Over the summer of 1851 around six million visitors flocked to London to visit the Great Exhibition, held in the Crystal Palace, which had been specially built in Hyde Park. There they marvelled at the wealth and the wonders of Britain and her colonies. In the midst of this great pageant of national and imperial self-confidence The Times carried an article describing the relationship between Britain and a former colony. ‘For all practical purposes’, it stated, ‘the United States are far more closely united with this kingdom than any one of our colonies, and keep up a perpetual interchange of the most important good offices: taking our manufactures and our surplus population and giving us in return the materials, of revenue and of life.’1 When it came to trade and investment the United States, the colony that had been so disastrously lost in the 1770s, mattered more than any of the territories over which the Union flag still fluttered. Even India, then under the proxy rule of the East India Company, counted less than America. In the age of free trade, British goods poured into America’s booming cities and American raw materials streamed across the Atlantic to Britain. These flows were mirrored by pulsating surges of money. The United States was the favoured destination for British capital and British banks were instrumental in financing the construction of the cities and factories of the rapidly industrializing Northern states. Many of the same banks and credit houses were active in financing the great agricultural boom that had moved along the Mississippi Valley, a booming monoculture economy that had hugely enriched the Southern states. Britain’s banks possessed such vast reserves of investment capital in the 1850s partly because Britain’s factories and industrial regions were so far in advance of her competitors. Britain in the middle of the nineteenth century accounted for around a quarter of all world exports, and that enormous share of world trade was set to increase. While most commentators revelled in the nation’s industrial predominance, more cautious voices pointed to the dependence of a worryingly high number of the nation’s factories on raw materials imported from America. The industrial revolution that had enabled Victorian Britain to become an economic superpower is often imagined as a great burst of heavy industry, an orgy of smelting, hammering, riveting and forging. Yet in the North-West of England the sounds that wafted over the valleys of industrialized Lancashire and Cheshire were not the thuds of heavy machinery or the roars of the blast furnace but the rhythmic chatter of the power loom and spinning jenny. Here industry and wealth rested upon the mastery of fine precision movement and repeatability. In that region and in smaller clusters elsewhere in the British Isles, mass production on an unprecedented scale had been perfected and new ways of life, new relationships to time and new family structures had all yielded to the discipline of the factory and the factory clock. The most important and profitable of all the goods that flowed out of the coal-blackened cities of northern England in the middle of the nineteenth century were cotton cloth, chintzy fabrics, thread and finished clothing. By 1860 cotton goods accounted for 40 per cent of all British exports.2 The geography of the Industrial Revolution was shaped by the requirements of cotton. The North-West of England, the region that came to dominate the industry, was blessed with numerous fast-flowing rivers in which waterwheels could be built and from which power could be drawn. Those rivers were fast-flowing because of the North-West’s high rainfall and humidity. The humidity proved critical in another respect, as the damp atmosphere prevented the cotton threads and fibres from drying out and snapping. Later, when ‘the iron muscles of the steam-engine’ were harnessed to accelerate and further mechanize the production of cotton thread and the weaving of cotton fabric, Lancashire once again seemed to have been blessed. Almost providentially all the great mill towns of the region, with the sole exception of Preston, had by chance been built near or in some cases on the Lancashire coalfields.3 One of the by-products of burning coal was coal gas: it rapidly replaced candles in the mills, providing the mill owners with a far cheaper source of artificial light that allowed them to profitably extend the working day and increase returns.
The cotton industry had started in earnest in Lancashire in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. Some of the initial capital invested in the cotton trade had been accumulated through Britain’s triangular slave trade, as had much of the business acumen that was a feature of the early cotton entrepreneurs. Decades of slave-trading and sugar-trading had brought into being complex networks of finance and credit that helped the cotton industry advance at a rapid speed. As cotton moved from a cottage industry that fitted around older rhythms of rural life into factories and mills, other lessons learnt from New World slavery were applicable. Management techniques and methods of labour accounting drew their inspiration from the plantations of the West Indies. The cotton goods produced in the mills that grew up around Manchester were themselves commodities within the Atlantic economy. Raw cotton, some of it grown by enslaved Africans in the West Indies, was processed into cloth and clothes in English mills and was then sold to the slave-traders of Liverpool. Some of these ‘Manchester Cottons’ were then shipped to the slave coasts of Africa on the first leg of the slave-traders’ triangular journeys. There they were offered to the African and Afro-European coastal slave-traders in exchange for captive Africans. Some of the cheaper Manchester cotton was dyed and patterned to resemble higher quality Indian cotton cloth that had long been sought after in Africa.4 Other Manchester cloth, recognizable by its coarse checked pattern, was sold in vast quantities right across the slave-trading regions. By the middle of the eighteenth century Manchester cotton had become so firmly associated with the slave trade that producers in Lancashire were supplying their cotton textiles not just to British slave-traders but to French slavers based in Nantes, Rouen and Bordeaux.5 In 1792, the year that Parliament rejected William Wilberforce’s second Abolition Bill, an event three thousand miles away set the stage for the next step in the expansion of the Lancashire cotton industry. That year Eli Whitney, a school teacher in Savannah, Georgia, invented a simple hand-cranked machine that separated the useless cotton seeds from the valuable cotton fibres. Two simple metal rollers, each mounted with rows of metal teeth, drew out the seeds with astonishing ease. This process had previously been done by hand and was one of the bottlenecks that slowed down the cultivation and harvesting of raw cotton. Whitney’s cotton-gin – ‘gin’ being short for engine – increased the speed at which seeds could be separated from fibres by a factor of eight. When the machine was further refined, and a series of later adaptations and modifications made, speeds increased even further. Almost at a stroke the economics of cotton cultivation had been transformed, as therefore had the economics of slavery. Before the cotton-gin the slave system had appeared to many observers to be doomed to a slow and inevitable decline, as it was gradually outmoded by the dynamism of free labour. Eli Whitney’s cotton-gin gave American cotton slavery a terrible second wind. Just as the climate and geography of the North-West of England were ideal for the processing of cotton into thread and cloth, the Mississippi Valley was ideally suited to cotton cultivation. As cotton brushed aside other crops and more and more land was given over to it, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, the Carolinas, west Texas, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee became known as the ‘Cotton Kingdom’. The climate of Mississippi