Know-Nothing Riot of 1856

The Know-Nothing Riot of 1856, some of the worst rioting of the Know-Nothing era in the United States, occurred in Baltimore in the fall of 1856. Street tensions had escalated sharply over the preceding half-dozen years as neighborhood gangs, most of them operating out of local firehouses, became increasingly involved in party politics.

The American Party, also known as Know Nothings, had gained control of the local government during the October 1854 municipal election, making Samuel Hinks mayor and winning a majority in the Baltimore City Council. The party lost ground at the subsequent municipal election the following year. In 1856, both the Americans and their Democratic party rivals girded for the coming contests.

The campaign season opened with a deadly September confrontation between American Party members and Democrats on Federal Hill. Partisans battled over the following weeks. At the October municipal election, the fighting was far worse. Rip Raps clashed with the Democratic rowdies of the New Market Fire Company at Lexington Market. Plug Uglies fought with Democrats in the Eighth Ward, which was popularly known as "Limerick" because of its large Irish population. Five partisans died in the combat, including an American who had come up from Washington, D.C.. At the November presidential election, the fighting was more severe yet. One died near Fell's Point and eleven in the neighborhood of the Bel Air Market in the northeastern section of the city.

Emphasis must be placed on the fact that the partisans involved were overwhelmingly well-known fighting men with deep connections to the street violence of the fire companies. During the fighting at Lexington Market, Rip Raps specifically targeted the house of Petty Naff, the New Market's most notorious rowdy. The violence was not a spontaneous event but a well-organized, well-planned series of assaults committed by experienced combatants.

References

*Melton, Tracy Matthew. "Hanging Henry Gambrill: The Violent Career of Baltimore's Plug Uglies, 1854-1860" (2005)

ee also

*United States presidential election, 1856


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