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Nativist Riots of 1844

lithograph of the southwark riot

This lithograph depicts key elements of one of the riots of 1844. The image portrays the fight that took place in the Southwark neighborhood on July 7, 1844. (Library Company of Philadelphia)

 

 

 

 

 

In May and July 1844, Philadelphia suffered some of the bloodiest rioting of the antebellum period, as anti-immigrant mobs attacked Irish-American homes and Roman Catholic churches before being suppressed by the militia.

The violence was part of a wave of riots that convulsed American cities starting in the 1830s.

Yet even amid this tumult, they stand out for their duration, itself a product of nativist determination to use xenophobia for political gain. In the aftermath of the riots, shocked Philadelphians began debating new methods of maintaining order, a discussion that contributed to the consolidation of Philadelphia County in 1854.

Ethnic and religious antagonism had a long history in the city.

Since the 1780s, Irish textile workers had come to Philadelphia after losing their jobs to mechanization in the British Isles. As early as 1828, when an off-duty watchman was killed after disparaging “bloody Irish transports,” Catholic presence had provoked anxiety among American- and Irish-born Protestants.

In 1831, Irish Catholics battled along Fifth Street with Protestants celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

Anti-Catholic agitation increased in the early 1840s, organized in part around a perceived threat to the Bible in the public schools.

Catholic Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick (1796-1863), an Irish immigrant himself, objected to Protestant teachers’ leading students in singing Protestant hymns and requiring them to read from the King James Bible.

Nativists used Kenrick’s complaints to gain followers. In 1842, dozens of Protestant clergymen formed the American Protestant Association to defend America from Romanism. In early 1843, editor Lewis Levin  (1808-60) made the Daily Sun an organ for attacks against Catholicism and Catholic immigration, and in December of that year, he helped found a nativist political party called the American Republican Association.

Bible Reading as Flashpoint

In 1844, the Bible controversy intensified in the district of Kensington, a suburb to the northeast of Philadelphia City and home to many Irish immigrants, both Protestant and Catholic. In February, Hugh Clark (1796-1862), a Catholic school director there, suggested suspending Bible reading until the school board could devise a policy acceptable to Catholics and Protestants alike.

Nativists saw this as a threat to their liberty and as a chance to mobilize voters, and they rallied by the thousands in Independence Square. On May 3, 1844 they rallied in Kensington itself but were chased away.

The first serious violence broke out three days later.

On May 6, the nativists reassembled in Kensington, provoking another fight, during which a young nativist named George Shiffler (1825-44) was fatally shot.

By day’s end, a second man—apparently a bystander—was dead, and several more nativists were wounded, two mortally.

The next day, the First Brigade of the Pennsylvania Militia, commanded by Brigadier General George Cadwalader (1806-79), responded to the sheriff’s call for help. The troops faced little direct resistance, but they proved unable to stop people from starting new fires.

On May 8, mobs gutted several private dwellings (including Hugh Clark’s house), a Catholic seminary, and two Catholic churches: St. Michael’s at Second Street and Master and St. Augustine’s at Fourth and Vine.

Only a flood of new forces—including citizen posses, city police, militia companies arriving from other cities, and U.S. army and navy troops—ended the violence by May 10.

The city remained superficially calm for the next eight weeks, but both nativists and Catholics anticipated further violence.

In Southwark—an independent district south of Philadelphia City and a seat of nativist strength—a Catholic priest’s brother began stockpiling weapons in the basement of the Church of St. Philip de Neri on Queen Street.

On Friday, July 5, a crowd of thousands gathered to demand the weapons. When the crowd reassembled the following day, the sheriff requested militia troops, and Cadwalader led about two hundred into Southwark. Saturday ended without bloodshed, but the situation remained tense, with a small group of militia—some of them Irish Catholics themselves—guarding the church and a group of nativist prisoners inside it.

Armed Clash in Southwark

On Sunday, July 7, the crowd reassembled, and this time it armed itself with cannon.

Egged on by nativist speakers, the crowd forced the militia to surrender the church and its prisoners. Cadwalader returned to Southwark about sunset at the head of a column and tried to clear the area around the church. When the crowd attacked the militia with bricks, stones, and bottles, the militia fired on them, killing at least two and wounding more.

Starting around 9pm, the crowd counterattacked. For the next four hours, rioters and militia battled in the streets of Southwark, with both sides firing cannon.

By morning, four militiamen and probably a dozen rioters were dead, along with many more wounded. Southwark’s aldermen negotiated the militia’s withdrawal from their district, but thousands of militia troops from other parts of the state arrived to patrol the City of Philadelphia.

