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George Washington Walling

The Mayor's Office

In 1854 Fernando Wood (1812–1881) was elected mayor of New York City. During his first term of office conditions went from bad to worse because of his corrupt administration. In a rigged election in 1857, Wood won a second term in office and the state legislature stepped in. They shortened his term from two years to one and created a Metropolitan police force to replace Wood's corrupt Municipal police. A board of An 1865 drawing of the Metropolitan police. George Walling was one of the lawmen who signed on with New York's Metropolitan police. (© Corbis)
commissioners appointed by the governor replaced the Common Council to hire law enforcement agents. Wood contended the amending legislative act was unconstitutional and refused to step down even when faced with a Supreme Court order.

George Walling was one of the lawmen who signed on with the new state-created Metropolitan police. Fifteen other captains, along with hundreds of their patrolmen, elected to stay with Wood and the Municipal police. While the politicians sorted out the mess, New Yorkers were faced with rival patrolmen as both forces patrolled the city's precincts. Those arrested by one police force were often set free by aldermen (city councilmen) or magistrates (local judges) whose loyalties were with the opposite side. Gangs took advantage of the weakness in law enforcement and were soon joined by criminals from elsewhere.

Walling was personally assigned the task of arresting Mayor Wood. Armed with a warrant, he entered City Hall alone and was allowed to reach Wood's office. When Walling attempted to arrest Wood, he was thrown out into the street by Municipal policemen Wood had stationed at City Hall. Walling, soon joined by fifty Metropolitan officers, attempted to go back in but was badly outnumbered. The Board of Commissioners called out the National Guard, and the Seventh Regiment surrounded City Hall. Wood surrendered and was charged with inciting a riot. He was soon released on bail and returned to his office.

The feud continued throughout the summer of 1857. Disorder spread throughout the city as gangs turned on one another in turf wars. National Guard units were brought in to restore order. Everyone was waiting for a court decision to end the chaos. Early in the fall the courts finally handed down a decisive verdict against the Municipal police. Mayor Wood surrendered and the Municipals were disbanded. The legal status of the Metropolitan Board of Commissioners was affirmed and they began the long process of building an agency and restoring public trust. They began by adopting a new white metal badge that unified all departments in the system.

The American Civil War began in 1861 and by 1863 the federal government passed the Conscription Act, which empowered a bureau to draft those who had not volunteered for the war (see sidebar) in order to provide soldiers for its army. Draft offices opened in July and were unwelcome in New York City. Fourth of July political speeches raised public feeling against the draft as broiling summer temperatures lowered people's patience. Saturday, July 11, was the day chosen to begin the draft in the city. People talked of nothing else all weekend and the growing discontent was serious enough that Captain George Walling spent Sunday night at his station house. The still relatively new police force would soon be forced to protect the city's citizens from social unrest.

By early Monday morning on July 13 a draft riot had begun. Laborers gathered in the streets. Instead of going to their jobs they worked their way up Eighth and Ninth Avenues, closing shops and factories along the way. Other workmen joined the procession. They headed toward Central Park on the march downtown toward the ninth district provost marshal's office. The office was where the draft lottery was to be held at ten-thirty that morning.

Along the way the crowds tore down telegraph poles and lines to disrupt communication. Others used crowbars to pull up railroad tracks in an attempt to isolate the city. Rioters caught the superintendent of police, John A. Kennedy, out alone on the street. They attacked him and delivered him nearly dead to police headquarters.

A city in crisis The Conscription Act

The U.S. Congress passed the Conscription Act in March of 1863. The Civil War had been going on for almost two years with no end in sight. The Union Army lacked new recruits to join the fight but also needed to control the vast number of deserters who were leaving the battlefields illegally. The new law, called the "Act for Enrolling and Calling Out the National Forces," created a national Provost Marshal Bureau. The bureau was empowered to draft those who had not volunteered, and to keep them in the army once they were enlisted under threat of criminal penalties.

Government agents conducted a census of all able-bodied, male citizens of the United States and set up a lottery in each congressional district. The new soldiers were drawn from this pool of men but there were still several ways to avoid military service. Drafted men could pay three hundred dollars, or they could provide an "acceptablesubstitute," if someone else would take their place.

The new law met with a great deal of opposition in New York City. To begin with, the federal government's involvement in state and local politics was not welcomed by many New Yorkers. The exemption fee seemed to favor the wealthy while leaving the poor to do battle. Most harmful in the end was the way the law escalated racial tensions in the city. New York was a Northern city with longstanding commercial ties to Southern slavery, leaving it very sensitive to racial issues.

New York City was the national press capital for both the abolitionist (those who opposed slavery) and anti-abolitionist causes. In 1863 only whites were considered citizens of the United States and susceptible to the draft. The tension between blacks and whites grew dangerous when poor, lower-class whites felt the federal government was giving privileges to blacks while they themselves were called to risk life and livelihood in the war effort. By mid-July, New York City itself would be a battleground.

Thousands of people arrived at the district office, many carrying signs saying "No Draft." The lottery began but before it could be completed the mob rushed the building and destroyed its contents, setting fire to the remains. By this time the crowds on the Upper East Side numbered over twelve thousand. Men, women, and children of every social class had shut down work in order to participate or simply watch the disturbance and see what would happen. The rioters had virtually halted all business in the city and were targeting government representatives, especially the police.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawGeorge Washington Walling - To Protect And Serve, The Mayor's Office, A City In Crisis The Conscription Act