Department Chair

Andrew D. Nicholls, Ph.D.

Date of Award


Access Control

Open Access

Degree Name

History, M.A.


History and Social Studies Education Department


Dr. Kenneth S. Mernitz, Associate Professor of History

First Reader

Dr. Kenneth S. Mernitz, Associate Professor of History

Second Reader

Dr. Andrew D. Nicholls, Chair and Professor of History


This work is pioneering in that it opens discussion and historical inquiry into events of civil unrest in the U.S., both during the Civil War and in 1860s Buffalo, New York. It is the position of this study that events of early civil unrest are boiling points in the development of our great melting pot. Indeed, the more historians explore and understand these moments in American history, the easier it is to see profound epochs relative to America's growing pains. And, although there are many epochs that tell the story of those growing pains, "The Challenge of E. Pluribus Unum: Waterfront Workers During the Civil War in Buffalo, New York", focuses entirely on the social phenomenon of Civil War-era unrest and two riots seen in 1860s Buffalo. Thus, this study works to shed light on the intrinsic relationship between specific issues of the nineteenth century, the formation of an enflamed social climate by 1860, and incidents of Northern unrest during the Civil War.

In chapter one, clarity is brought to what is otherwise a difficult time period to comprehend —the nineteenth century. Therefore, this segment offers a historiography relative to nineteenth century immigration, labor, and racial discrimination, as a way to illuminate a century of rapid change and social conflict. In chapter two, this study narrows its focus to make new connections that add a sense of realism to the material. For instance, chapter two provides an evidence based social assessment of what exactly occupied and directed the minds of riotous nineteenth century Americans. This assessment is achieved by diving into two incendiary social questions, two precedential riots, and one agitating piece of legislation. In particular, these issues and events range from the slavery question, a negative social reaction to the issue of immigration, the impact of two nativist riots (1844 & 1855), to the public's reaction following the Draft Act of 1863. All of which serve as evidence in the rendering of an accurate conclusion to what occupied and directed the minds of riotous nineteenth century Americans.

Moving into the contents of chapter three, an even greater degree of realism is brought to the study as nine Northern riots become the main topic of discussion. Moreover, this section employs a new method by which the motivational grievances, violent actions, and significant outcomes of each incident, act as pillars in a separate assessment to determine what exactly was occurring to the great industrial cities of the North (1861-1865). However, part two of chapter three focuses entirely on two unheard of riots that occurred along Buffalo’s docks and Cobblestone District on August 11, 1862 and July 6, 1863. Compiled from research at the Buffalo History Museum, a frame by frame accounting of what physically occurred, in both incidents, serve as exciting stories that are punctuated with profound historical meaning. Thus what is asserted upon conclusion of this work is that Civil War-era unrest was indeed influenced by two trying social questions, two nativist riots, and the Draft Act of 1863. Likewise, that unrest seen during the 1860s can be understood as pivotal events in a climatic apex brought on by longstanding social and political issues, divisive ideologies, and acts of violence.