The American Civil War and the Lancashire cotton famine

Union patriotic envelope

Published by Stimpson & Company, New York, USA, 1861
Paper and ink

Object number 2001.353

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Union patriotic envelope

This envelope was published in New York in 1861, at the start of the American Civil War. Both the northern Union and southern Confederate states published illustrated envelopes from the 1850s, as political propaganda to sway support in their favour. In the Union states, slavery was a common theme as they sought to abolish it, whereas the Confederates wanted it preserved. Over 4,100 different envelope designs were produced, with versions published in most of the major cities, New York and Boston being the most prolific.

The verse, entitled 'Cotton is King!', reads:

Old England is mighty; Old England is free;
She boasts that she ruleth the waves of the sea;
(But between you and I, that’s all fiddle-de-dee;)
She cannot, O Cotton! She cannot rule thee.
Lo! Manchester’s lordling thy greatness shall own,
And yield more to thee than he would to the Throne:
For before thee shall bend his fat marrow-bone,
And deaf be his ear to the live chattel’s groan.

The envelope uses patriotic images to reinforce the poem. John Bull, the stereotypical Briton, is showing respect to a cotton bale whilst kneeling on a slave, a clear indication of his alleged priorities. American cotton grown by enslaved Africans was vital to Lancashire’s cotton industry and the national economy, but many workers supported the abolition movement.

This information was provided by curators from the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI).