read original manuscripts general cadwallador's correspondence. is there in historical society of pennsylvania? we have diaries from his artillery commander colonel pleasanton. you have diaries from bystanders and various letters many in philadelphia others scattered around the country, and i'm very grateful to all the archivists who helped me locate those and then, you know, of course doing research in the 21st century. we have digital materials that are searchable in a way that
never was before and so if there's some fairly obscure person caught up in the riot i could do a search and newspaper database and genealogical databases some of them tracing back to the census records and the national archives. that would give me a sense of who this person was how they have money. do they have an arrest record. you mentioned the injuries and trauma that comes from a done by the surgeons of philadelphia who you know for all their sympathy with the wounded. we're very excited to have a chance to to practice military medicine because they haven't had a war in a while and they'd read about all these wars in europe where they're you know new and revolutions in paris where there were new techniques for treating gunshot wounds and they say great, you know, here's a chance and so they are they are trading stories and if you ever like talk to an emergency room physician, it's kind of appalling how much enjoyment they get out of weird injuries. um, but so it really was a blend of all kinds of sources and i'm
just so grateful to you know, all the librarians and archivists going back, you know, 175 years now who preserve that and made those accessible to me in various forms. that's great. yeah, definitely and it really it really jumps out there at the reader how how much there was and and the detail that you were going to you were able to go into so that was really fascinating to see the riots of 1844 were clearly a spectacular event, you know as we've talked about already. this was way outside the norm even in a city. that was a custom to a sort of raucous and sometimes violence public life our public sphere. this was really the you know with the you know, the the burning of churches and stuff like that. this was really kind of outside the norm for people who are experiencing but for those who experience this violence firsthand, however, they i'm interested in sort of teasing out the links between you know, the kind of violence thing
counter during that the riot and the sort of violence that they might have experienced in their daily lives on the on the streets of neighborhoods, like like kensington and south work, so it's wondering how you were sort of thinking through, you know, the fact that some of these, you know some of these some of the people involved in these events. we're no strangers to be involved in things like brawls and street fights and stuff like that. yeah, so there was a culture of violence in philadelphia. i think the most remarkable of which is probably the volunteer fire companies in that would go out to fires and compete to be the first to plug in their hose at the fireplugs the hygrims as we now call them and if another company got there first, well, maybe they cut the hose or maybe they would, you know, try to beat up the other company to get to the hose or if that didn't work. maybe just wait till the next weekend and try to raid that company and steal its hose carriage hack it to bits in the street and then these companies would have unofficial gang so you'd have official members of
the fire companies glad to be 21 years old or older usually and then some sort of 19 and 20 year olds hanging around and if you've ever met a 19 or 20 year old, you know that they may not have the very best judgment and may take some excitement on the warm summer night. and so south work was notorious for being full of these gangs and if you cross to the wrong side of the street and didn't notice the chalk mark there you might be beat up by the local south work gang. um and many of the participants can't know how many but it seems like many of the participants in the philadelphia riot of the nativist riots who were doing the the worst damage you might have, you know a thousand people there, but, you know, it's that core group of 40 or 50 people who are really doing the worst of the damage some of them seem to have been associated formerly or informally with these fire companies and there's actually a there is a fire company the hibernia hose house, which obviously was irish by its name though. it may have had both protestants and catholic numbers was right
there where the kensington riots start and as best i can tell in the middle of the riots that are kind of over politics and religion some of the native essay. well while we're here, let's attack that firehouse. have a firehouse riot in the middle of this larger ride. um, and so, you know, they they kind of had these rituals and one of the things that scholars of rioting have looked at. i know you've looked at this is the sense of a script that people know how to have a little fight how to have a kind of in your face parade and then what happens to escalate that into greater violence, so, you know, someone being a respected leader being hit with a brick or bottle or gunshot, right if you know someone you really like goes down all of a sudden that will escalate the violence whether it's a gang or a militia company if a militia company's captain gets hit with the brick, um, you can expect bad things from that militia company.
