Monday, March 1, 2010

Lager Beer Riot, April 21st 1855

In our class, we discussed the Haymarket Riot in 1886. The German-Americans were believed to participate in the Haymarket Riot heavily. However, this riot was not Chicago’s first civil disturbance. The first one, the Lager Beer Riot, was also under the influence of German-Americans.

In mid 1800’s the extreme conservative group “Law and Order” won the election for mayor. But the mayor was anti-immigrant and a temperance supporter. In order to “reduce crime” in Windy City, he ordered that the liquor license fee should raise 600 percent to $300. He also reenacted the statute that no alcohol may be sold on Sundays. These two enactments were targeting the German immigrants who were used to spend their Sundays drinking beers. What was more, Mayor Boone asked the police to check whether the residents abided the statute. The German gathered together as usual and enjoyed their leisure time with beer on the first Sunday after the law was enacted. Then police arrived and arrested more than two hundred German saloon and tavern owners because of their resistance to close down their business. The trial was scheduled on April 21st, 1855. On April 21st, protesters clashed with police, and the police fired at the protesters, resulting some casualties. The riot ended soon, but it called for unification of immigrants in Chicago to strive for political rights. In June, the statute was put to a city-wide vote and prohibitionists lost. Within a year, the German and Irish defeated the nativists in election and restored to $50 license in the city. More importantly, the riot ended the era of nonpartisanship in elections.

It is also interesting to compare the descriptions of this incident from different news sources.

This is the link to the detailed description of the event on the website of Germany’s overseas cultural institute. This article emphasized the fact that Mayor Boone hated the immigrants, especially Germans. “Boone had a bone to pick Germans.” The article also described the act of protestors as quite peaceful in the beginning: “a crowd of 300 barkeepers approached the Courthouse Square completed with fife and drum.” “Though incensed, the crowd backed off without a fight.”

The first link is the initial description of the event on New York Times on April 23rd, 1855. This article emphasized that the Germans and Irish were “intoxicated” when they passed through the streets. By implying that these immigrants were mostly laborers of low status, the article implicitly accused these workers of bringing troubles to the Windy City. Later in the article, the writer wrote “a general fight ensued”, which contradicted the first article claiming that the crowd were calm and “backed off without a fight.” This article, written at the government’s side, did not write about the actual cause of the protest, therefore making readers infer that the German immigrants were mobs and they made the city dangerous.
The second link was another report on New York Times on April 26th, 1855. The article mainly lauded the government’s (police and military) efforts to suppress the mobs and protestors during the riot.
From the above two news reports, we see that the New York Times tried its best to present the government as peace-maker; meanwhile it omitted some crucial facts that justified the protestors’ fierce actions on purpose.

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