THE history of the international campaign, as carried on between the citizens of the Northern and Southern States of America during the four years that succeeded the Spring of 1861, includes, even in its least harrowing details, some of the saddest of modern chronicles. In all ages of the world, one effect of war has been to paralyse industry, and at the same time to sweep away much of its previous savings through the current expenditure. It may be questioned, however, whether at any previous period the blighting influence of that terrible scourge produced disasters so appalling as those that followed the warfare beyond the Atlantic. But the ill effects of that campaign did not end there. For a long series of years the spindles that whirled in the cotton mills of England and Scotland had drawn the great proportion of their raw material from the American plantations. Many millions of acres on the vast continent that flourishes under the Stripes and Stars were engaged in the growth of cotton during the season of 1860 ; perhaps four-fifths of the produce were landed in London and Liverpool, and nearly all that importation was worked up in British mills. But soon after the demon of war had been let loose on the fair fields of the American planters, desolation spread on every side, and before the close of the second year three-fourths of all the cotton lands had been either destroyed or left untilled. Corn fields were trampled down, the greater part of the wheat crop was destroyed, and wherever the track of contending armies was to be seen, the whole face of the country was left wild-looking and desolate as it might have appeared a century before. Then it was that the effects of the war between the Northern and Southern sections of America began to tell on the social and commercial relations of the people on both sides the Atlantic. If we take the flaxen manufactures as an illustration, we find that the citizens of the United States imported from these realms 59,488,390 yards of linen in 1860, and only 21,169,000 yards the following year. The gross value of all the exports thence from Great Britain and Ireland in 186o was £21,677,000, against £9,064,500 in 1861. This, however, formed only one portion of the losses then sustained. As already stated, the destruction of real property at the scenes of strife could hardly be estimated by the ordinary process of arithmetic: it far exceeded anything that followed the most fiercely-contested battles of Europe. The mere money cost was enormous, and the destruction of life was still more lamentable. Many were the stern lessons which that fratricidal campaign taught the statesmen and patriots of the New World, and hardly less instructive was the sermon which it preached to the senators of the Old Country. It was calculated that during the American war one hundred thousand men were killed, and four times the same number disabled. Many of the latter died after months of suffering and sickness—thus dying, as it were, many times. Then we have the domestic misery endured in so many households through the loss of their dearest relatives, and the worse than death on the battle-field which the tens of thousands endured in their maimed lives after what is called "the glory of war" had long ceased to have any influence on the popular mind. The actual loss sustained by the destruction of property was five hundred millions of dollars, and the injury done to business, by land and sea, was not less than one hundred millions dollars. Maffit, one of the Southern destructionists, boasted that in his own case he had sunk ships and burned cargoes to the amount of eleven millions dollars. The New York Herald estimated that in the Autumn of 1863, several months before the proclamation of peace, the war-debt of the North and South amounted to five thousand millions of dollars. One of the most valuable lessons taught the people of the United Kingdom by the American campaign was that which proved how largely the commercial prospects of the Old World, of Great Britain and Ireland, depended on the peace and progress of the New Land on the other side the Atlantic. Much attention and considerable anxiety prevailed in 1859 and '60 relative to the future supplies of raw cotton, the spindles of all mills in the United Kingdom being then dependent for the great proportion of their raw material on the products of the American plantations. One section of Britain's economists had been indulging in very wild delusions relative to the importance of the trade with our Transatlantic cousins. "We have only to look out for other markets as outlets for our produce and manufactures, and these, when found, may far exceed those of the United States," was often heard as the great semi-seerdom of those sages. It was said that Uncle Sam was getting too big for his boots, and that some exertion should, therefore, be made to curtail his physical dimensions; but the effects of the war in 1861 and '62, with the stagnation of commerce throughout the United Kingdom, proved how much our general trade was dependent on that of our republican relatives, and how little the political economists, to whom we have alluded, knew about the great question of American commerce with Great Britain and Ireland.
