Saturday, October 22, 2011

Poor Versus Rich

On researching Winfield Scott Hancock, a United States general, I encountered an interesting story of his night at the Astor Place Opera House. Since I had already encountered this story when reading about the Pennsylvania born actor, Edwin Forrest, this piqued my interest. Edwin Forrest and British actor, William MaCready had an ongoing antagonism. While both performed in plays in England, the British took MaCready’s side. Now both appeared in New York City, and Forrest became the favorite of the Americans.

The particular night that Hancock attended the theatre, May 10, 1849, a riot broke out. The New York state militia, given the orders to fire into the crowd to stop the rioting, killed twenty-two and wounded thirty-six. Hancock and his three friends became separated and each feared for the safety of the others but left unscathed.

The commentary I’ve read about why the riot happened said that it wasn’t just about Forrest versus MaCready. They only provided the spark. This particular opera house’s location played a part as well as the Irish resentment of what was taking place in Ireland at the time.

The opera house, built in 1847, sat between Broadway and Bowery. Broadway represented the better part of town and Bowery the poor section. The rules at the opera house said that for a man to enter he had to have shaved and wearing evening dress including a clean waistcoat and kid gloves. Those on Bowery Street didn’t have the means to do that and resented the fact that they couldn’t attend a play at this opera house.

The Irish now living in America had a disliking for anyone British. Many had recently arrived in New York because of the Potato Famine in Ireland. (These included some of my ancestors!) Many Irish took part in the riots that night.

The poor resenting the actions of the rich is still going on today. One of my friends posted a picture on Facebook of the October 15, 2011 Occupy Lewisburg protest not long ago. She and her husband had been there and later we had the occasion to talk about why they went. She said, “I researched this movement and it has some bad sides, but I believe in some of what they are saying so we went. I am just tired of a small amount of people having all the wealth in this country while on my street are hungry kids.”

The other parallel is the little bit of Bolivian history that I learned when reading the book, Crossfire by Jeanette Winder. The Revolutionary Nationalist Movement took place in Bolivia in 1950’s. The revolutionaries overthrew the government and one of their actions was to redistribute the land, a Robin Hood type action of taking from the rich to give to the poor.

I don’t personally approve of such policy. Forcibly redistributing wealth is not democratic. The only result from the opera house riot that I can find is that the place soon went bankrupt. No one wanted to appear or attend a place where so many had been killed.

As to Occupy Wall Street? The outcome of this movement is not evident yet.

We can be sure of God’s word. II Chronicles 7:14 runs through my mind. We, who go by the name of Christian, need to consistently hold up our country in prayer.

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