they're gonna get angry. they're going to be more likely to fire their weapons. the sound of breaking glass is a classic one as well. that seems to just hit something in our nervous system that will make things go of control a little more. there are also rituals of de-escalation and one of the you know, tragic moments, i think in the story is the kensington riots are really begin on may 6th of 1844. that's a monday the next day. there's a mass meeting outside now call independence hall. it was also called the state house then and some of the nativists are saying well, let's not do anything today. let's wait until maybe thursday and they had that sense that a cooling off period of 48 or 72 hours could have you know, really good consequences and and it probably could have it's kind of hard to keep angry that long unfriendly at that meeting the hot head say, no. no, let's march right back. let's do it right now and right they kind of carry the meeting
with them and that's the point where the older politician folks are saying. um, see you later. we're gonna stay here in the shade and the independence hall and in fact, you know, most of the prominent nativists lock there. it's the hot head young men who marched back to kensington and renew the violence. so crowds are varied, they're heterogeneous. and you might have a rabble-rouser who is making the big speech and is nowhere to be seen when the guns fire starts going 11 very much like that. he manages to kind of walk away and then you have others who are you know much more in the face one of the things i was trying to figure out in the book. i'm never not sure if i nailed it down, but whether we've got these sort of two opposing figures, leban the leaven the rabble rouser and ked wallet are the very aristocratic general and i could never put them in the same place at the same time. i'm never sure they mentioned face and that may be that levin was kind of skittering her way exactly as good wallet or is marching in with the troops.
um, eleven was not a physical power. he did get in fist fights himself, but i think he was also playing the odds and when he sees a really overwhelming forrest calm discretions is the better part of valor. absolutely. yeah, one of my my favorite parts of the book is is your epilock where yes or you you follow through some of these some of these figures to the years after the riot and it traces, you know tracing what comes next in there in their life in the aftermath of these events. um, so what do great degree do you think that the riots of 1844 that you write about were a transformative moment. do you think that the the city of philadelphia in the you know in the you know in the years to come do you think it fundamentally changed at that point? can you can you view it as a turning point or do you think that do you think that that might be too too tidy away to think about it? well, you know, i think in some way with the riots are overshadowed by greater events
one of the great ironies here, you've got these nativists who are determined what to do, whatever they can to limit the irs catholic presence in philadelphia in the summer of 144 which is the last good potato harvest already by the fall of 1844. you've got these little newspaper notices. i'm you know, again reading the newspapers and there's this little thing in the corner saying oh, yeah, this weird thing happened up in new england this farmer thought he had a seller full of potatoes and when he opened them up, they were all black right and that's the beginning of the blight that hits ireland in 1845 and then 1846 and then, you know, worst of all 1847. you have the great hunger and that presents the united states and including in philadelphia with you know more irish immigrants than the nativists could ever have dreamed in their worst nightmares. and so that just demographically that makes some of this irrelevant they're not going to get rid of the irish and they're not gonna get rid of irish political power though.
they try well into the 1850s. there's a resurgent native of this movement known as the know nothing to do try and then of course the other thing that happens is the sexual crisis where again, 144 there's still debating. oh, should we annex texas you have you know the election poke the mexican war all of those events that spend the united states towards civil war and you know, so in retrospect it's all of the black and white and pro-slavery versus abolitionist violence. that seems more important that said a couple things do occur one is the politicization of anti-immigrant sentiment that again takes it it rises in the 1840s takes a little break in late 1840s resurges in the 1850s as the no nothing party and for the most part the know-nothing party is absorbed as one of the constituents of the republican part. and it's not the major
constituent you have republicans like seward and of course lincoln who are you know, quite interested in integrating irish catholics into the body politic, but there are other republicans who hold the nativist line and are trying well into the 19th century to have a constitutional amendment to prevent public funding of parochial schools and other efforts to restrict immigration and their ultimately successful first with chinese exclusion and then later with the much broader immigrant exclusion of the 1920s. so this does i think help create a nativist line in american politics and then in terms of policing the british had riots in london in manchester and had created this new thing a uniformed police force, that would be kind of halfway between the old see and the army and so the promise of the london police force. that's the really the first one that we were recognize as a
modern police force is that it will be more effective than the posse but not as sort of military and potentially tyrannical as martial law and certainly as they're more and more riots in the united states starting in the 1830s americans are getting more and more interested in this and the philadelphia riots are part of the impetus where people are getting even more interested in a london style force the new york police department has a couple founding dates some people say 1843 some people say 1845, but i would say that riots in philadelphia contributed to that momentum and then philadelphia establish as a police force as part of a broader consolidation of the city in 1854, and those are the first two kind of modern police forces in the states and can be seen therefore as ancestors to every uniformed bad belief force you'll see in the united states
