5. New York City Police Riot of 1857

mayor fernando wood 1860s civil war untapped cities samantha sokol new yorkNYC Mayor Fernando Wood. Photo taken between 1855 and 1865. Image via Library of Congress

In 1857, the Great Police Riot occurred in front of New York City Hall that pitted the Municipal police against Metropolitan officers after Mayor Fernando Wood appointed Charles Devlin over Daniel Conover for the city street commissioner position. There were suspicions that Devlin paid wood $50,000 for the office, and the Metropolitan officers attempted to arrest Wood for corruption. Wood drastically increased corruption within the city, even putting forth a motion for Manhattan to secede from the Union, and as a result, the New York state legislature relieved him of control over city police. The Municipal Police were then ordered to disband and turn property over to the Metropolitan Police Department, yet they refused and coexisted with the Metropolitans for two months.

After the death of the previous street commissioner, Conover was chosen to take his place, yet Conover was forcibly removed from City Hall after Wood informed him that Devlin was appointed. Conover obtained two warrants to arrest Wood for inciting a riot and for violence against Conover. Metropolitans Captain George Walling attempted to carry out the arrest but was thrown out into the street. On the steps of City Hall, the Municipals and the Metropolitans fought before the Metropolitans were forced from the building, and 53 men were injured during the riot. However, after the Metropolitans convinced the commander of a passing navy ship that they had the legal right to arrest Wood, Wood agreed to submit although he was released one hour later. For the next few months, both police organizations interfered with each other’s arrests, and this disorganization led to the Dead Rabbits riot, a citywide gang war between the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys.