|The Great New York Police Riot 1857 And The
Five Points Riot Of New York 1857
1IN THE 1850's,
upset by the extent of Mayor Fernando Wood's control over the city and the corruption in the New York City Municipal Police Force, the New York State
Legislature - hardly less corrupt, but never loath to do
the metropolis a bad turn - passed an act forming the
Metropolitan Police Force, to cover not only New York
City, but also several adjacent communities, including
Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Williamsburg.
The legislature then ordered the dissolution of the
Municipals. Mayor Wood refused to break up the
Municipals, and took the matter to court. Early in 1857
the State Supreme Court - which is the lowest state
court in New York, but that's another matter - ruled
that the legislature had been within its constitutional
rights in forming the Metropolitans and in ordering the
dissolution of the Municipals. Mayor Wood continued to
resist, and the matter went up to the Court of Appeals,
the next highest court in the state.
Meanwhile, of course, during the Spring of 1857, New
York City was "blessed" with two police
forces, the Municipals, under the mayor's jurisdiction
and confined to the city limits, and the Metropolitans,
under the state's authority, and extending over the city
and several nearby communities. The results were
predictable. Friction soon developed between the rival
police forces. On June 14, 1857, The New-York Times
reported that members of the Metropolitan Police Force
had arrested a man for disorderly conduct on East 9th
Street, but that he had been immediately seized by a
member of the Municipal Police Force. A group of the
Metropolitans promptly "remonstrated" with the
Municipal, and soon regained custody of the miscreant,
in the process arresting the Municipal and another city
officer who had attempted to come to his assistance.
Later that day, a mob of Municipals gathered around the
Metropolitan Police Station on East 6th Street. For a
rowdy demonstration. The next day was quite. But on the
16th things grew more serious.
On the 15th, the state-appointed police commission
ordered the arrest of Mayor Wood, on the grounds that he
had not complied with the legislative mandate to disband
the Municipals. The next day, the Metropolitans
attempted to arrest the mayor at City Hall, defended by
scores of Municipals, who had hastily fortified the
building. In the ensuing melee, officers on both sides
wielded truncheons, fists, and pieces of furniture,
though surprisingly refraining from shooting each other.
The outcome was that the Municipals repulsed the
On the 18th, the Metropolitans returned, heavily
reinforced, to storm City Hall. During the ensuing
fight, as a jeering throng of "roughs" joined
in the fray, shouting their support for Mayor Wood.
Things looked bad for the Metropolitans when the militia
showed up, ordered into action by the governor. Led by
the famed 7th New York - the National Guard - the
militiamen routed the defenders, permitting the arrest
of the mayor, though not before about 50 officers were
The forces between the two police forces continued to
feud, but order was restored after the State Court of
Appeals upheld the decision of the Supreme Court on July
2, 1857. With the militia supporting the state
legislature, Mayor Wood had no choice but to disband the
Municipals, a measure made more palatable to the
officers in question by their acceptance into the
2 The Five Points
Riot of New York 1857
In 1857, New York City's native-born elite used the Republican-controlled New York State Assembly to try to oust Mayor Wood and force genteel behavior on the Irish working poor. Their efforts led to the Five Points riot of 1857.
The State Assembly passed two laws in April 1857. The first law disbanded the New York City police department, a Tammany stronghold. To take police power away from Mayor Wood, the Assembly created a new unit, the Metropolitan Police, which would answer only to the Assembly.
The Metropolitan Police was also created to enforce the Assembly's second law, which reduced the number of licensed saloons in the city, limited the amount a person could drink, and closed all saloons on Sundays.
Many Irish working people saw these laws as a direct attack on their way of life. Some Five Points residents decided to resist. On Sunday, July 4th, the first day the laws took effect, Five Pointers celebrated Independence Day with saloons open and full, as was traditional. When the Metropolitan Police tried to enter the neighborhood, the Five Points riot began.
The July 4th riot began with fists and rocks and escalated to include clubs and guns. On one side there was the Irish of the Five Points, led by a gang of young working men known as the "Dead Rabbits." On the other side was the Metropolitan Police and a gang of native-born working men called the "Bowery Boys." After hours of battling, which left scores injured and twelve dead, the fighting slowly subsided.