was in effect the inverse of Lancashire’s; early rains gave way to a long dry season of hot weather with little humidity, allowing cotton balls to split and ripen for picking. Geography had also provided the region with a transport super-highway. On the waters and the banks of the Mississippi River another great burst of industrial expansion and steam power took place. Paddle steamers carried the cotton from the fields to the ports of Mobile and New Orleans. By the 1850s there were seven hundred of them working the Mississippi. Along with land and slaves they were the most profitable investments in the Southern states.6 As the historian Walter Johnson has powerfully argued, these five-hundred-ton giants represented a far greater concentration of industrial power than the mills and factories of the Northern states. In New Orleans the whole cotton economy was supplied with slave labour through the largest slave market in North America.7 From there and other Southern ports another great fleet of steam-powered vessels shipped the precious cargoes across the Atlantic. Millions of bales were transported by steam trains on a rail system that was expanding at an astonishing rate. By the 1860s the network had radiated out across the nation and was nudging up towards the frontier, which itself was moving ever westwards into new lands, territories that to politicians and businessmen in the Southern states appeared ideally suited to the needs of the cotton plant and perfect also for the expansion of slavery. The new efficiencies made possible by the cotton-gin and booming demand from the mills and factories of Lancashire fuelled an unprecedented cotton boom. Between 1820 and 1830 American cotton production doubled. By 1840 America was producing more than a million bales of cotton a year. By 1860 cotton accounted for more than half of all American exports. From the 1820s onwards slave owners in the states of the Upper South had begun to sell their slaves to traders and plantation owners in the Deep South where they were more valuable and where their labour would be far more profitable. This was the economic rationale for the internal, inter-state slave trade, mentioned in an earlier chapter, and that the historian Ira Berlin has described as a ‘second middle passage’.8 The slave ships of this domestic trade carried Africans from Virginia and the Carolinas to New Orleans and other Southern ports. The Creole, the American ship that a group of slaves seized and diverted to the British Bahamas in 1843, was on its way to New Orleans as part of this internal slave trade. Around a million slaves were moved from North to South. Others were marched across America, chained together in coffles, in the same way that their ancestors had been marched to the slave-trading rivers on the African coast. As more and more Upper South slave owners cashed in on the cotton boom, many thousands of slaves were shipped to the slave markets of Louisiana on Mississippi river boats. These slaves were literally ‘sold down the river’ to work on Deep South plantations. It was exactly this phenomenon that provided Harriet Beecher Stowe with much of the drama and dislocation around which she structured Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When we first meet Uncle Tom he is a slave living in rural Kentucky, where he has spent most of his life, but he is sold by his owners to a Southern slave-trader and shipped on a paddle steamer to Louisiana, the very heart of the Cotton Kingdom. On the eve of the Civil War the most valuable commodity within the whole American economy was the four million enslaved Africans. The majority were in the Deep South and almost half of them were employed in the cultivation of cotton. The South had grown so rich from its cotton boom that by the 1860s it enjoyed the highest per capita income on earth – $16.66.9 There were more millionaires in the Mississippi Valley in 1860 than anywhere else in the United States.10 At that moment the white population of the ‘slave states’ stood at around 2.1 million, their wealth, ‘way of life’ and economy dependent upon the cotton trade and slavery.
After forty years of expansion, the Deep South in the 1860s represented one half of a global, transatlantic industrial economy. The Cotton Kingdom was the economic twin of Manchester, or ‘Cottonopolis’ as it had come to be known. Manchester, the shock city of the Industrial Revolution, was the centre of a vast constellation of British mills and factories – around two and a half thousand cotton mills and factories in Lancashire. Broadly speaking spinning was based to the south of Manchester and the weaving of the spun thread into cloth was centred to the north, and certain cities had acquired specialisms for various types of cloth. The cotton industry was directly employing 430,000 people, the majority of whom were women. Around 500,000 people worked in the ancillary industries, producing hosiery and other cotton goods, working in the docks where the cotton bales were unloaded and in the warehouses where they were stored. An army of mechanics kept the looms and spindles oiled and correctly calibrated, small dealers of innumerable types fed and supplied the workers and in Manchester itself the local Cotton Exchange kept a cabal of traders and speculators constantly busy. For each worker employed directly in the mills there were said to be another three who were to some extent dependent upon cotton. The Economist wrote that ‘the cotton manufacture, from the first manipulation of the raw material to the last finish bestowed upon it, constitutes the employment and furnishes the sustenance of the largest proportion of the population of Lancashire, North Cheshire, and Lanarkshire . . . if we take into account the subsidiary trading occupations and add the dependent members of their families we may safely assume that nearer four than three million are dependent for their daily bread on this branch of our industry’.11 Four million people was a fifth of the entire population of Britain. The rise of cotton had forged what one American journalist described as ‘a fusion of interests’ between ‘The planters of the United States . . . and the manufacturers of Great Britain’.12 The Cotton Kingdom and Cottonopolis lived in a state of economic co-dependency; disruption in one region risked bringing ruin upon the other. In 1853 The Economist warned portentously that should ‘any great social or physical convulsion visit the United States’, then ‘England would feel the shock from Land’s End to John O’Groats.’13
The shop window for the cotton industry was Manchester itself, known as the city that clothed the world. Manchester was supplied with the cotton that was her economic lifeblood by the city that is today her great rival but that was then her closest ally – Liverpool. Just thirty miles apart, Liverpool and Manchester were critical to one another’s economic development and advanced together in a state of mutual co-dependence. Both underwent enormous population booms made possible, in large part, by the rise of the cotton economy. The two cities began the nineteenth century with populations of less than 100,000 but by the middle of the 1860s had become comparative megacities with populations of more than 500,000. Liverpool, the dominant port of the eighteenth-century triangular slave trade, became the great nineteenth-century port for the importation of slave-produced cotton. One commentator noted that, ‘When the Whigs . . . effected its abolition there were many who thought that the sun of Liverpool’s prosperity had set. [but] The cotton trade was to do a vast deal more for the great port of the Mersey than the trade in human flesh’.14 This was because, as was explained, ‘The same wind which bore a vessel from the Mersey would waft her across the Atlantic to the rich Sea Islands, or to New Orleans, the great emporium of the Cotton States of America.’15 The Liverpool banks and trading houses that had financed the slave trade diversified into the cotton business. The string of docks along the Mersey rapidly expanded.