About the same time there arose a very portentous section of theorists, each of whom looked upon himself as having been gifted by Providence with prophetic wisdom respecting the discovery of extended fields of cotton growth. One of those sages stated that there would not be any difficulty in obtaining from other lands such quantities of raw material as would make Lancashire and Lanark quite independent of the American States as to getting food for their spindles. " The planters of the East Indian cotton-fields," it was stated, " could deliver low qualities of cotton at from three half-pence to two pence half-penny per pound, and if the Americans were to close their ports against British buyers, abundant supplies of raw material could be had elsewhere." Such was the absurd braggadocia and silly flourish which were frequently heard for some time before the American war flung all wild theories to the winds. It was well known to every person who had considered the subject that the East Indian grower of cotton had almost illimitable resources within his reach. He could procure labour in abundance at the wages of one rupee—about two shillings—a-week for the best hands. Millions of acres of the finest soil for cotton culture ]ay partially idle, the plant was a natural product, and could be seen growing wild in many rarely-trodden districts; and yet it seemed to be quite forgotten, that, with all those advantages, the Asiatics had been far distanced in their race of competition with the planters of the New World beyond the Atlantic. Cotton, which the ancient writers described as the "wool of a plant," was grown in what are at present known as the Presidencies of Bengal and Bombay thousands of years before the Christian Era, but it was not until the Spring of 1786 that the energetic men of Georgia, in the juvenile Republic of America, commenced the enterprise of cotton-growing, and since then they have come to the front as the most extensive and most superior producers of that fibre in the universe. The silky product called Sea-Island, raised in the low ranges of coast that run between Charleston and Savannah, are unequalled for their beauty of texture. Some parcels of this class of cotton were sold in the Liverpool market at five shillings a-pound in August, 1863. Alabama and Georgia planters are able to raise three hundred pounds of cotton to the acre, while the growers in Surat and other Indian settlements cannot produce more than one-third that average. These facts had long been known to thoughtful men in this kingdom; but there was still floating about a race of self constituted philosophers, who, while indulging in projects about getting supplies of cotton outside the plantations of the Far \Vest, propounded idealisms wild and fantastic as the dreamiest follies of that respectable class of unbelievers who, some years ago, plagued the Churches with their absurdities on the Bible-wine question.
There had been no end of exultation with one class of political economists, for several years before this time, respecting the supposed capabilities of Queensland as a new field of cotton culture; and it was added that Egypt, if her powers were fully developed, could extend her growth of the same material ten-fold. But the youngest colony of the Australian Isles has never been able to make any way in cotton-planting. Some splendid samples of its growth have been shown in Liverpool, and very beautiful was its fibre. Still, such is the uncertainty of the climate, that the crop is very difficult to gather in harvest-time. And as to the home of the Pharaohs, the area is so limited, that the exigencies of the country require all the spare land for grain production and other purposes. Flax and cotton from time immemorial have had their full proportion of arable soil there, and that proportion is not likely to be extended. To America, then, the thoughtful men connected with the cotton manufacture could only look forward as the land of hope, no other country in the world being able to turn out such amplitude of supplies. Of this truth the spinners and manufacturers of Europe became fully aware in 1862 and '63, and bitter lessons were taught many men of the trade when prices of raw material ran up two hundred, then three hundred, and ultimately four hundred per cent. above the averages of previous years, and when imports fell off to a mere fractional proportion of those landed in 1860.
The rapidity with which British and Irish manufacturers of goods had been
extending production during the forty years ending December, 1S6o, can only
be rightly understood by taking into account the scale of importation during
that period. America, in the meantime, had been the chief centre of
production from which those manufacturers drew their supplies. We find, by
the most authentic data relative to the aggregate imports into the united
Kingdom at different periods, that in 1820 the landings of raw cotton
amounted to 140,675,000 pounds ; in 1840 the figures were 743,440,000
pounds; and in 1860 the large total of 1,140,550,000 (page 10)
pounds were landed. It is remarkable that in the latter noted year the
American plantations raised the immense quantity of 4,860,290 bales of
cotton, 2,669,432 of which crop were sent to Great Britain. Taking the bales
at an average of 400 pounds each, the supplies from America in 1860 amounted
to 106,772,800 pounds, but war had devastated American cotton fields to such
an extent that in 1862 imports from thence into Great Britain only reached
the fractional quantity of 71,750 bales.
