The American Civil War and the Lancashire cotton famine

Statue of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Square, Manchester

Lincoln and London commemoration

George Grey Barnard's bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln was originally intended to stand outside the Houses of Parliament, a tribute from the USA to Britain to mark the 100 years of unbroken peace that had existed between the two countries since 1814. Barnard’s depiction of Lincoln proved controversial and eventually led to a more statesmanlike image of the president being sent to London at the end of the First World War. Barnard’s Lincoln was without a home. Manchester argued that it was an appropriate city for such a statue because of its connections with Lincoln. This was a reference to the sacrifices that Lancashire cotton operatives had made in support of the Union and the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War, a sacrifice that Lincoln himself acknowledged. No reference was made to the fact that not all of the people working in the cotton industry during the cotton famine, let alone those in other parts of the country, were sympathetic to the northern states.

Manchester location

It was agreed to send Barnard’s statue to Manchester. The unveiling ceremony in Platt Fields in 1919 was an unashamed celebration of Manchester’s liberal values, emphasising the noble sacrifices made by workers during the cotton famine, a sacrifice which allowed Lincoln to regard Britain as an ally in the Union cause. The plaque referred to ‘Lancashire friendship to the cause for which he lived and died'. In acquiring this new historical meaning, the original purpose of this transatlantic gift was forgotten.

Lincoln Square

In 1986 the Lincoln statue was moved from Platt Fields to become the focal point of a new public space, Lincoln Square, in the centre of Manchester. It was mounted on a new pedestal on which was engraved extracts from a letter written by Lincoln in 1863 to the working men of Lancashire recognising the sufferings they were undergoing in the war that was to result in the legal abolition of slavery in all of the states of the USA. Controversy surrounded the removal of the statue when it was disclosed that the term working men used in Lincoln’s letter of 1863 had been altered to ‘working people’, apparently for reasons of political correctness.

The inscription on the pedestal of the Lincoln statue reads:

Abraham Lincoln / Born 12th February 1809 / Assassinated 15th April 1865 / President of the U.S.A. / 1861-65 / American Civil War 15th April 1861 to 9th April 1865.

Extract of a letter / To the working people of Manchester 19th January 1863 / 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 likely 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 these circumstances I cannot but regard your decisive / utterances upon 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 re-inspiring 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.

This information was provided by Terry Wyke.