The roots of much of this wealth stretched across the ocean and into Southern society, feeding off the lives and labour of 1.8 million American slaves. Their bodies were commodities within the global cotton economy, their sweat and their suffering integral to Britain’s industrial power. Although cotton was drawn into Liverpool from Brazil, Egypt, India and elsewhere, the proportion of that critical commodity which came into Britain from the United States never fell below 73.4 per cent between 1840 and 1858. In the peak year, 97.1 per cent of all the cotton landed on the Mersey came from the US.16 Three decades after abolishing slavery and half a century after abolishing the slave trade Britain was, economically speaking, up to her neck in Southern cotton slavery. Here the barriers between black British history and mainstream history break down. The Africans who grew and picked the cotton that landed in enormous bales on the docks of Liverpool, although they never set foot on British soil, are as much a part of our story as any black migrant. They were as much caught up in British power and the Atlantic economy as the West Indian slaves who just two decades earlier had been freed from bondage on British plantations. When Karl Marx looked at Britain as she was in the early 1860s, he saw the nation dependent upon two systems of slavery. ‘As long as the English cotton manufacturers depended on slave-grown cotton,’ he wrote, ‘it could truthfully be asserted that they rested on a twofold slavery, the indirect slavery of the white man in England and the direct slavery of the black men on the other side of the Atlantic’.17
In March 1858, James Henry Hammond, a Senator for South Carolina who owned a plantation with more than three hundred enslaved Africans, gave from the floor of the US Senate a speech that would become infamous. Speaking for much of the ruling elite of the South he outlined what became known as his ‘Mudsill Theory’, a doctrine that said slavery was justifiable, ancient and economically essential. ‘In all social systems’, Hammond explained, ‘there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigour, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society . . . . Fortunately for the South, she found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand. A race inferior to her own, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigour, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes. We use them for our purpose, and call them slaves.’18 Many Southerners not only agreed with Hammond, they believed that American slavery and the American cotton industry had developed together in perfect unison and in accordance to ‘Nature’s law’. This confluence of events, the development of this hyper-profitable mono-crop and the system of ‘negro slavery’, was taken by some as proof of God’s benevolence and perhaps even of some higher plan. In a collection of letters published some years earlier Hammond had stated that in his view ‘American slavery is not only not a sin, but especially commanded by God through Moses, and approved by Christ through his apostles.’19
In his Mudsill Theory speech, Hammond denounced a ‘Senator from New York’ who had attacked Southern slavery. In defence of slavery Hammond not only dismissed calls for abolition, he compared the slaves who laboured in the cotton fields of the South to the white men and women who worked in the factories of the North. ‘Your whole hireling class of manual laborers and “operatives,” as you call them, are essentially slaves’, Hammond claimed. ‘The difference between us is, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment among our people, and not too much employment either. Yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated, which may be proved in the most painful manner, at any hour in any street of your large towns. Why, you meet more beggars in one day, in any single street of the city of New York, than you would meet in a lifetime in the whole South . . . Our slaves are black, of another and inferior race. The status in which we have placed them is an elevation. They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them, by being made our slaves. None of that race on the whole face of the globe can be compared with the slaves of the South. They are happy, content, unaspiring, and utterly incapable, from intellectual weakness, ever to give us any trouble by their aspirations. Yours are white, of your own race; you are brothers of one blood. They are your equals in natural endowment of intellect, and they feel galled by their degradation.’20 James Henry Hammond’s speech, perhaps more than any other, explains why it was that in 1861 the United States of America went to war against herself. The House was, as Abraham Lincoln later said, ‘divided against itself’ and could not and did not stand, but those who brought about its collapse always intended to draw the world into the conflict, for a civil war was a global affair.
James Henry Hammond remarkably defended slavery not only from Northern Senators but also, when he felt it necessary, from British abolitionists. In 1845 he published a collected volume of his letters, which he claimed had never been ‘originally intended for publication’, as a riposte to the international campaign of American and British abolitionists, an unjustified assault of the slave-holding South, which according to Hammond, had seen ‘Clergymen lay aside their Bibles, and Females unsex themselves to carry on this horrid warfare against Slave-holders’.21 This compendium of letters was addressed to ‘Thomas Clarkson, the English Abolitionist’. Hammond and many other Southerners regarded Clarkson as an enemy because of his role in the World Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840. At that gathering, which had been well reported in the United States, Clarkson had reasoned that the planters of the American South and their supporters were essentially amoral and as such immune to Christian sentiment or appeals to their moral consciences. The only strategy when opposing such an enemy, he had suggested, was to appeal to their material interests. Clarkson and others had therefore called for a boycott of slave-produced Southern cotton and its substitution in the mills of England with cotton produced by free labourers in India. That way, Clarkson suggested, Britain and her factories would no longer be contaminated by America’s ‘blood stained produce’, and the economic foundations of the slave economy of the Mississippi Valley would be swept away. In the two decades since the World Anti-Slavery Convention the opposite had happened. The Cotton kingdom had expanded and Britain had become even more dependent upon Southern cotton. In 1855 the pro-slavery American journalist David Christy had published one of the most famous books of the century, Cotton is king, which like many books of the age had a long but telling subtitle – The culture of cotton, and its relation to agriculture, manufactures and commerce; to the free colored people; and to those who hold that slavery is in itself sinful. In his opening chapter Christy argued that the opportunity Thomas Clarkson and the abolitionists had identified in 1840 had been missed. Slavery in America, he conceded, might perhaps have been abolished in earlier decades as ‘There was a time when American slave labor sustained no such relations to the manufactures and commerce of the world as it now so firmly holds; and when, by the adoption of proper measures, on the part of the free colored people and their friends, the emancipation of the slaves, in all the States, might have been effected. But that period has passed forever away’.22 By the mid-1850s, after what Christy called ‘nearly a “thirty years’ war”’ fought by a transatlantic alliance of free black people and their abolitionist supporters, ‘causes, unforeseen, have come into operation, which are too powerful to be overcome . . . What Divine Providence may have in store for the future, we know not; but, at present, the institution of Slavery is sustained by numberless pillars, too massive for human power and wisdom to overthrow’.23Abolition of American slavery, Christy assured his readers, was an economic impossibility because, ‘Cotton IS King, and his enemies are vanquished’.24
James Henry Hammond’s 1858 speech to the US Senate is infamous today not for its unabashed defence of slavery, or its dismissal of black people as an ‘inferior race’. His words – like those of David Christy – are remembered for their hubris. In the most provocative part of his address Hammond had suggested that the economic power of cotton was so formidable that it rendered the South and Southern slavery invulnerable.