Very little change could be noted as having taken place in the cotton market during the first year of the war. Towards its close prices went up a few points, and some far-seeing merchants purchased several thousand bales for the next rise. But with the advent of 1862 there came a rapid advance in value. This turn continued, and in the September of that year still tighter markets existed, the stocks of all qualities of cotton in the hands of Liverpool importers having fallen to 58,160 bales, against 880,680 bales held for the like date of 1861. At that time jute had gone up to 70 per cent. and flax 25 per cent. Then came the wildest speculation and the most absurd theories relative to substitutes for cotton. For a time these dreamy projects formed material for prosy leaders in the public papers, and ground-work for solemn platitudes in private circles. Every week brought out some strange proposition; but so bewildered by the utter stagnation of business were the people connected with the trade, and those of nearly all grades from the mill-owner to the most juvenile operative, that every panacea had its patrons. Learned savans seized on the subject, and delivered themselves of mythological soothsaying ridiculous enough to give it a place in some special section of the British Association, and men of otherwise sound judgment on ?Change propounded opinions on the question, "What are we to do for cotton ?" which were grotesque as they were unpractical. When all this excitement of dread and doubt was almost at its climax, a firm of London lawyers announced that a client of theirs had discovered a substitute that would answer all the purposes of cotton, and that the supply was so abundant that every idle operative might at once be set to work in collecting it. The great importance of that discovery, as the solicitors of the modern Columbus stated, was, that "it could be obtained in the United Kingdom in any quantity without displacing even a single acre of soil for other purposes." That announcement created great interest, not only in the land of looms and spindles, but in nearly all parts of the kingdom. Many letters appeared on the subject in the London papers. The city editor of the Times gave the project a fair notice in his columns, and rather lauded the person who had made the wonderful discovery. As a matter of course, the greatest secrecy was for a time maintained respecting the article and its whereabouts ; but when the fact oozed out that the new fibre was to be found in a sea-weed—Zostera Marina—which abounds on the shores and sea coasts of England and Ireland, those who had been most disposed to canonize the projector were among the first to turn the whole affair into ridicule. An equally absurd proposal had its patrons about the same time. This was a plan to cottonize jute, but of course that plan so0n fell to the ground.
Referring to the numerous projects set forth to make good the loss of supplies from America, a writer in one of the Belfast papers correctly stated—" The only substitute for the material that has worked such wonders in our manufactures is the ' Cotton itself; ' and when the "famine" was at its height, that axiom's truthfulness became apparent to all thoughtful men who were able to form correct opinions on the subject. `About the close of the first half 0f 1862, the terrible effects of lessened supplies and dearer markets for cotton had left their mark on the chief seats of the trade. Only twelve months had elapsed from the time when the first boom of the cannon told that hostilities had commenced between the Northern and Southern States, when idle spindles and silent looms in all parts of Lancashire, and the scarcity of employment in other cotton districts throughout the kingdom, proved how much the success of the capitalists and the working ranks of the Old World depended on the peace and prosperity of the Western Republic. Imports of cotton, which to hundreds of thousands of people in the United Kingdom had become almost as vital a necessity as corn, were woefully short in 1862, the second year of the American war. We have alluded to the supply of cotton sent us from the United States at different periods. The total landing from all sources, which amounted to 11,223,000 cwts. in 1861, had fallen off to 4,678,300 cwts. in course of the succeeding year. Prices in the interim rose from 8d. a-pound to 25d. for top quality Upland. American, East India advanced from 5d. to 16d. a-pound, and before the end of 1863 Upland sold at 28d. the pound. Rapid fortunes were realized by those who purchased large lots of the article during the Spring of 1862, and while the excitement lasted it seemed as if mines of wealth had been discovered by the successful speculators. At length came the reaction, and in the downward movement many went to the wall. But the result of the sudden increase of prices in the cotton market proved nearly ruinous to numbers of spinners. Many of th0se capitalists closed their mills, others worked short time, and factory-owners were obliged to discharge three-fourths of all their hands. The effect of this cessation of labour brought misery on many households, and threw multitudes of previously well-to-do families on the poor-rates. There were, in January, 1861, eleven thousand persons in the receipt of relief in the seven-and-twenty unions which form the cotton districts of the North of England, and for the same month in 1863 there were four hundred and fifty thousand paupers on the roll. In one of the largest unions the distress was s0 general that the available funds were quite inadequate to meet the demands on them, and for some months the rate of relief per week was only about thirteen pence a-head for every member, young and old. And yet the expenditure in Cheshire and Lancashire exceeded twenty thousand