You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

The Baltimore Slavery Riot

Lawrence Bush
April 18, 2017

Pro-slavery forces in Baltimore, a city that had given Abraham Lincoln only 1,100 of more than 30,000 votes cast the previous November, rioted on this date in 1861 as Union soldiers from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts arrived to secure the town, situated dangerously close to Washington, DC. The riot erupted only six days after hostilities had begun in the Civil War; Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas had not yet seceded, and Maryland was among the border states that had not yet declared. The deeply divided city of Baltimore was home to 25,000 free blacks, the country’s largest concentration, as well as an active abolitionist community. It was also home to America’s most outspoken abolitionist rabbi, David Einhorn, who would be driven from his pulpit on April 23rd and forced to flee to Philadelphia when a pro-slavery mob attacked his newspaper and threatened to tar and feather him. Soldiers fired on rioters during the violence, and Baltimore would essentially be an occupied city throughout the Civil War.

“Soldiers came to [Einhorn] with proof that his name was listed among those proscribed by the secessionist instigators of the riots. Rabbi Einhorn refused to leave Baltimore. A group of young men of his congregation, armed for guard duty, set up a cordon around his home to protect him and his family. Finally, on the fourth day of the rioting, April 22, he consented to leave, for his family’s sake, proposing to return as soon as law and order were restored in the city. He never did return. Har Sinai was so riddled by political differences and so many members were so thoroughly frightened by the violence of the rioters, that the only condition on which they would consent to the their rabbi’s return was that he promise to refrain from political controversy.”--Temple Oheb Shalom website

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.