If the Northern states of the Union were to make war on the slave-holding Southern states then ‘King Cotton’ would come to their defence. Cotton would force the owners of cotton mills in the Northern states to support their Southern business partners and it would reach out across the Atlantic and compel the merchants and the working people of abolitionist, anti-slavery Britain to recognize Southern independence, and perhaps even offer the South material aid. If Britain’s leaders were to follow any other policy, Hammond reasoned, they would be condemning half a million Lancashire mill workers, and 3.5 million of their dependants and fellow countrymen, to destitution. He was far from alone in believing that in cotton the South had found an economic super-weapon. Three months before the outbreak of the Civil War, The Times grew alarmed at the growing clamour for war in the South. In near-apocalyptic tones it warned its British readers that an American war would leave ‘4,000,000 people in trepidation and distress.’ Appreciating the danger earlier than many of the mill owners, The Times thundered, ‘one-third of our trade is in jeopardy and the earnings of one-sixth of our population may be rendered precarious . . . We look upon the prospect with an affected horror . . . We ask whether any man in the kingdom can contemplate it without terror?’25
When war did finally come it arrived first in Hammond’s home state of South Carolina. On 28 April 1861 South Carolinian rebels launched a bombardment on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, claiming the federal soldiers garrisoned there constituted ‘a foreign entity’ upon South Carolinian territory. In his speech of 1858 Hammond had warned that in order to unleash the full, war-winning power of King Cotton, ‘The South is willing to go one, two or three years without planting a seed’. In the event Southern plantation owners were not called upon to leave their fields fallow or hoard their cotton seeds. Six days after the attack on Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln’s government declared a blockade of all Southern ports, and for the next four years the planters of the Deep South, rather than boycotting production, were desperately seeking out means of breaching the Northern blockade and shipping even a fraction of their precious cotton to the factories of England.
Yet even before the imposition of the Northern blockade the Cotton is King strategy had been undermined. Years of sabre-rattling and secessionist posturing had not gone unnoticed in Europe. Mill owners in Britain had been given fair warning of the coming war, and ample time to consider their options. Lancashire’s cotton manufacturers had stockpiled supplies and sought out new sources of raw cotton. Stockpiles had been built especially high as the years immediately prior to the Civil War had provided bumper crops. Between 1859 and 1860 America cotton producers had exceeded world demand. The overproduction of raw cotton had fed through into the supply of finished goods and at the end of 1860 there were vast stocks of unsold cotton clothing on the world market. Although most observers believed that the war would be brief, and that the stockpiled raw cotton would be enough to see Lancashire’s mills through the crisis, efforts had been made to expand production elsewhere. Production of Egyptian and Indian cotton had been increased and additional supplies of Brazilian cotton were also coming online. A group of opportunistic British investors had also pumped money into the cotton-cultivating regions of Ottoman Anatolia. The outbreak of hostilities in Charleston Harbor was therefore not seen as a reason for immediate panic and those who had for years talked up the idea of ‘King Cotton’ as a war-winning weapon were momentarily dumbfounded. When prices began to rise it was not entirely as a result of scarcity but also because across the world cotton merchants had engaged in an orgy of price speculation and hoarding. Cotton was bought, sold and resold, passing through the hands of every known species of speculator, trader, broker, warehouseman and shipping agent on its laborious progress from field to factory, and at each stage a commission was charged or a profit drawn. By the time the cotton reached the loom it had risen in price several fold. By early 1862 the stockpiles had begun to dwindle and the unsold stocks of cotton goods had found buyers. Although additional supplies of raw cotton were arriving from India and elsewhere, Britain’s imports of cotton in 1862 were half what they had been in the last year of peace. Imports from the United States stood at 4 per cent of their pre-war levels. By October 1862, around 58 per cent of all Lancashire looms stood idle for want of cotton. The smaller mills, which were often owned by operators who were heavily mortgaged, were the first affected and the first to close their doors and lay off workers. The wealthier mill owners, many of whom remained convinced even in 1862 that the war would soon be over, had the financial reserves to weather more of the storm. Looking to the long term they were desperate to avoid seeing their relatively skilled workforce, with its specialized skills, broken up and scattered. To prevent workers from migrating to other regions in search of new employment some negotiated cuts in pay and a few agreed to shorter hours. Where they could, mill owners attempted to process alternative, non-American cottons, but there was not enough to go round and not all machines were compatible with the most common Indian ‘short staple’ variety, which was far less profitable as its fibres easily snapped and frayed during both the spinning and weaving processes. This demanded constant intervention from machine operators, slowing down production and shrinking profits.
At the end of 1862 around 70 per cent of the labour force, 312,200 men and women, were without work. The Lancashire Cotton Famine, as it had become known, impoverished both mill workers and men and women employed in related trades and industries. With some irony the mill workers began to pawn the last of their possessions, which included their cotton goods, shirts and dresses, bed sheets and tablecloths. The poet Edwin Waugh visited Preston in 1862 and saw the effects of the cotton famine at close quarters.
I was astonished at the dismal succession of destitute homes and the number of struggling owners of little shops, who were watching their stocks sink gradually down to nothing and looking despondingly at the cold approach of pauperism. I was astonished at the strings of dwellings, side by side, stript, more or less, of the commonest household utensils . . . sometimes crowded, three or four families of decent working people in a cottage of half-a-crown a week rental; sleeping anywhere, on benches or on straw, and afraid to doff their clothes at night because they had no other covering.26
Thousands of destitute mill workers, rather than await the approach of pauperism, moved away to find new employment. Journalists who visited the region reported the roads packed with footsore men, trudging between the towns looking for work or heading off to other regions. Some left to find work in the wool industries of Yorkshire and some of those who had savings used them to purchase cheap, steerage-class tickets to New York.