pounds a-week, causing a tax of five shillings in the pound on all rateable property. It was, indeed, a sad state of affairs to see thousands of the most industrious and best paid workpeople in Europe, after having been thrown from their high position of independence, reduced to the low level of mere paupers. That, however, was the inevitable, and they submitted to it without any loss of dignity. Outside the poor-law a noble work was carried on, and the extraordinary degree of benevolence which had been called into existence during that terrible visitation has no parallel in the entire history of private philanthropy. America c0ntributed very largely to the general fund, and the liberality displayed by many noble lords and generous commoners in our own country was really marvellous. According to the published accounts of the Lancashire Committee, the total contributions paid into their bankers for the support of the people during the cotton famine was as follows :—London Mansion House subscriptions, £503,131; Central Committee, £892,279; cotton districts, £254,380; general contributions, £283,989; and other subscriptions, £40,434 : making the enormous total of £1,974,203 !
At that time the Northern States of America were in the midst of their great struggle against the citizens of the slave-dealing South; yet it almost seemed as if they had forgotten their own troubles in the practical sympathy they exercised towards the sufferers in the Old Land, which had been the cradle of many millions of them. Large sums of money and liberal supplies of food were sent over the Atlantic to be distributed among the people of the English cotton districts. But British India, which was then in the receipt of about three millions sterling per month as the proceeds of her sales of raw cotton—the land that owed so much of her early prosperity to the manufacturers of Great Britain and Ireland—appeared to have forgotten the noble virtues of gratitude and generosity, and although frequently applied to for aid, did not send over a single rupee towards the relief of the distressed operatives. We have seen that nearly two millions of hard cash were raised to stem the tide of distress that had set in with such force, and which threatened to sweep away myriads of people in the North of England ; but that amount, large as it was, did not include all, or nearly all, the offerings made to charity in course of that period of suffering. The Poor-law authorities were very active, and spared neither outlay nor exertion in their daily labours.
It would be utterly impossible even to approximate the amount which, throughout the long period of distress, was contributed by the mill and factory owners. An extensive firm, whose works were closed, had, many years before, erected several hundred cottages for their workpeople, and when the famine set in, they not only remitted all rents payable by the tenants, but they bestowed on every family that had been engaged in their concern one shilling a-head each week, and every day they had a dinner prepared for such of their people as chose to partake of it.
To give anything like a full history of all that was done by the
employers of labour in those times would not be within the limits of this
little work, and we can only allude to a few cases. A house engaged in the
manufacture of cotton goods, shirting calicoes, and printers, kept one
thousand people at work in good times, but when the dearth and scarcity of
cotton raised the cost of production far beyond the market values of such
goods, the proprietors were obliged to stop their machinery. For some months
they supported, from their own private resources, all these people, and that
sacrifice, it need scarcely be said, could only have been made at an immense
amount of expenditure. Another mill-owner kept his spindles in motion at an
actual loss of five hundred pounds a-week rather than permit the work-people
he employed to fall back on the poor-rates. And yet, while this noble system
of modern Samaritanism was being carried out in every section of the
manufacturing districts, there was no end of the vituperation cast on "the
cotton lords" and "heartless capitalists " by the Rev. Charles Kingsley and
other one-sided thinkers. Sydney Smith has said that A never saw B requiring
aid that he did not advise C to do something for him; and in all that period
of pinching and poverty there were numbers of worthy persons who did nothing
themselves in the way of alleviating distress, but seemed indefatigable in
their abuse of every man that own& a tall chimney. In Manchester, where
extreme poverty pressed on the operatives with extra power, the very spirit
of benevolence was abroad, and superhuman exertions were made to render the
action of the times as light as the hand of Charity could make it. One
leading firm paid to the people who had previously been in their employment
one thousand pounds a-month, and a great many smaller houses bestowed one
hundred and twenty pounds a-week towards the support of their idle hands. We
could give many other evidences of the princely spirit in which " the cotton
lords" of that day distributed their bounty. Three thousand people
connected with the mills of Messrs. Fielding, of Todmordan, in Yorkshire,
were unemployed for several months, and during all that time those employers
gave their people one-half the average wages which the sufferers had earned
when the mills were in full work—say, about eight shillings a-week. Distress
in Wigan and its neighbourhood had greatly increased during the Autumn of
1862, and to aid in its alleviation Lord Lindsay and his father agreed to
contribute one hundred pounds a-week for the succeeding five months, besides
which they sent a cheque for five hundred pounds to the Mayor of that town
to purchase clothes and bedding for the operatives.
