Publication Date

March 2020




UVA Press


The New York City riots of July 1863 exhibited the potential of the violent tension that ran in a steady stream throughout the Northern states during the middle of the Civil War. As white New Yorkers rioted to oppose the Enrollment Act of 1863 imposed by the United States government, they quickly turned their ire toward African Americans, with deeply seated white supremacy and racially motivated fear prompting their deadly reprisals against innocent black New Yorkers. Sadly, as illustrated by Paul Escott’s needed new book, The Worst Passions of Human Nature: White Supremacy in the Civil War North, the white supremacy that underlay the New York riots was the norm, not the exception. In a succinct style, Escott has captured the ubiquitous white supremacy in the Civil War North that often threatened to undermine the Union war effort and stood as an obstacle to the fulfillment of the promise of freedom. Escott’s work is a necessary contribution to a Civil War historiography that sometimes overlooks the extent of white supremacy on the Northern home front. His work also proves that although ample strides were made by Northerners to secure freedom for African Americans, white supremacy was a cancerous obstacle to such efforts throughout the war and remained strong after the conflict.