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Definition of Riot, Mob and Crowd

Understanding Causes and Consequences of Riots
The Negro Riot of 1712

The New York Conspiracy-1741

The Riot of 1764 and The Stamp Act Riot-1765

The Liberty Pole Struggle and Riot 1766-1776

The Doctor's Riot 1788

The Whorehouse Riots of 1793

The New York Stonecutters Riot Against Prison Labor and The Election Riot of 1834

Abolition Riots 1834-1836

The Bread Riot of 1837 and The South Ferry Riot of 1846

A Serious Riot in Williamsburg City 1853 and A Riot in Brooklyn City 1853

The Firemen's Riot 1853 and The Angel Gabriel Riot 1854

The Irish and Know Nothing's Riot 1854

The Riot After Bill Poole's Funeral 1855

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Ferdinand Suydam started business in New York City on his own account at No. 37 Front Street in 1808.



Definition of Riot, Mob and Crowd

RIOT: A FORM OF CRIMINAL OFFENSE  against the public peace, consisting in the assembly of three or more persons with intent mutually to assist each other against anyone who shall oppose them in the execution of some enterprise of a private nature.

Afterwards actually executing the same in a violent and turbulent manner to the terror of the people, whether the act intended were itself lawful or unlawful. At common law the offense, unless it resulted in some more serious crime, was a misdemeanor: but in case the riot caused loss of life or serious bodily injury, the rioter might be punished for the felony committed.

If the riotous enterprise is of a public nature, in that it is directed toward the Government with the purpose of overthrowing or destroying it, the offense is treason. The assembly need not be planned by the rioters in advance. It is enough to constitute the crime if there is the actual assembly resulting in the tumultuous execution of the private enterprise. The crime may be committed also if the rioters do not specifically intend to terrify others, if such is the natural or necessary consequence of their riotous acts.

When there is an assembly of three or more persons for some riotous purpose under such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable apprehension on the part of others of a breach of the peace, although no actual public disturbance does result, the offense is known as unlawful assembly. If some steps are taken toward the execution of the unlawful or riotous purpose which, however, fall short of actual public disturbance, the offense is known as a rout. Thus if these persons assemble for the purpose of assaulting another in the public street of a city, they are guilty of unlawful assembly. While on their way to the place of attack or making other active preparations for the attack they are guilty of rout, and upon the execution of their purpose by committing the public assault they are guilty of riot.


Psychologically, a group of people in direct contact who strongly interact upon each other and act under the influence of suggestion and emotion rather than of reason. A crowd may be said to be more stable than a mob and also to lack its intense common emotional element. However, under conditions of stress or danger, a crowd may quickly turn into a mob. Throughout history, fervent and often hysterical leaders have succeeded in driving crowds to acts of mob like heroism as well as to extreme brutality. In a mob the individual is in a state of heightened suggestibility not unlike that prevailing in hypnosis. Differing from the isolated individual, the member of the mob, by reason of his loss of controlling inhibitions, is capable of behaving in a manner foreign to his everyday manner.


In the popular sense, an aggregation of individuals, regardless of their character or the purposes which brought them together. The psychological signification of a crowd is different. The aggregation becomes a crowd only "when the sentiments and ideas of all the persons in the gathering take one and the same direction, and their conscious personality vanishes." A half dozen individuals gathered together may become a crowd more easily than hundreds assembled accidentally.

The most distinctive characteristic of a crowd is that the individuals composing it do not think and act as each one would think and act independently. Back of the avowed causes of our acts are unconscious motives or forces that defy investigation, and these are the mainsprings of crowd activity. They are the common characteristics of the race, and it is in these points that people are more alike than in the acquired characteristics which result from education. It is owing to the fact that these forces which are requisite for crowd or mob activity are the primitive ones, that crowds are incapable of rising above very mediocre intellectual attainments. This also explains why the crowd descends in the scale of civilization below the average individuals composing it. If this were not true, it would be impossible to explain the conduct of otherwise respectable people at lynchings and the degrading forms of torture imposed by them.

The causes which determine the appearance of the characteristics of the crowd are: (1) a sentiment of invincible power; (2) suggestion; and (3) contagion. Through the mere force of numbers, and also through the irresponsibility of the individual of the crowd, a feeling of invincible power takes possession of him. Nothing is permitted to stand between him and the realization of his aims. On this account the soldier in battle, acting under a common impulse, is braver and stronger than he would be otherwise. By means of suggestion, contagion in the crowd is produced; the individuals are more or less in a hypnotic state; and the individual will and personality disappear in a common purpose or aim.

Crowds are not premeditative; they are impulsive and mobile. Aroused one minute to acts of generosity and heroism, they may descend the next to acts of extreme violence and torture. They are credulous, believing things wholly incomprehensible to those outside of crowd influence.

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