To provide for those who did not or could not leave, the creaking architecture of the Poor Law was brought into operation. The Poor Law, a hated system that ran the workhouses, was administered by local Poor Law Guardians but was utterly unsuited to a crisis on the scale of the cotton famine. The Poor Law Guardians were tasked with finding employment on public-works schemes for those men able to labour and provide relief for those who could not. Among the many aspects of the system that were deeply resented was its inability to draw a distinction between respectable working men who found themselves unemployed due to no fault of their own, and the feckless and the drunkards. All forms of unemployment were seemingly tarred with the same judgemental brush. The Poor Law demanded the men work for their bread and thousands were sent to the stone yards or quarries to break stones. One unexpected complication of this practice was that men and women accustomed to working as machine operators in the almost tropically hot conditions of the cotton mills suffered desperately when forced to labour in the open air of cold northern England. Large numbers of men were made sick as their lungs, corrupted and contaminated by years of cotton dust, failed them in the stone yards.
To augment the funds made available to the Poor Law Guardians, local relief committees were established. In May 1862 the Lancashire and Cheshire Operatives Relief Fund was born and a month later the Cotton Districts Relief Fund was created. Around the same time a Central Committee brought together the mayors of the worst-suffering mill towns. Seventeen local relief committees were formed, one in each of the major mill towns. Appeals for private donations were made to better-off parts of the country as well as to Britons living in the empire. In 1863 the government pushed through the Public Works Act, which allowed local authorities to raise funds to pay for public-works schemes that would provide paid work for the unemployed mill workers. Across Lancashire today are their physical remains. Sewers were constructed, canals dug, parks created, roads resurfaced or constructed from scratch. One of the most bizarre relics of the cotton famine can be found above Rochdale. Running across the Pennines through Rooley Moor is the Cotton Famine Road, a substantial, well-built, Victorian cobblestone highway. It shoots incongruously across the heather going to nowhere in particular. It was the labour of thousands of men who would much rather have been earning the high industrial wages available in the cotton mills. Despite these efforts the cotton famine devastated Lancashire. Soup kitchens had to be opened; some were almost immediately overwhelmed and ran out of funds and food to distribute. In December 1862 at the very height of the cotton famine the Guardians who oversaw the Poor Law, along with the various relief committees, were between them supporting 485,434 people in Lancashire.27 In the town of Stalybridge, in which all but five of the sixty-three factories had been forced to close, a riot broke out and soldiers with fixed bayonets patrolled the streets. Although commonly remembered as the Lancashire Cotton Famine the distress spread to all the regions of the country in which cotton was processed. There was comparable suffering but on a smaller scale in Cheshire and Derbyshire as well as in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Hundreds of thousands of working-class Britons had been cast into destitution, new forms of poor relief had been hurriedly put in place and the British economy had been dealt a thunderous blow, all because an ocean away the forced labour of four million enslaved, black Americans had been disrupted. The mill workers of Lancashire and the slaves of the Mississippi Valley were unknowingly trapped within what historians call the First Age of Globalization – which began in the middle of the nineteenth century and was brought to an end by World War One and its isolationist aftermath. The mills of Lancashire, and the towns that had been built around them, were particularly exposed to shocks elsewhere in the system not merely because the cotton they processed was vulnerable to naval blockade, but because it was produced by enslaved people. Everywhere in the Atlantic world the enslavement of Africans had been met not with passive acceptance but with war and revolution. Slavery was an inherently unstable institution; we understandably focus on its brutality rather than its inefficiency. British abolition had been achieved largely peacefully, but had come about only after a succession of West Indian slave rebellions, and the fear of further impending revolts that drove all sides to the negotiating table in 1833. Slavery in America was extinguished not through slave rebellions but by a war, fought predominantly by white men, over the future of slavery in the South and in the as yet unconquered West. For all her ‘moral prestige’, post-emancipation, anti-slavery Britain had ignored the calls of abolitionists like Thomas Clarkson and remained economically complicit in American slavery. In the 1860s the poor people in the English North-West paid a heavy price for that hypocrisy.
In 1861, during the early months of the Civil War, the British genre painter Richard Ansdell completed The Hunted Slaves, one of his most effective, if less well-known, works which depicted a potent and highly topical subject – the fugitive slave. By 1861 numerous artists, along with a number of writers and poets in both Britain and America, had explored the theme. When Ansdell’s painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1861 its catalogue entry included a quote from Henry Longfellow’s abolitionist poem The Slave In the Dismal Swamp, which told of the plight of a slave fugitive being pursued through the swamps of Virginia. Ansdell’s painting may well have been a painterly realization of another literary work. It has been suggested that it was inspired by a passage in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The scene in question tells the story of Scipio, described by Harriet Beecher Stowe as ‘a native-born African’ man who had the ‘rude instinct of freedom in him to an uncommon degree’. Having escaped his slave-masters, Scipio is hunted down, pursued across a swamp and eventually surrounded by the bloodhounds of the local slave-catchers. We find Ansdell’s fugitives – a man and a woman, presumably husband and wife – trapped in the same predicament. Driven into the far right of the canvas by a pack of snarling mastiffs, the husband raises an axe to strike at one of the fearsome hounds as it rushes at them through the reeds. Around his wrist hang the broken chains of slavery and at his feet another of the attack dogs lies stricken, reeling from a blow delivered by the axe. Near the bare ankles of his wife a snake coils itself menacingly around a log, adding to the sense of imminent and inevitable disaster. The sky is tinged with pink, hinting that this slave hunt has lasted all day, and behind the desperate couple the swamp stretches off to the horizon.
