The Bowery Boys
Street Corner Radicals and the Politics of Rebellion
by Peter Adams
March 2005, 192pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-275-98538-7
$64, £48, 56€, A87
eBook Available: 978-0-313-04311-6
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Tells the story of the Bowery Boys, portrayed in popular media as a gang of streetwise toughs, they were a political force in the streets of New York before the Civil War with a well-developed agenda for political and economic reform.

In the decades before the Civil War, the miserable living conditions of New York City’s lower east side nurtured the gangs of New York. This book tells the story of the Bowery Boys, one gang that emerged as part urban legend and part street fighters for the city’s legions of young workers. Poverty and despair led to a gang culture that was easily politicized, especially under the leadership of Mike Walsh who led a distinct faction of the Bowery Boys that engaged in the violent, almost anarchic, politics of the city during the 1840s and 1850s. Amid the toppled ballot boxes and battles for supremacy on the streets, many New Yorkers feared Walsh’s gang was at the frontline of a European-style revolution.

A radical and immensely popular voice in antebellum New York, Walsh spoke in the unvarnished language of class conflict. Admired by Walt Whitman and feared by Tammany Hall, Walsh was an original, wildly unstable character who directed his aptly named Spartan Band against the economic and political elite of New York City and New England. As a labor organizer, state legislator, and even U.S. Congressman, the leader of the Bowery Boys fought for shorter working hours, the right to strike, free land for settlers on the American frontier, against child labor, and to restore dignity to the city’s growing number of industrial workers.


"[A] good story ... we emerge at the end with greatly increased knowledge of the Democratic Party, the Whig Party, Tammany Hall and the social conditions of New York in the middle of the nineteenth century."—Journal of American Studies, January 1, 2007

"Did these leaders speak much to or for American workers? The evidence make clear only that they speak to historians in search of an American radical tradition."—American Studies, June 1, 2005

"Long before historians thought of studying history from below, Bowery leader Mike Walsh self-consciously named his newspaper the Subterranean. Adams' study of the political life of the Bowery Boys digs deeply into this underground and reveals the nature of Jacksonian Democracy's left wing."—Timothy Messer-Kruse, Associate Professor and Chair, History Department, University of Toledo

"Forget the romantic picture of the Gangs of New York featured in the recent Hollywood movie. As Peter Adams ably demonstrates in this well-researched book, the Bowery Boys and others had been left behind by the market revolution that swept America in the 19th century, leading them to go embrace a radical political agenda."—Rick Shenkman, author of Presidential Ambition
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