Thursday, August 15, 2013

New York City's Passion Play

"The Passion Play is a dramatic presentation depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ: his trial, suffering and death [by crucifixion].  It is a traditional part of Lent in several Christian denominations."

Anti-Semitism: "Many Passion Plays historically blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus in a polemical fashion, depicting a crowd of Jewish people condemning Jesus to crucifixion and a Jewish leader assuming eternal collective guilt for the crowd for the murder of Jesus, which...'for centuries prompted vicious attacks — or pogroms — on Europe's Jewish communities.'"  This is historically and theologically problematic.   Jesus and all of his followers were Jews.  Most of the population of Israel at the time had no idea what was going on in Jerusalem.  The Roman authorities sentenced Jesus to torture and execution.  Theologically blaming the Jews collectively is problematic since the central tenet of Christian tradition is that Christ died to absolve all of mankind for its sins.

The 1863 Draft Riots are New York City's secular version of the Passion Play.   It is celebrated in traditional observances by The New York Times (e.g. New York's Mixed Race Riot,, City University of New York (e.g. Seeing the New York Draft Riots), Hollywood (Gangs of New York), and television (e.g. BBC's Copper seriesBBC Copper Resurrects Five Points).   The Times "Disunion" series recently has repeatedly and egregiously positioned the Irish as rioters and rebels, neglecting the immense Irish contribution to saving the Union.

In New York's secular Passion Play, the city's African Americans are substituted for Christ and Irish immigrants are saddled with collective guilt for the deaths of New York's black citizens.

The underlying theology for the "secular" New York Passion Play depiction is rooted in the traditional sectarian and ethnic prejudices of Puritan New England and the British Isles. 

Like anti-Semitic Passion Plays, the New York version is historically problematic.
  • The overwhelming majority of the 122 riot dead were "rioters", mostly shot by the army. 
  • Although many of those arrested during the riots had Irish names, the majority of the 400 arrested didn't. 
  • Most of the riot deaths occurred north of 14th street.  Below 14th street, 8 of the 16 deaths were clustered in Little Germany's 11th Ward.  Draft Riot Death Map 
  • The overwhelming majority of the city's population didn't riot, including its Irish immigrants (i.e., there were no riot deaths in the "Irish" 6th Ward, or the 14th Ward, home of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral).   
  • No units from the Gettysburg fighting or the Army of the Potomac were sent to New York City to put down the riots.  None, zero, nada.  A few militia regiments were returned to the city from the defenses of Harrisburg, PA, but by the time they arrived most of the trouble had subsided.
  • The largest riot crowd (5000+) gathered at Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in the 14th Ward.   This was a non-violent gathering called by Archbishop Hughes to condemn violence in the city. 
  • Most of the police who fought the rioters were Irish
  • New York City was a victim of its own loyalties.  The Great Militia Mobilization of 1863 stripped the city of self-defense militia (15,000+ strong), leaving it without the overwhelming force it normally had on hand to preempt wanton rioting. 
  • New York State sent 27 militia regiments to defend Pennsylvania in June of 1863.  20 came from New York City.  No other state sent their militia to help Pennsylvania, except for one from New Jersey.
  • New York City was overwhelmingly loyal to the Union, despite efforts of commercial interests connected to the South.  The city provided 200,000 soldiers and sailors to the Union cause.  20,000 of them died during the war.  200+ of the city's soldiers and sailors were awarded the Medal of Honor.   Most of the soldiers were immigrants and by far the largest group were Irish.
  • New York City units fought valiantly throughout the war despite horrific losses, before and after Emancipation.  The city's Irish Brigade is a storied unit that gave Notre Dame University a nickname (carried there by its chaplains), but it's a small part of the story.  Immigrants in the city's German Ranger regiment died at Spotsylvania and the Wilderness in horrible numbers.  Irish immigrants who were turned away at Boston, enlisted at New York instead, forming the core of the 40th New York Volunteers.  The 40th had over 200 casualties during the Peninsula battles in 1862,  123 at Fredericksburg on the eve of Emancipation, 150 at Gettysburg, and long after Emancipation over 300 casualties in 1864 in the Spotsylvania and Wilderness fighting, by then it had been reinforced with the survivors from other city regiments, notably the 37th New York Irish Rifles.   Patrick Doherty survived capture at Bull Run to lead the 16th New York when it hunted down John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of Lincoln.  Doherty's funeral in 1897 was held at my family's church, St. Charles Boromeo, in Harlem.
  • The principal instigators and many riot leaders weren't Irish:
          -- Samuel Morse, Puritan scion, graduate of Yale University
          -- Manton Marble, Puritan scion, graduate of the University of Rochester
          -- Horatio Seymour, Puritan scion, Hobart College and Norwich University, NY Governor
          -- George Curtis, Puritan scion, graduate of Harvard
          -- August Belmont, German immigrant
              Belmont was national leader for the Democrats and an in-law of John Slidell.
              Slidell, Columbia educated, New York born with Scots roots, Confederate ambassador
          -- Richard Sears McCulloh, scion of an old Scots Protestant Maryland family,
graduate of Princeton,
                 Columbia University professor of chemistry at Columbia University at the time of the riots
                 Possibly the riots principal arsonist.  Turned up in Richmond after the riots,
                 offering to make weapons of mass destruction for the  Confederacy.
          -- John Andrews, VIRGINIA
          -- Nelson Edwards, England
          -- Mark Silva, England