Any Victorian viewer of the painting who knew something of the workings of the Southern slave system – which, by 1861, would have included anyone who had read Uncle Tom’s Cabin – would have understood that the couple’s predicament was dire. The informed viewer would have known that the hounds – whose collars are clearly visible – had, moments earlier, been released by the slave-hunters and that they themselves would soon be on the scene to disarm and capture the fugitive couple. The art critic of The Times described The Hunted Slaves as a painting with ‘vigourenough, and subject enough, for those who like such strong meat’. Aware that its subject was controversial and its execution perfectly calibrated to evoke sympathy and moral condemnation, he noted that, ‘The present circumstances of the South will enhance its interest’.28 Such was the painting’s impact that prints were made and sold to the public.29 In September 1862, as the dreadful scale of the cotton famine was becoming apparent, Richard Ansdell donated The Hunted Slaves to the Lancashire Cotton Relief Committee. It was offered as a prize in a lottery and raised £700 for the nearby mill towns. The winner was one Gilbert Moss of Liverpool, who gave it to the City Corporation. Today it hangs in Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum, a memorial to both the passion of British anti-slavery sentiment and as a relic of the great outpouring of charity and relief that helped save the people of Lancashire from hunger and destitution. Yet Ansdell’s evident sympathy for the American slave was not indicative of the attitudes that prevailed in his native city. Liverpool in the 1860s was a city that had little sympathy for fugitive slaves or for anyone whose actions disrupted the transatlantic flow of American cotton. More than any British city, Liverpool stood by and sided with the pro-slavery Confederate states during the Civil War. While there was considerable Confederate lobbying in London, and while both arms and ships were supplied to the South from Glasgow, Liverpool was the Confederate’s most steadfast ally and for four years became, in effect, the European headquarters of the Confederate states, and was described as such by its supporters. It was in Liverpool’s Rumford Place that the Confederate Government of Jefferson Davis established an unofficial embassy and a Liverpool firm, Fraser Trenholm and Co., became the company through which the business affairs of the Confederate government were organized in England. The South’s greatest champion on Merseyside, and one of their chief propagandists in Britain, was James Spence, a member of the city’s Exchange and a moderately successful merchant in tinplate. Spence helped found the Liverpool Southern Club and helped propagate support for the South among the mill towns of Lancashire. It was said that more Confederate flags fluttered over the Mersey than the Mississippi and under those banners the city’s merchants met Southern representatives and businessmen in mansions in the more expensive and fashionable districts of the city to plot how they could support the South and turn the crisis into a business opportunity. In May 1861 Britain declared herself neutral in the American Civil War. That month the new Foreign Enlistment Act prohibited British citizens from serving in either Lincoln’s Union Army or Jefferson Davis’ Confederate Army, nor in the navies or on the merchant ships of either North or South. British shipbuilders were officially prohibited from building warships for either side, and from arming or supplying ships that were intent on making war on the navies or merchant fleets of North or South. The Liverpool merchant Thomas E. Taylor described how the Liverpool merchants reacted to the news of the British neutrality:
The proclamation awakened no respect whatever for the blockade . . . it was received in the spirit in which it was issued – as a piece of mere international courtesy; and those of her Majesty’s loyal subjects who were most affected by the new situation at once took steps to make the best of it . . . Firm after firm, with an entirely free conscience, set about endeavouring to recoup itself for the loss of legitimate trade by the high profits to be made out of successful evasions of the Federal cruisers; and in Liverpool was awakened a spirit the like of which had not been known since the palmy days of the slave trade.30
For the traders of Liverpool their nation’s official policy of strict neutrality meant nothing and they set about thwarting the restrictions and breaking the rules, not that the government went far out of its way to enforce British neutrality. Goods bound for the Confederacy were shipped to British ports in the Bahamas and there transferred to fast, specially-built American ships known as blockade-runners. The British vessels then loaded up with Southern cotton and sailed back to Liverpool with their illicit cargo, which attracted high prices in the cotton exchanges of Liverpool and Manchester. Such brazen disregard for national policy was only possible with official collusion. The British officials and local governors in those far-off outposts tended to be pro-Confederacy and willing to turn blind eyes to blockade-running.31 Liverpool’s shipyards built at least thirty-six blockade-runners for the South during the Civil War and most of them were manned by crews that included large numbers of British officers and men willing to risk the dangers for the fortunes to be made bringing guns to the Confederates and shipping back cotton to the ‘hungry mills’ of Lancashire. The British officers, both Royal Navy and merchant, who ran the blockade tended to do so under noms de guerre. Some went on to have notable naval careers and were never censured for having contravened national policy and broken international law.
In March 1862 a newly constructed ship, the Oreto, left Liverpool to begin life as a merchant ship for new owners. Some months later she appeared in American waters as a fully armed Confederate steamship, CSS Florida. On board was a crew that consisted mainly of British sailors and officers. After this, suspicion was aroused in London about a vessel then being built in Birkenhead by the firm John Laird and Sons. Ship no. 290 was clearly a warship and yet even after the government had been alerted, and even though both Prime Minister Lord Palmerston and Foreign Secretary John Russell had been warned that ship no. 290 was a Confederate warship, she was allowed to set sail. Ship no. 290 was next sighted in the Caribbean having transformed herself into the armed screw sloop the CSS Alabama. She bristled with British-made armaments and like the Florida was manned by British sailors. John Laird and Sons were evidently a company able to bend to the prevailing winds of politics. Twenty years earlier they had built the steamers Albert, Soudan and Wilberforce in which anti-slavery missionaries had, with royal support, embarked upon a doomed expedition up the River Niger to develop legitimate trades and thereby undermine the economics of the slave trade. Despite having openly built the Alabama in blatant breach of the law the firm was never prosecuted. The British government however were. After the Civil War the United States government pursued legal claims against Britain demanding damages arising from the ships that the CSS Alabama had sunk during the war. In 1872 the British government settled the so-called Alabama claims by payments to the United States of $15.5 million. During the Civil War Liverpool’s newspapers followed the merchants’ lead. Three out of four of them sided with the South. The fourth, the Liverpool Daily Post, admitted in an editorial that its pro-neutrality stance was bound to prove unpopular in the city.32 On more than one occasion in the early years of the war abolitionist meetings were disrupted and anti-slavery speakers heckled and even assaulted – incidents that would have been almost inconceivable in the 1840s. The American abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, spoke in Liverpool in October 1863, after an invitation from the Union Emancipation Society; he was harangued and heckled by members of the crowd. These voices were later dismissed as the impotent ‘bellowings and howlings’ of ‘Southern hirelings’ who were attempting to ‘stifle the voice of Liverpool for freedom’.33 But it was not an isolated incident and Beecher came away convinced that all classes of Liverpudlians favoured the Confederacy. In this atmosphere, and in a city that was home to numerous Southern businessmen and Confederate agents, the anti-slavery traditions upon which Britain had set such store gave way during the Civil War to open advocacy of slavery.
