The American Civil War and the Lancashire cotton famine

Abraham Lincoln

Engraved and published by William E Marshall (1837-1906), 1866
Ink on paper

Object number T: 8271

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Abraham Lincoln

On its publication in 1866, this print quickly became regarded as Lincoln's finest portrait. Drawn, engraved and published by William E Marshall, this example is the artist's proof, signed by Marshall and dedicated by him to Rochdale mill-owner and politician John Bright.

Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the USA in 1860. One of his main policies was to halt the spread of slavery. The southern slave-owning states feared his election would destroy their way of life. On 9 February 1861 seven southern states, and later four more, split from the Union to form the Confederate states of America with Jefferson Davis as president.

The American Civil War, between the Union north and the Confederate ‘rebel' south, began on 12 April 1861, when Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The war became an official struggle between the 'free states' and the 'slave states' in September 1862, when President Lincoln made his emancipation proclamation, freeing all slaves in Confederate territories and enlisting black soldiers into the Union army. Around 180,000 black soldiers, nearly 10% of the Union army, would eventually fight against the south and slavery.

Support in England for the two sides in the American Civil War ran largely along class lines. The rebellious slave-owning southern states were supported by the upper-middle classes and aristocracy, many of whom had business and family connections amongst the Confederate plantation owners. They provided the south with financial and practical support, for example the building and fitting out of Confederate fighting ships, such as the CSS Alabama. There also existed a certain misplaced romance about the Confederacy, the ‘rebels’, possessed of southern gentility and manners. They were seen as the underdogs, displaying legendary courage in battle. In contrast the 'yankees' of the north were perceived as uncouth brutes.

The working class in the industrial north of England, however, predominantly sided with the Union north. It may be argued that there was initially a general indifference toward the issue of slavery. However, John Bright and fellow politician Richard Cobden, were amongst several high profile public figures who actively campaigned for support of the anti-slavery north, despite the hardship caused by blockades of southern ports and the ensuing Lancashire cotton famine. The turning point came in 1862 when Lincoln's emancipation proclamation made the abolition of slavery the central aim of the war. Support also gained momentum as dependence on American cotton gradually lessened in favour of Indian cotton supplies.

This information was provided by curators at Touchstones Rochdale.

The statue of Abraham Lincoln, unveiled in Manchester in 1919, is engraved with the text of the letter from Abraham Lincoln to the cotton workers of the north west of England, showing their significance at the time of the American Civil War.