now, that's a little simplistic a little linear historians. look at complexity. there are lots of things that feed into the police forces, but i think certainly urban riots in general and the philadelphia rights and particular are one of the series of events that make governments think that they want a professional police force all around. um, yeah that never going to be big enough to contain a really big riot so they maintain the volunteer militia that eventually gets renamed the national guard and the national guard of course remains the backstop for the police as we saw so frequently in 2020. yeah, absolutely. i think we've got time. i've to squeeze in one more question. i just want to remind our our viewers today that they can put questions into the into the chat box and we'll we'll ask them and i'll pass them along to to zachary here, but i want to ask one one more question that really i think will jump out to a lot of people who have either
read the book or just hearing you talk about it today the themes that you touched upon in the fires of philadelphia particularly around the relationship between ethnicity and voting rights and the threat that collective violence poses to the social fabric seem especially pertinent to us here in 2021. did you realize from the outset of this project that the story of the 1844 riots in philadelphia would become so timely by the time that was published and and how do you how do you see you know the story of 1844 and and of this violence, you know, what do you think it offers to those of us trying to make sense of the world here in 2021 so i've been interested in urban riots on and off for decades. i actually first wrote about them in the early 1990s having seen some of the protests against the first gulf war which again seemed very small in comparison to the later wars in iraq and afghanistan, but you know at the time there were anti-war protesters and what had
been familiar street suddenly became scenes of certainly contestation and some extent violence broken windows all the rest and so i you know, i thought that urban violence and and riots would be interesting. um, certainly i had no idea that the book would come out in a period of greater civil unrest than we've seen really since the late 1960s. um, yeah riots do tend to happen in waves and again the philadelphia rights of 1844 were part of a wave that begins around 1831 and that continues into the 1850s and to some extent with the 1863 draft riots in new york and elsewhere, but, you know, certainly 2020 was a extent of disorder that we've not seen in decades and that was quite accidental. i did not start those in attempt to generate interest in the book that just happened on its own
and then the other surprise was i was writing this book, you know starting again longer than i care to admit but before the most recent rise of immigration as the massive issue it became with the trump campaign and trump presidency. i did not foresee that donald trump would make imm station and immigration restriction a center point of his successful presidential campaign. it was fascinating in that summer of 2016 when the democratic national convention was held in philadelphia to see mayor kennedy of philadelphia talk about my riotics on national television and try to you know suggest i think plausibly that they had lessons for today. so between the resurgence of immigration as an issue and the resurgence not only of urban disorder, but also of national guard deployments this book has been become just far more relevant than i ever could have imagined.
wow. yeah, it really has and i was i was thinking of you know, the the epilogue of of your book being taking on this thing, you know this sort of critical importance now because i think a lot of people are thinking you you read a lot of material coming out today talking about you know, how do you how do you rebuild the social fabric after something that you know in in the most dramatic way possible kind of stretches it to the to the point where it appears very it appears incredibly delicate right? and so, how do you you know, how do you get from that place to you know, you know the the place of you know a city like philadelphia being the whole parts of being up in flames during these during these riots to you know, you know a matter of time later a city that you know is largely start a functional again. so, how do you how do you move from those two places? so i think the fact that the fact that you know, the the social fabric appeared so, you know fundamentally fragile in
1844. that that was not a case a few decades later. i think people could probably turn to books like the like the fires of philadelphia in a way of sort of piecing that together now that how how are consensus can re-emerge after a place where it seemed next to impossible for that to happen. i mean things seem so fundamentally divided in the city over these questions of citizenship and stuff too and i thought the the, you know, the discussions of you know, discussions of things like the potential for voting fraud and stuff like that in around 1844 and the way that people were talking about democracy again, so pertinent to some of the conversations you see happening today. just looking here to see if there are any more we still don't we still have any questions. so please do if you're if you're curious about any of this stuff, please do share your your questions about this. yeah, i i just coming back to coming back to some of these
some of these things that we were that we were talking about it. i'm really taken. this is something that you raised earlier in relation to to one of the questions, but really taking with the with what this tells us about how people kind of experienced urban life in the in the 1840s and i spent a lot of time because you pointed it out several times in your descriptions of it not spend a lot of time thinking about you know, young men involved involved in these things and how how no how the violence kind of spoke to their experience of the city and they're sort of their their place in it, and i think it raises so many questions about you know what their prospects were what the you know, they're sort of their their experience of really sort of an urban landscape that was in a state of transformation that it probably appeared to to them something along. into of disarray or or chaos, you think of the sort of the
processes of industrialization changing their relationship to the workplace and stuff like that. you know, i wondered what you know to the degree to which you thought about sort of the place of the place of young boys in it why you know why this culture of sort of confrontation and violence with so deeply enmeshed in their in their experience and whether you could sort of write, you know that the history of rioting in the city like philadelphia kind of fundamentally as a story of young men. yeah, i think you know, this is a again a moment in economic history where things are changing rapidly the american ideal going back to thomas jefferson was of the yeoman farmer owning his own land and being independent that is beginning to break down pretty quickly, but the sort of second best thing is to be your own master and to have your own business and that worked for a while.
