About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for The Fires of Philadelphia: Citizen-Soldiers, Nativists, and the 1844 Riots Over the Soul of a Nation

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s virtual author lecture with Zachary M. Schrag, author of The Fires of Philadelphia, which describes the events surrounding the anti-immigration riots in Philadelphia in 1844.

Before we begin, though, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming programs you can view on our YouTube channel.

* * *

On Thursday, July 8, at noon, Amy Sohn will discuss The Man Who Hated Women—her new book about anti-vice activist and U.S. Postal Inspector Anthony Comstock.

And on Thursday, July 15, at noon, we’ll hear from Paul Letersky, who in 1965 was assigned to assist the legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Letersky’s new book,  The Director, describes his years in Hoover’s inner circle.

* * *

When we live through periods of unrest, people may be tempted to look nostalgically to the “better days” in the past. A thoughtful, closer look at those long-gone days, however, may reveal that the conflicts of the present have deep roots in the past.

Several times in the two and half centuries of our history, the established have set themselves against those considered “outsiders.” The question “who is an American?” is asked again and again. In Philadelphia in 1844, the objects of attack were Irish Catholic immigrants. Incited by nativists seeking social and political power, rioters pursued people and destroyed buildings.

The book we’ll hear about today—The Fires of Philadelphia—relates an episode unfamiliar to many, in an era that is often overlooked in U.S. history survey classes.

* * *

Zachary M. Schrag studies cities, technology, and public policy in the United States in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

He is the author of three other books: The Great Society Subway, Ethical Imperialism, and The Princeton Guide to Historical Research. His scholarly articles and essays have been published in several journals, magazines, and newspapers.

He has received grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Gerald Ford Foundation, and the Library of Congress and has been awarded the Society for American City and Regional Planning History’s John Reps Prize and the Journal of Policy History's Ellis Hawley Prize.

Our moderator for today’s program is Dan Horner, an urban historian of 19th-century British North America. He is the author of Taking to the Streets, which received the Canadian Historical Association’s Clio Award for the best work on Quebec History in 2020. He is an associate professor and the chair of the department of criminology at Ryerson University in Toronto, where he teaches courses on public order, urban space, and historical criminology.

Now let’s hear from Zachary Schrag and Dan Horner. Thank you for joining us.