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Philadelphia Election Riot

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Title: Philadelphia Election Riot  
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Subject: Philadelphia Nativist Riots
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Philadelphia Election Riot

The Philadelphia Election Riot in 1742 was a riot by the Anglicans who sought to break the longstanding Quaker political dominance in Philadelphia. As up to one-third of the population were Germans, the Quakers had successfully courted their vote based on Quaker pacifism, seen by the Germans as protection from the draft and high taxes.[1]

Quaker domination was threatened by their declining share of the population, while the Anglican-based proprietary party, led by William Allen, sought to woo the German vote. From 1739 to 1740 efforts courting the German vote tripled the voter turnout.[1]Failing to win the favor of the German vote, Allen and his fellow Anglicans sought instead to amend the election process by reviving a 1739 election law that provided party-specific election inspectors.[2]Failing to secure a compromise, the two parties, hurdled towards confrontation on Election Day.[2]

Tensions came to a head on election day, October 1,[3] with Allen nominated in the election for inspector. Rumors claimed that the Quakers were attempting to bring large numbers of non-naturalized German immigrants to the polls and that the Anglicans were supporting bands of vigilantes to attack them.[1]

When the two parties were unable to agree on methods to supervise the election, a group of seventy sailors, shouting anti-Quaker oaths, cheering for Allen and wielding clubs attacked the Germans and Quakers assembled at the Courthouse to vote. In response to a hail of bricks, the Germans (and, uncharacteristically, perhaps some Quakers) responded with violence,[1] albeit defensive.[4]

With the sailors driven back, the Quakers retreated into the Courthouse, bolting the doors behind themselves. The Anglicans, apparently believing one or more of the sailors was being held hostage, regrouped to attack the Courthouse.[4]

A Quaker spokesman managed to convince the rioters that there were no hostages, somewhat quelling the violence. At this point, a number of Germans and Quakers, armed by the Sheriff to defend their rights,[4] counter-attacked the Anglicans, driving the attackers from the area and allowing the elections to proceed.[1][4]


In the aftermath of the riot, the Anglicans' proprietary party lost the election in a landslide. Reports show that many voters had altered their original ballots, crossing out their original vote for the proprietary party and instead voting for the Quaker party.[4]

Fifty-four sailors and party leaders were jailed. Allen, the proprietary leader, in an effort to clear his name, sued one of the Quaker leaders for claiming that Allen had planned to assault. The matter was turned over to the Quaker-led Assembly (over Allen's objections) for investigation. The Assembly cast the investigation as the result of public outcry, when it is likely none truly existed.[4]

After questioning 49 witnesses, most of whom were Quakers and including none of the sailors, the Assembly ruled that Allen, his business partner, the mayor and two others (all Anglicans) should be investigated for being negligent in their duties and subverting the Pennsylvania Charter. Allen was ruled the instigator of the riot. After months of investigation, they turned the matter over to the Quaker-controlled Supreme Court.[4]

The Governor, an Anglican, stated that the city's Mayor's Court had jurisdiction, meaning the Recorder, Alderman and Mayor (all Anglicans) would hear the case. The Assembly protested that the Mayor was one of the accused and would be hearing his own case.[4]

Eventually, a Quaker-devised compromise was reached. Charges were withdrawn, as was the original slander suit, and steps were taken to define election procedures and prevent future riots.[4]

See also

Philadelphia portal


Coordinates: 39°57′00″N 75°08′37″W / 39.9500°N 75.1437°W / 39.9500; -75.1437

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