you know again, you have these letters from irish immigrants writing homes saying hey, you know, you have to work hard here, but if you you know show up here in 1820, there are a lot of opportunities you make a little money you again by a corner grocery or buy a bit of land or you know, maybe you buy a blacksmith shop something that you can do and be your own master and then buy the 1830s, especially after the start of the panic panic of the of 1837. they're beginning to say, oh that that's not so true anymore. um, and so that throws off a lot of people's life plans and you know, if you again look at the careers of someone like cornelius vanderbilt, you know, self-made man starts off with, you know, one little boat and goes to two little boats and then has a whole fleet. um, it's getting harder and harder to do that. and then i think just in terms of psychology the americans aren't really sure what to do
with these males. they call them half-grown boys that the term teenagers not yet been invented. um, so they're calling them boys. but again, these are 19 20 year olds who we would not necessarily recognize his voice now and they're trying to figure out what to do with them in the hope that someone can control them. so in the middle of the riots, there's this town meeting and this resolution that goes out saying two things. first of all, the militia should be able to use whatever force is necessary and everyone knows what that means that means a kill we're going to shoot to kill and then the second clause of the resolution is fathers and masters should keep their half-driven boys at home. and so, you know, they're saying yes, we're ready to kill these kids on the other hand. they're still just boys. they're not fully responsible for their actions. um dads do your stuff and so yeah, um, you know again it is a kind of pivot point where you can see the past of the father or the master being in control and then you can see the future
of just the rabble and they're gonna have to be controlled in some other way and eventually institutions are created to try to you know rope them in longer schooling again better employment. and so we begin to move to things like the corporation and and other institutions in the immediate aftermath of the riots the you know, one thing that drains the city of some of its most aggressive young men is the mexican or which, you know you don't want to recommend the war is a good public policy necessarily, but it does get the kids off the street as they say so, you know some of the worst of the riders end up in mexico where they're you know, continue committing crimes some of these folks are court-martialed for their various abuses of civilians and mexico, so it doesn't really solve the problem as much as dislocated far away from philadelphia, but it does become a problem for the cities.
and again, ultimately they expand the police force quite a bit in an effort to keep a lid on the pot. and i mean, that's so fascinating to think of you know, think of you know, we tend to think of riots as these sort of as these sort of events that take place in a limited period of time but to think about some of the ways they stretch they stretch across somebody's lived experience. you know that somebody on the streets of kensington in 1844 ended up in ended up in mexico in the war and all the sort of the way that these events get sort of folded into people's lives. i've always found to be really fascinating we've unfortunately our running very low on on time. it's it's 12:50, but i wanted to thank zachary shrank not only for speaking with us today, but also just for his fires of philadelphia the book which is makes a such a great contribution to a number of different fields, whether it's the you know the history of philadelphia the history of social violence in the united
states, you know, urban history. i think this will add there's there's so many different angles that i think people will want to come to this book from and they do they're going to find a book that as i said earlier is really engrossing and really takes you to a time and place and it really kind of critical juncture in the history of a great american city. so, thank you. thank you zachary. thank you everybody who joined us today? thanks to the national archives for organizing this event, and it was great. great talking about the book. thanks so much for these quesgood afternoon, and welcomea house divided coming to you from abraham lincoln book shop in chicago if it's on our shelves, it's history. my name is bjorn scapton and i will be the
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