William Macready (1793-1873) was an English actor and manager who made a name for himself when he played Richard III at Covent Garden. The American actor Edwin Forrest quickly marked Macready as his rival. To many Americans, Macready symbolized aristocratic snobbery and oppression, mainly due to his English nationality. By this point, hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants had disembarked at American ports, seeking refuge from the potato famine. They tended to vote Democratic and support urban political machines, and had a long history of oppression at the hands of the English. Thus, their anti-Anglo resentment mixed nicely with the residual sentiments of Americans who still remembered the War of 1812 and the American Revolution, both fought on North American soil against the British.
These convictions were bolstered when news spread that Macready was appearing at Astor Place—an elite, high-priced theater—in May 1849. A mob of Forrest partisans—primarily working-class men—stormed the hated Astor Place Opera House in an attack on Macready, who was performing in Macbeth that night; 22 were killed and over 100 were injured. It was one of the most violent conflicts in urban America between the Revolution and the Civil War. This became an important turning point in the history of theater. Soon thereafter, legislators, theater managers, and the police ended such uprisings for good and regulated the theater as a primarily middle-class domain.