Page images









P 212.16 (2)






Great New Street and Fetter Lane.





The paralysis of a great branch of our national industry, and the consequent pauperisation of an entire county, have given more than ordinary interest to the search for new sources from which our supplies of cotton may be drawn. Nor is the question one of merely temporary importance. The state of things which has been so suddenly interrupted is little likely to be restored in its integrity; and the present derangement of the cotton trade has in it the elements of permanent change. There are some persons, indeed, who still cling to the belief that the crisis will be short; that a few modifications and readjustments will enable us to tide it over; that at any moment the American ports may be thrown open; and that the liberation of the cotton now lying there ready to be shipped would be the signal for a complete return to the accustomed order of growth and exportation. There is little probability, however, that these sanguine anticipations will be fulfilled. It is true, indeed, that the military ardour of the North seems to be rapidly cooling down; but this change is probably owing, in a great measure, to the extreme uncertainty and wide differences of opinion which at present exist as to the object and method of carrying on the war. The triumph of one or other of the two great political parties in the Federal States might put an end to this state of things, but it would not necessarily insure the restoration of peace. The propriety of recognising the independence of the South is not the question now in issue between them. Hereafter it may, not improbably, become so; but at this moment the point of VOL. II.


departure is the nature of the terms of reunion. The South, however, seems to look with no more favour upon its old allies than upon its old opponents. It is just as unwilling to return to the Union of President Buchanan as to the Union of President Lincoln. The doctrine of putting down rebellion seems as unpalatable when it is preached by a pro-slavery democracy, as when it is made the pretext for a republican reign of terror. That the recent Democratic victories may ultimately tend to bring about a peace is not improbable; but there are several intermediate steps to be got over before any party in the North can make the recognition of the South an integral portion of its platform. Let us assume, however, that this has been done; that the peace-party in the North has been created, has fought, and has been victorious; and that the ambassadors of the two Federations are now discussing the terms of separation. A man must be very conscious of inspiration who would predict that the war is over even now. Negotiations have not always ended amicably, nor treaties of partition been invariably treaties of peace. The determination of a boundary-line; the division of the territories, which will involve economical interests of great importance to both the contending parties; the rendition of fugitive slaves, a question which did more, perhaps, than any other to split up the Union, and will probably yield its full quota of discord to the international relations of the separated parts ;--all these problems will present themselves for diplomatic solution, and upon any one of them a new conflict may arise as disastrous to English interests as the one which is now raging. Nor are the continuance or renewal of the war the only contingencies which may operate unfavourably on the supply of cotton. Southern society can hardly come unchanged out of such a fiery trial as it is enduring. Separation following upon an exhausting war must almost of necessity tend to modify the system of slavery in its present form. As the war goes on, military if not political reasons will probably compel the planters to arm larger numbers of their slaves,—a step which would be tantamount to a measure of partial emancipation. And when the war is over, the presence of a critical and hostile neighbour on the same continent; the coming for the first time face to face with the public opinion of Europe; the rise into importance of the poor Whites, who, after they have fought for political independence, are not likely to rest contented with their present political and social insignificance; and the growth of a manufacturing interest;—all necessarily point in the same direction. But the economical tendency of any change of the kind will in the

first instance be injurious. It is quite possible, indeed, from the wastefulness and want of intelligence which are the inherent characteristics of slaves, that in the long-run more cotton may be grown in the Southern States by a large admixture of free labour. But the intermediate period, during which the two systems will be working side by side, and neither of them doing its utmost, will almost certainly be a period of diminished production.

The precise estimate, however, which may be formed of the duration and consequences of the present contest is not of much importance to the matter in hand. Our exclusive reliance upon America was as short-sighted twenty years ago as it is now. At no time since the cotton trade has been in existence was a catastrophe similar in kind, though not perhaps in proportions, to that from which we are now suffering; impossible or even improbable. Threats of secession and rumours of civil war might perhaps seem too wild and idle to merit serious attention; but “difficulties” with the United States have at no time been uncommon, and a war in which the Southern ports would have been blockaded by an English fleet must have checked the flow of cotton to our own shores as effectually as the most rabid of internecine struggles. The cotton manufacture of Great Britain has depended from its very birth upon the industry of a single country, whose policy we cannot regulate, and whose friendship we cannot insure. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Englishmen have been as much at the mercy of a foreign power as though Lancashire were already a conquered province. And yet, while the faintest suspicion that the increase of a foreign navy, or the improved organisation of a foreign army, might one day place us at a disadvantage at sea or in the field, has been enough to arouse the fears and quicken the energies of the whole people, this state of things has been acquiesced in without serious alarm, and with only an occasional expression of anxiety. It was assumed that the material losses inseparable from a war between England and the United States were a sufficient guarantee against its occurrence; that one side would never risk a cotton famine, or the other sacrifice the value of a cotton crop. How weak a safeguard this really would have been, the events of the last two years have abundantly shown. If considerations of profit and loss have proved wholly inadequate to keep the North and the South from fighting, they would hardly have been of more avail in the case of a foreign enemy. Commercial treaties and commercial intercourse may do much to remove causes of war; but where the cause exists, they will have but little influence on the result. Interests

« PreviousContinue »