The film begins in 1846 and quickly jumps to the early 1860s. The two principal issues of the era in New York were Irish immigration to the city and the Federal government's execution of the Civil War. The story follows Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in his roles as crime boss and political kingmaker under the helm of Boss Tweed.  
 
The film culminates in a confrontation between Cutting and his mob with the protagonist Amsterdam Vallon and his immigrant allies, which coincides with the New York Draft Riots of 1863.

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