Manchester anniversary marks seminal moment in Anglo US relations
28 Dec 2012
The 150th anniversary on 31 December of one of the most important moments in Anglo American relations is being marked by a University of Manchester historian
Dr David Brown says the 1862 American Civil War meeting at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall - which came down on the side Lincoln - is little known, but hugely significant.
The decision to support American slaves and not the Confederates at the meeting was likely to have had a powerful impact on British public opinion, which was being wooed by both sides, he said.
The Confederates were in particular keen to get Lancashire on side, as it was the economic powerhouse of the country and reliant on cotton and the slave trade.
They had already succeeded in winning over Liverpool, who’s wealth derived from slave trade money and where the unofficial embassy still stands near the docks.
There was, according to Dr Brown, angry debate between supporters of the Confederates and their Yankee enemies, in a region where the ravages of the cotton famine had already heightened tensions.
The hardship and hostility even broke out into violence at Stalybridge, where mill workers rioted in 1863.
Lincoln sent a note of thanks to the people of Manchester, which was marked by a statue erected in 1919. The statue stands today in Lincoln Square in the centre of Manchester.
The little known details of the meeting have been reinvestigated by Dr Brown, who has been utilising the prior research of renowned American Civil War authority - and University of Manchester graduate - Prof Richard Blackett, from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, as well as new sources.
Dr Brown said: “Despite the disastrous effects of the cotton famine, mill workers displayed a remarkable solidarity with Lincoln and American slaves.
“They refused to allow personal hardship to sway them from a cause they regarded as a democratic blow for freedom.
“But we know very little about the meeting and the motivations of those involved so I shall continue to research the Free Trade Hall meeting and Lincoln’s reply to the 'working people of Manchester'.
“This meeting was an extremely important moment in the history of Anglo-American relations, at a critical juncture in the American Civil War when British intervention on the side of the Confederacy would have significantly altered history.”
He added; “But I do hope this anniversary will raise public awareness of Manchester’s and Lancashire’s critical connections to the American Civil War.
“So few people realise that the American Civil War marked the beginning of a dramatic decline in Manchester's fortunes.”
The British Government’s official policy remained neutral throughout the American Civil War.
Notes for editors
Dr David Brown is available for comment
For media enquires contact:
Dr David Brown
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790