Although American cities, particularly Philadelphia, had endured a surge of riots since the early 1830s, few individual riots lasted for more than a day, making the 1844 riots extreme in their severity and duration.

While some of the violence had been spontaneous, the ambitions of the nativist newspapers and political party in an election year likely sustained nativist fury through the spring and summer. Though the riots were more than the simple transplantation of anti-Catholic violence from Northern Ireland, they echoed the deliberate provocation seen there.

The riots did not resolve the place of the Irish in the city.

On the one hand, few Philadelphians were willing to endorse publicly the attacks on Catholics, and more than two thousand Philadelphians signed an address praising the militia’s use of “lawful force which unlawful force made necessary.”

On the other hand, in the October elections, amid the heaviest turnout in Philadelphia’s history, Levin and another nativist won congressional seats and other nativists took lesser posts.

Meanwhile, Philadelphians began discussing plans for a stronger police force to deter future riots.

In April 1845, the legislature passed a law requiring each major city and district of Philadelphia County to support at least one police officer for each 150 taxable inhabitants, and in 1850 it created a new Philadelphia Police District to cover the entire metropolitan area, including the outlying districts of Kensington and Southwark.

Though not the sole cause, these steps contributed to the consolidation of Philadelphia County into a single government in 1854.

Zachary M. Schrag is a professor of history at George Mason University. He is at work on a book about the 1844 riots.

Immigrants are highly welcomed…with exceptions

Germany is suffering of lack of qualified engineers and technicians:  The German engineers are going into retirement (about 36,000 every year).

Germany is readying to open up its borders to Polish qualified immigrants (preferably young and educated Poles) in 2011:  A premium will be paid as a welcoming gestures and special technical training centers opened to initiate these Poles into the needed specialties and learning the German language.

In 2009, half a million Polish workers settled in Germany, and by 2011 Poland will be depleted of its potential youth.

In 2004, two million Polish immigrants flooded England and Ireland and had hard time finding jobs:  Going to Germany on the borders will be less hazardous and kind of feeling at home.

By 2011, Germany will witness the least number of unemployed in twenty years:  Barely 3 million representing less than 4%, while the average in the European Union is 10% as in the USA (these are not the effective rates of unemployed that are double what States recognize in statistics).

Irish are back to their traditional immigration frenzies.

In the last two decades, Irish never considered that immigration will be another option:  Investment of multinational financial institutions were flooding this island and the illusion of an economic boom distracted governments into diversifying Ireland economy.  Now the Irish have no excuses laying it on England for buying immigration tickets.

Irish Parents who raised families are now packing to starting a new life in greener pastures.  Ireland governments invested in infrastructures that supported financial transactions and modern airports but not in industries or agriculture.

The game of quick wealth illusion is over:  The Irish are facing the fact that there are no opportunities in their homeland to sustaining their addictive former life-style.  The US will be glad to re-welcome the Irish who have skills in financial transactions and programming.

The US is very lucky to be situated between Mexico and Canada.  Mexico provides cheap young daily workers and capital and Canada is a vast potential for investments in natural resources and qualified graduates.

Giovanni Peri, assistant professor at the University of Davis, wrote in Foreign Policy in Focus that “Mexican immigrants increase production capacity, stimulate investment, and is a catalyst for specialization.

Young Mexican immigrants never had any negative consequences in the US economy in the last 40 years.  Immigrants are basically competing among immigrants but do not rob jobs to Americans.  When immigrants are hired, productivity increases and Americans are elevated to higher ranks such as supervisors and foremen, simply because they know the language; thus, this process increases the base of the lower middle class.”

Peri went on: “Immigrants complement the economy and do not substitute for existing jobs except when highly educated and specialized.  An engineer cannot do anything alone; give the engineer workers and enterprises are created.  With the dynamic market system in the USA, hundred of thousands of jobs are lost and an equal number re-appear.

The more there are able and young workers on the market and the higher are the odds for creating new enterprises.  In the last 40 years, the active potential doubled and salaries increased 40%.  Immigrant salaries are low but still high compared to what they earn in their homeland, even when the higher cost of living is factored in.”

France and Spain are plagued with discrimination tendencies against immigrants converging from northern Africa, even if they are very educated.  Both States are witnessing very high unemployment rates and budget deficit.

The youth of Spain disregarded universities in the last 2 decades in order to reap quickly the fruits of consumerism:  Spain is suffering from depletion of university graduates and no investment would restart the economy before human educated people are recouped.  Near-sighted policies in both States are increasing the economic gap with Germany and the Netherlands.

Russia has lost 10 million of its population in the last two decades and the same process of aging is going on in Japan.  Fresh immigrants are highly welcomed in Russia and Japan.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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