But a great number of people outside the cotton trades, and who were rarely alluded to amid the intense sympathy called forth by the sufferings of the operatives, had very serious ills to battle with. This class consisted of retail dealers and other small shopkeepers, hosts of whom carried on business in the neighbourhood of public works in Manchester, Bury, Bolton, and Preston. The customers of such traders consisted almost solely of mill and factory workers; and when these people were thrown out of employment, the shopkeepers not only lost their custom, but they also lost their running accounts, and thus became involved in the general ruin. Nor did that phase of the calamity end there. The decreased circulation of cash in the retail trades affected wholesale merchants as well, and where hundreds of thousands of spindles and vast numbers of steam-loom factories were quite idle, the loss in payment of wages alone was £135,000 a-week. If to this sum be added the falling-off in business in the trades immediately dependent on the cotton manufactures, the decline of cash circulation for that year could not have been under ten millions sterling. What amount of money was lost by the owners of mills and factories in course of the cotton famine has never been even conjectured ; for in this world of ours there is hardly ever a single thought bestowed on the misfortunes which employers of labour endure by commercial reverses and dulness of trade. When "bad times" set in, and stocks accumulate, the only course open for the manufacturer is that of lessening production, and as a natural result numbers of operatives are thus thrown idle. As a general rule, the people who spent much commiseration on the unemployed workmen in 1863, never thought of the difficulties that surrounded the millowner in those days of darkness. It is true, that many Lancashire spinners and manufacturers were rich and well able to bear all the losses which arose out of the cotton famine; but numbers of others were men in the same trade, who had commenced business not long before that sad time, and were still fighting their way up the hill when the American war set in, and with that calamity came hosts of lesser ills, all of which bore with immense pressure on the funds of struggling capitalists. The peculiarity of popular feeling on some great questions is marvellously strange ; and wonderful, indeed, is the fact, that while such great efforts were made on behalf of the workpeople in those times, there was scarcely a sentiment of sympathy bestowed on the proprietors of mills and factories. From the month of July, 1362, until the end of the ensuing year, the charity of the public was taxed to an extent hardly credible, and nobly did many members of the monied class outside the manufacturing interest respond to the calls made upon them ; but, as we have stated, the burdens borne during that period by millowners—by those employers whose capital was locked up in buildings and machinery—were far beyond all estimate.
At the close of January, 1863, upland cotton, of a quality which, eighteen months before, had been sold at 9d. the pound, was quoted at 24d., but even at that figure could not be had in even one-fourth the supply necessary to keep the spindles in motion. Yarns and goods had pretty well followed in the wake of raw material. Mule twist, which in August, 1861, was quoted at i2c1., sold at 25d. the pound; and Manchester factory-owners, who, at the former noted date, were selling 39-inch calico at 8s. 9d. the 36 yard piece, found ready sale for a similar article at 17s. 6d. the piece. If a fair supply of cotton could have been had, business would have gone on nearly as usual, but the scarcity of raw material left millowners no other course save that of closing their concerns. Hence, the operatives, from want of employment, suffered misery and privation far exceeding anything that could have been conceived on the subject.