Southerners like Senator James Henry Hammond who had convinced both themselves and others that ‘Cotton IS King’ had disastrously misunderstood the scale and the complexity of Victorian Britain’s economy. Although the suffering and distress of the people of Lancashire was real and damaging, the predictions of economic collapse made before the war, in both Britain and America, had been over-blown. Cotton was not the only material from which cloth could be woven: the wool and linen industries underwent minor revivals. Britain’s arsenals and foundries supplied arms and munitions to both sides – both legally and illicitly. British factories manufactured uniforms, boots and other materials of war and the financiers of the City of London loaned money to and drew profits from the wartime economies of both North and South. In these ways and others, the wider British economy was able to make up for some of the losses suffered by the cotton industry. If the reasons why ‘King Cotton’ did not bring Britain’s economy down are increasingly clear to historians, a more complex and vexing question remains: why did Britain choose neutrality? While the government’s policy can be put down to cold pragmatism and cautious self-interest, the popular reaction is harder to understand. Why did a people who had flocked to buy 1.5 million copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and who had welcomed Frederick Douglass and the whole pantheon of African American abolitionists into their assembly rooms and town halls, not rush to support the North? Why did the anti-slavery impulse that was still strong among large sectors of the population not inspire immediate condemnation of the South and praise for Lincoln and the North? British attitudes confused commentators at the time and have puzzled historians since. Harriet Beecher Stowe struggled to make sense of this very contradiction. In 1863 she wrote A reply to “The affectionate and Christian address of many thousands of women of Great Britain and Ireland, to their sisters, the women of the United states of America” in which she reminded British women of the strong anti-slavery sentiment they had demonstrated during her visit a decade earlier. Stowe expressed her alarm and surprise that in the ten intervening years there appeared to have been a ‘decline of the noble anti-slavery fire in England’.34 In the hope of rekindling those flames she deployed all the rhetorical flourish that might be expected of a woman who had spent her life among the fiery speeches of the anti-slavery circuit. Addressing the ‘Sisters of England’ she explained how many in the North felt betrayed by the factions within Britain who were actively supporting the Confederacy. ‘We have heard on the high seas the voice of a war-steamer, built for a man-stealing Confederacy with English gold in an English dockyard, going out of an English harbour, manned by English sailors, with the full knowledge of English Government-officers, in defiance of the Queen’s proclamation of neutrality.’35 The war-steamers that preyed on Northern shipping and weighed on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s mind were the products of Liverpool’s pro-Confederacy merchant elite, but what did the people of the cotton-producing towns themselves think about the war and the terrible predicament it had placed them in? It was once simplistically believed that support for North and South was split on the basis of class, with the mill owners and the merchants supporting the South, and the mill workers supporting the North. In truth the patterns of support for North and South across the country and across the four years of the war are complex and no simple narrative emerges.36 Memories of the cotton famine are also clouded by folklore and by later misrepresentations. But in the first two years of the war there was unquestionably a tendency among all classes in Britain to support the South rather than the North. More pro-South societies than pro-North ones were formed in the towns and most of the newspapers supported the cause of the region’s trading partners in the Mississippi Valley.
There were many among the propertied classes of Britain who saw in the South a latent nation of landowners and proto-aristocrats with whom they felt a natural affinity. Some among the wealthy elite, in business and in Parliament, who supported the South camouflaged their real motivations behind an insincere concern for the fate of the cotton workers of Lancashire. Yet there were also members of the propertied classes who had long opposed slavery for moral reasons, and who were opposed to the South and disturbed by what one writer called ‘The Slaveholders’ War’. Some industrialists and politicians supported the North because they regarded slave labour as inferior to free labour, as they regarded free trade as superior to protectionism. They viewed slavery as a highly unstable system upon which Britain had unwisely, if only by proxy, become economically dependent.37 But there was also considerable support for the South among the mill workers of Lancashire. Letters to local newspapers and reports of the meetings of pro-Southern clubs reveal that many of the mill workers viewed democratic America as a land where white working-class men were awarded full citizenship and given opportunities that were denied them in class-riven Britain. Many supported the South partly out of a sense of racial solidarity. To them the South was a nation full of ‘little white men’, like themselves. Some regarded the Northern blockade as an assault upon the principle of free trade and others distrusted the government of Abraham Lincoln, seeing it as centralizing and perhaps even authoritarian. In all the mill towns, pro-Confederate ‘Southern Clubs’ were formed. Lectures were given in defence of the South and its right to secure its freedom outside the United States. Some of this was the work of Southern agitators and their British supporters, men like James Spence, a Liverpool tin merchant, but these agents of the Confederacy were able to tap into sympathies that pre-existed their propagandizing. The majority of the local MPs in Lancashire either favoured the South or kept their opinions to themselves. In April 1862 in the cotton-producing town of Ashton-under-Lyne, six thousand unemployed mill workers gathered together in an enormous public meeting to condemn the Northern blockade. The following year eight thousand people gathered in Oldham to support the South. In October 1862 a minister from one of Oldham’s Congregationalist churches was shouted down when he called upon the people of the town to support the North. A Southern Independence Association was formed in the town, and at a meeting called by the deputy mayor, the Confederacy was described as ‘heroic’, and a motion passed stating that its recognition by England was the best way of ending both the Civil War and the suffering of the Oldham mill workers. Pro-North, anti-slavery meetings were held and counter-demonstrations did assemble, many of them organized by the energetic members of the Union and Emancipation Society, but more voices were raised in support of the South and in favour of its recognition than in opposition to slavery and support of President Lincoln’s government. Perhaps it is not surprising that hungry, fearful people supported a political strategy that would alleviate their sufferings and revive their economic fortunes. The pioneering work of the historian Mary Ellison shows how in the face of distress some of the workers of Lancashire acted out of self-interest and sided with the Confederacy, or at least favoured its recognition by the British government.38 Her analysis suggests that the areas worst affected by the cotton famine tended to be those most committed to supporting the South’s right to secede from the Union. This is not to say that the people of Oldham or Preston were pro-slavery but merely that they were desperate for their government to intervene on their behalf, recognize the Confederacy and restore the flow of cotton. Yet many workers, the men and women with the least to gain and the most to lose, did support the North and doing so acted counter to their immediate economic interests. There were men and women in all the mill towns who even during the worst months of the cotton famine regarded themselves as the guardians and inheritors of Britain’s anti-slavery traditions and acted accordingly. To them anti-slavery was so intertwined with Britishness that support for the South was unthinkable. Viewing the conflict through the prism of class they also saw in the plantation owners of the Deep South a propertied class that reminded them of the mill owners and the aristocrats of Britain.
