1 Once construction started a couple years later, these men used their connections with Governor William Learned Marcy to cut costs on their new project. They got the State of New York to ship their contractors blocks of stone that had already been "dressed" - prepared for construction - by prisoners at the new state penitentiary, Sing Sing. The prison itself had only opened in 1825, and all the labor to build it was done by prisoners. Once the three original stone cellblocks were up, the men jailed there were forced to quarry and cut stone for other state projects - and, as NYU shows, for private contractors with connections as well.
The stone cutters of New York City were already having a hard time in the 1830s. The owners of construction companies had de-skilled a lot of jobs. While a smaller group of highly skilled masons did detail work, stone cutters were "sweated," as the expression went in 1830 - were forced to rough dress the stone for piece rates which kept getting lowered.
The stone cutters formed unions, protested, fought for laws against prison labor being used to drive down wages, and sometimes struck. The dressed stone being shipped down the Hudson to build NYU fueled their anger. In 1834, they erupted in protest. Marching through lower Manhattan in their worn work clothes, carrying not only banners but their hammers and other
heavy tools, they dominated the streets. Soon they began looking for the homes of the contractors who were sweating them, and other enemies.
City officials reacted frantically. Feeling that there was no way the police would be able to stop the stone cutters union, they called out the 27th Regiment of the National Guard. Headed by Colonel Stevens, the troops attacked the demonstration and broke it up. Fighting continued to swirl through the area.
Knowing that the enraged workers planned to attack the construction site at night, city officials would not allow the 27th to return to their nearby armory, but ordered them to set up camp right in Washington Square. Only after three more nights of skirmishing was the situation deemed under control and the Guard pulled out.
2 The Election
Riot of 1834
In the Spring of 1834 party spirit ran very high in this City. We had no registry law, and there was but one voting place in a ward. At the election for Mayor in April Cornelius W. Lawrence was the Jackson Democratic candidate and Gulian C. Verplanck was supported by the Whigs and Independent Democrats. The Election began in a heavy rain storm, in the Eleventh Ward the Jackson Party had two private doors by which to admit their own voters, while their bullies kept the other side from entering at the public door. In most of the Jackson Wards it was all one way and quiet enough, but the Bloody Sixth had a reputation to maintain. Old citizens who have seen the Sixth Ward in a sharply contested election have seen as fair a picture of hell as can be expected on earth.
On the occasion we speak of a gang of Jackson shoulder-hitters, headed by an ex Alderman, and armed with clubs, sling-shots, and knives, broke into the committee-room of the opposing faction and nearly killed some 15 or 20 of them. Then they tore down the banners, destroyed the ballots, and made a wreck of everything. The Whigs asked the Mayor for help, but he would not furnish it, alleging that all his forces were engaged. The Whigs were left to protect themselves and they did it. In these times elections lasted three days. The second morning Masonic Hall was packed with Whigs who meant to crush the mob. They had a
battalion 1,800 strong ready to march at a moment's notice.
This had the effect of keeping the peace and keeping free access to the polls. But the roughs were all the time firing up with drink, and on the third day were ready for anything. Early in the forenoon they tried to capture from a Whig procession the little miniature frigate Constitution. This led to a fierce conflict in front of Masonic Hall. The hall was assaulted, and the Mayor, Sheriff, and 40 Watchmen,
were finally driven off. The Mayor was wounded, and Police Capt. Flagg was killed. The rioters rushed into the hall, and the Whigs were forced to fly through the windows. The Mayor declared the City in insurrection, and called for help from the Navy-yard and Fort Columbus, but the Federal officers could not interfere. Finally, Gen. Sandford called out the military.
The polls were deserted, and word came to the Whigs that the mob were going to attack the Arsenal; but a crowd of citizens made a dash and occupied the Arsenal before the mob
arrived. Finally two squadrons of Calvary came down Broadway, and at sight of them the rioters gave up the conflict. The vote was close, and on the day after its close there were 15,000 people in Wall-street waiting to know the result. Lawrence was successful by a very small majority; but the Whigs had a majority in the Common Council, and that a victory that called forth shouts like peals of thunder from the vast crowd. To wind, a grand mass-meeting was held at Castle Garden, at which Daniel Webster was called upon to speak.