A Land of Cotton

I Wish I was in a Land of Cotton

The two blockbusters of the hour are Django Unchained and Spielberg’s Lincoln. What’s that got to do with any of this? Well, in 1986 a statue of Abraham Lincoln was moved from Platt Fields to a location round the back of Albert Square. It commemorates the words of the US President, spoken as a heartfelt gesture of gratitude to the cotton workers of Manchester who chose to support the fight against slavery at immense personal cost. When the US Civil War started there were half a million cotton workers in Lancashire and the main source of raw material was the good ole cotton-pickin Confederate states of the south, pumped in via Liverpool and the Ship Canal. When Lincoln’s Union imposed a naval blockade on those states, this supply dried up. A huge slump known as ‘The Cotton Famine’ followed. By November 1862, sixty percent of the workforce were idle. Many mill owners and shipping bosses sided with the South and petitioned for military intervention. Liverpool largely supported the Confederacy and it was noted that there were ‘more Confederate flags flying there than in Richmond Virginia’. However in an outstanding show of humanity and moral courage, a huge majority of Manchester workers, unionised and politicised, showed solidarity with the anti-slavery movement. At a mass meeting in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, on New Year’s Eve 1862, a motion was passed urging Lincoln to continue the war, abolish slavery and supporting the blockade. All this in spite of the fact that the action was by now causing the workers to starve. A year later Lincoln wrote the words that are inscribed on the statue: ‘I cannot but regard your decisive utterances on the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country’.

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