Some of the men and women who were impoverished by the cotton famine understood that the last hands to have touched the bales of cotton that arrived in the mills were those of the black slaves who had loaded them onto ships on the docks of Mobile and New Orleans. The Lancashire towns from which unions and cooperative societies emerged were those that most firmly supported the North and its advocacy of free labour. The town most strongly pro-North and most passionately anti-slavery was Rochdale, where abolitionist and anti-slavery societies had been vocally active long before the outbreak of the American Civil War. Since the 1850s the town had been able to look for inspiration to the figure of John Bright, the Quaker, Liberal Party MP who was from a Rochdale, mill-owning family. The Bright family’s own Rochdale mills ran out of cotton in late 1861, yet John Bright continued to pay his workers two-thirds of their salaries through the cotton famine. A friend of Frederick Douglass and a correspondent of William H. Seward, US Secretary of State, Bright was passionately opposed to Southern slavery and so committed to the defence of American democracy that his letters on those subjects were read out in meetings of Abraham Lincoln’s inner circle.39
From the beginning of the conflict, Southern propagandists working in Britain sensed the depths of British anti-slavery sentiment and feared its potential. They were consistently careful never to openly identify the South with slavery and tended to present the South as a new nation seeking its freedom from the grip of a more powerful neighbour. When the issue of slavery could not be sidestepped, the more sophisticated defenders of the South played to British notions of gradualism and conservatism. They presented Lincoln’s government as reckless, bent on immediate emancipation of millions of slaves, and suggested that such a course of action would lead inevitably to insurrection and racial war. Confederate propagandists and their supporters warned that Lincoln’s policies risked igniting a conflict that would place white women and children in dreadful jeopardy and would lead to the extermination of the former slaves. There were those in Britain who, by following this line of thinking, found themselves occupying a position that was at the same time anti-slavery and pro-Confederate. They accepted the Southern fiction that once independence was granted to the new Confederate States of America, they would inevitably abolish slavery of their volition, but cautiously and gradually, rather as Britain herself had done in the 1830s.
While some Britons remained loyal to the Confederacy right up until the final days of the war, the tide of popular opinion and political sympathy turned decisively in late 1862. The critical moment that re-drew the battle lines came in September when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which promised to free Southern slaves on 1 January 1863. Until that moment Lincoln’s official position had been that the war was waged to preserve the Union and not to end the institution of slavery: after it the war was understood in Britain as an armed struggle against slavery. While fears of an American slave uprising lingered on in some quarters, much of the indifference and confusion that had characterized British popular reactions evaporated over the course of 1863 as the emancipation of the Southern slaves was seen as the final realization of British abolitionist dreams. In the mind of the radical Newcastle journalist W. E. Adams, the Emancipation Proclamation cut ‘the ground from under the feet of those who profess to sympathise with the South on the grounds that slavery was likely to be sooner abolished by it, than by the North. It is now more evident than ever the pro-Southern sentiments are proslavery sentiments also.’40 British anti-slavery fervour re-emerged and aligned itself to the Northern cause. The popular force that Southern agents and diplomats had long feared might be aroused began to assert itself. In the last weeks of 1862, pro-North, anti-slavery meetings were held across the country. The most dramatic took place in Manchester on 31 December, the day before the Emancipation Proclamation legally freed the Southern slaves – they became physically free only by abandoning their owners and coming over the Union lines, or at the end of the war when the Confederacy was dissolved. That day a crowd gathered for a ‘Manchester Meeting of working-Men’ in the Free Trade Hall. The grand public meeting adopted an immediate set of resolutions and drafted an address to be sent to President Lincoln himself. The first resolution recorded that ‘this meeting, recognising the common brotherhood of mankind and the sacred and inalienable right of every human being to personal freedom and equal protection, records its detestation of negro slavery in America . . .’ The Address to the President stated that ‘As the citizens of Manchester, assembled at the Free Trade Hall, we beg to express our fraternal sentiments towards you and your country . . . One thing alone has in the past lessened our sympathy with your country and our confidence in it, we mean the ascendancy of politicians who not merely maintained negro slavery but desired to extend and root it more firmly. Since we have discerned however that the victory of the Free States in the war which has so severely distressed us as well as afflicted you will strike off the fetters of the slave, you have attracted our warm and earnest sympathy . . . Heartily do we congratulate you and your country on this your humane and righteous course’.41 On 19 January 1863 Lincoln replied, in his address ‘To the Working men of Manchester’.
I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working people of Manchester and in all Europe are called to endure in this crisis. It has been often and studiously represented that the attempt to overthrow this Government which was built on the foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one which should rest exclusively on the basis of slavery, was unlikely to obtain the favour of Europe. Through the action of disloyal citizens, the working people of Europe have been subjected to a severe trial for the purpose of forcing their sanction to that attempt. Under the circumstances 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. It is indeed an energetic and reinspiring assurance of the inherent truth and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity and freedom. I hail this interchange of sentiments, therefore, as an augury that, whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exists between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.
At the end of January an enormous pro-North meeting was held at Exeter Hall in London, the historic centre of abolitionist activity in Britain, a building that was sadly long ago demolished. In February the extent to which pro-North anti-slavery sentiment was on the rise was demonstrated by a gathering of between three and four thousand people in Liverpool, the self-declared ‘headquarters of Southern sentiment’. The Liverpool assembly, like the other fifty that were held in towns and cities across Britain in 1863, affirmed its support for President Lincoln and emancipation. While there was some pro-Southern heckling this gathering in the Confederacy’s former stronghold was a clear indication that the South’s supporters had failed.42 In July 1863 the Union Army defeated Robert E. Lee’s forces at Gettysburg and on the same day the city of Vicksburg fell to President Lincoln’s forces after a long and terrible siege. The tide of the war turned as decisively as the tide of British public opinion. In January 1865 Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery throughout the United States of America.