Signed on March 3, the Enrollment Act of 1863 authorized President Lincoln to draft up to 300,000 men. A quota was assigned to each congressional district. If sufficient volunteers failed to be recruited, a lottery would be held to determine who would be forcibly enrolled. Realizing that the draft would be controversial, a provision was built-in allowing draftees to opt out, providing they could either pay a commutation fee of $300 or secure a substitute. This exemption backfired as it furthered the charge by peace Democrats that the conflict was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight”.
Conscription was especially unpopular in New York City. The war had never been popular, particularly after Lincoln’s January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation expanded the war’s purpose. Economic conditions had been exacerbated by the blockade of Southern ports and many of the city’s large population of Irish immigrants were unemployed and resentful of the growing number of free African Americans in the city who were willing to work for lower wages. Because they were not citizens, African Americans were not subject to the draft. Unable to afford the $300 exemption, many Irish residents believed they were being forced to risk their lives for a war that would ultimately result in thousands of formerly enslaved people coming north to compete with them for jobs.