Today in eco-history: Richmond food riots

On April 2, 1863 in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, thousands of people, mostly women, broke into shops and began seizing food and other items before the militia arrived to stop them.

Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederate States during the Civil War) gave a speech and threw money from his pockets to the rioters, asking them to disperse, saying, “You say you are hungry and have no money; here, this is all I have”. The mob stayed put; only when Davis threatened to have militiamen fire on the mob did they disperse.

What were the underlying factors for the food riots?

It was far more profitable for plantation owners to grow cotton and tobacco instead of food. The drought of 1862 created a poor harvest that did not yield enough in a time when food was already scarce. Taxes on agricultural produce were 10%.

Salt, which at the time was the only practical meat preservative, was very expensive (if available at all) because it was an imported item. The Union blockade prevented imports,

And as the cost of war for the Confederate government exceeded the tax revenue, legislation was enacted that exacerbated the situation by devaluing the Confederate currency and inflating prices of goods to a staggering level.

In Richmond, Columbus (Georgia), Macon, Atlanta, and Augusta armed mobs attacked stores and warehouses. In North Carolina, mobs destroyed grocery and dry goods stores. Even the Confederate Army was suffering the same food shortages and was taking food stocks for its own needs.

Today in the U.S., one in five children are suffering from hunger.

Photo: Wikipedia


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People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.