Richmond, Virginia, March 7, 1862, Nevill C. Blacklidge, Special Correspondent
This week is the fourth anniversary of the memorable March 4th, 1858 speech of Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina, known simply as his “Cotton Is King Speech” speech. We have this week received a letter written some three weeks ago by our British acquaintance, Mr. John Watts, author of a series of articles in the Manchester Evening Post on the topic of “The Current Cotton Famine.” He reports that some eighty-five percent of the workers in the great textile mills in his area are now without cotton and, consequently, without work. A review the predictions made by Senator Hammond compared to Mr. Watts’ most recent article we believe will prove that the Senator’s predictions have been proven beyond any doubt.
Imagine you are in the Senate gallery and a distinguished man has just risen in response to Senator Douglas of Illinois to question his claims for popular sovereignty, and tto answer the retorts of Senator William Seward of New York that it is in reality “squatter sovereignty”. Senator Hammond first spoke to Senator Seward’s claims that the voting frauds in Kansas were all committed by pro-slavery southerners.
“Mr. Seward would have us believe that the regiments of immigrants recruited in the North and armed with Sharpe’s rifles, Bowie knives, and revolvers were simply lambs sent to the slaughter under their gentle leader, General Lane. If there were frauds in voting, they were equal on each side. Since there is to be sectional warfare, it is time for the South to consider the advantages of being a separate nation. There are a number of causes. The threats of the North are many and start with the plan to restrict slavery to its present territory, followed by the reconstruction of the Supreme Court, the plundering of the South through higher tariffs, laws impeding navigation, a new national bank to concentrate all finances in the North, and the forced emancipation of our slaves.
“As a separate nation what resouces would the South have? A territory as large as Britain, even larger than the North with the addition of Minnesota and Kansas, three miles of coastline, the mighty Mississippi Valley, and the soon to be acknowledged seat of a world trading empire, a populaation four times that of the original thirteen colonies, and in another generation those to the north will be trading partners with the South, and political opposition will end. Although the North has 50 percent more population, there is no staple crop the South cannot produce. In exports worth $279,000,00 by my calculations, the South produced $185,000,000 the North $95,000,000. In addition some $30,000,000 in cotton is sent to the North each year.
“As a separate nation the South would have export revenue of $40,000,000 annually. There would be no need for an army or navy, because who would attack a nation raising cotton; who would make war on cotton? It is commerce that breeds war, and the hawking world-wide of manufactured goods that requires a navy. We could without firing a gun, in three years bring the world to its feet, simply by not planting cotton during that time period. It would better for the market to plant half as much annually, but imagine none for three years. The South could endure this, but what of others as the laborers in the great cotton mills of England?Engalnd would fall. The Bank of England last fall attempted to play king and place the screws on the South and failed. With no cotton for three years, England would fall. Cotton is king!
“When Senator Seward said yesterday that rest of the world had abolished slavery, he did not mention the working poor found on any street in any city of the North. Our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; as an inferior race we have elevated their social status. In the North, your slaves are white, of your same race and if they had the power of the ballot box they would divide the land and restructure the government. As it is, they have only the poorest shelter and food. There are more beggars in New York City than the entire South. What if we sent lecturers to the North to urge these workers to throw off their chains and exercise their franchise; would they be welcomed? Our slaves are happy, content, unaspiring, and utterly incapabable, from intellectual degradation, ever to give us any trouble by their aspirations. Still, you send abolitionists to tell them they deserve better and that any laborer in the North has a better life as a free man. In reality, they are free to be underpaid and exploited manual laborers, their pay dictated by a false labor market that drives down wages. Imagine the condition of Massachsetts alone if we exported no cotton to the North. The North wants to open the West to hordes of semi-barbarian emigrants taking their meager propety with them; we in the South ask the same right to expand our agriculture and take our propery with us. The West should be open to all!
“The South, we slaveholders, saved this young nation and have led it through the last seven decades; we wrote the Constitution and we have preserved conservative values and send some $140,000,ooo to the North each year. What we have done to make this nation can never be denied; we have made this a prosperous nation, and we will soon leave to create a prosperous nation of our own; we have the skills and the determination. We will soon free ourselves from the repression of the North, and Europe will look to us for exports and culture.”
[Editor's note: Mr. Watts begins his letter with a review of the past year. By coincidence, three years to the day after Senator Hammond 's speech, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th and possibly the last abolitionist President of the United States.]
Manchester, February 14th, 1862
I am writing to include a series of my recent articles on the “Cotton Famine” and also this letter to update you on our situation here. Feel free to publish part or all of this letter and the articles so that your readers in the Confederacy will better appreciate our true situation here.
Even with the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln and the firing on Ft. Sumpter, no one here believed in the possibility of war. Either there would be some agreement reached or there would be an amicable parting, and the South would be allowed to live in peace. Did not your famous New York newspaper editor, Mr. Horace Greeley, even say to let you go? Those who thought the Confederate States would never come into being under a central authority were wrong. Those also who thought in the North that the war would end in 90 days were equally wrong. Lincoln eliminated the Douglas compromises with slavery and vowed slavery could exist where it was already, but it was not to be introduced into the territories. While the Constitution protected slavery, war said Lincoln made the constitutional protections invalid.
The election year for you in 1860 was a year of tremendous profits in the great textile mills; there were half a million employed, and the wages were at the highest point ever reached. Those who invested in cotton mills had a return of thirty or forty percent profits. Then came the news of the war in America, but there was a certainty that the South would continue to sell cotton, and the mills had a four months’ supply at Christmas 1861, and there had been steady imports for the past three months. Other sources would provide a twelve months’ supply and the five months’ stock held by the merchants would be sold.
Prices remained constant through most of 1861, then later last year speculators moved in and the price of raw cotton began to rise without any increased demand for the finished product. The blockade of southern ports seemed at first a paper blockade, but then as supplies diminished, there was the feeling from the South that if Cotton was King, then Britain would have to intervene on the side of the South to protect the supply line.
The mills first began to run short in October, and the first indications were those seek poor law relief from the guardians of the funds in the unions; it was too early for out-door labourers to apply. The mid-winter high numbers had come three months early, but in October there were only 3,000 applications among 28 unions, then in November came 7,000 then in December 7,000 more, by January there were 16,000 more, and 9,000 more at the last count in mid-February. Soup kitchens were suggested but many unemployed are too proud to ask for aid and are consequently foodless. In terms of persons with no money for food, there are in Ashton 3,197, in Stockport 8,588 and in Preston 9 ,488, and the numbers are growing daily. Committees are now forming to aid these people. Overall, pauperism has risen some 131 percent over last year.
People want cheap calico, and they do not care whether it is from free labour or slave labour. Had they known the costs, even a farthing more and many would not have advocated the end to colonial slavery. What the the policy of Her Majesty’s Government will be or if relief is coming is unknown at this point. I know you are hoping for the blockade to be broken and the free passage of arms and money, but only time will tell.