Lincoln and the cotton trade

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Once the Civil War started Lincoln was face with a lack of cotton crisis. Lincoln was put under political pressure to secure cotton for the Northern factories. War or no war, no governor wanted to close the mills in their home state. Lincoln was also faced with the fact that cotton products such as tents were needed by the Union armies. The problem was how to obtain Southern cotton without providing money to the Confederacy. Some 900,000 bales of cotton reached the New England ports during the Civil War. About 300,000 bales were confiscated from captured areas or legally purchased there, and another 160,000 bales were meant for foreign markets. The remaining bales came from what one might call "illegal, extra-legal or other sources". Some Northern businessmen made huge profits off of this questionable trade in cotton. Some Northern mills reported a 600% increase in profits during the war.

Dispute the Union blockade Lincoln had to ensure that not only enough cotton reached England and France to keep them form breaking the blockade to obtain cotton, but Lincoln also had to satisfy the profit hungry Northern businessmen, secure cotton goods for the Union army, while at the same the time not allowing the Confederacy to obtain too much money to purchases foriegn made war material. This resulted in a real balancing act for Lincoln.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Lincoln had to walk the line on this subject. Secretaries Seward and Chase push a liberal cotton trade policy while Secretary Stanton opposed this. Lincoln himself "appeared to have no fixed purpose in his own mind" (Thomas H. O'Connor, Lincoln and the Cotton Trade, Civil War History Vol 7 #1, p. 27 ) In the end "let commerce follow the flag" policy prevailed and officially cotton was only officially purchased from loyal or captured areas. Cotton trade resumed at will from "friendly" ports. Much unofficially purchased cotton was still very common.

General Butler in New Orleans worked with a purpose to supply the Union with needed cotton, while General Grant and General Sherman often tried to restrict cotton trade because the felt it aided the enemy. "While General Sherman was perfectly wiling to permit a reasonable amount of trade in cotton by local farmers who were trying to obtain the necessities of life for themselves and their families, he objected strenuously to the large-scale and 'nefarious practice' of supplying are and sinews of war.." .
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
"Woof!" is right here. I don't even know where to begin on this subject. That Lincoln walked the line is probably about right. I've not seen evidence he had his finger in the till but he certainly knew what was going on.

That Butler "worked with a purpose to supply the Union with needed cotton" is certainly true. His purpose was to enrich his family (and probably his cronies) and their is no doubt about this.

With respect to Edwin Stanton's opposition to liberal cotton trade policy, I'm pretty sure General William T. Sherman had something to say it in his memoir. :wink:
 

1950lemans

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 23, 2013
Location
Connecticut
Lincoln and cotton is a difficult subject. The following article might help but it’s a long article.

http://abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincoln-in-depth/abraham-lincoln-and-cotton/

Some interesting cotton perspectives:

Some four and a half years before the CW:

· 8.1 million bales shipped out of New Orleans alone

· 7.1 million bales shipped out of Charleston, Savannah and Mobile

1.9 million bales = how much the South was able to smuggle out during the entire CW. Big drop!

1.1 million of those smuggled bales went North; one million bales alone came through NYC. Surprise! How it got there is way too convoluted.

553,000+ bales = how much was smuggled to England. We know England went elsewhere for her cotton. The Confederacy financed the war not with cotton but with cotton bonds.

In addition to the above:

83,000 bales = amount captured by land and sea forces of the USA

600,000 bales = amount purchased from Southern planters along the Mississippi. A year after the war started New Orleans fell; a month later Memphis fell; a year later Vicksburg fell. So who were the planters going to sell to? The North of course! Over 300,000 bales went through New Orleans to the North.

60,000 bales = the amount the US purchased from the Confederacy. Executive order of Sept. 24, 1864 allowing for purchase of products of states in insurrection.

So technically a situation like this could happen:

1. The blockade off Norfolk was lifted in Nov., 1864

2. I’m a blockade runner who just made it out of Wilmington

3. I can pull into Norfolk and unload and let the speculators auction it off – most likely to Northern merchants.

1.8 million bales = how much was still sitting around the South at war’s end.

Alabama = the safest place to store cotton for the Confederacy until the war’s end when Wilson’s raid burned 275,000 bales in Georgia and Alabama.

I really think we're only scrapping the surface of the real story of "cotton and the CW".
 

cedarstripper

First Sergeant
Joined
Mar 16, 2005
Location
western New York
Lincoln and cotton is a difficult subject. The following article might help but it’s a long article.

http://abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincoln-in-depth/abraham-lincoln-and-cotton/

Some interesting cotton perspectives:

Some four and a half years before the CW:

· 8.1 million bales shipped out of New Orleans alone

· 7.1 million bales shipped out of Charleston, Savannah and Mobile
Can you provide your source for the above figures? They seem quite high. The 1860 US Census lists a total US cotton crop of 5,386,867 bales of cotton (400 lb.) and an article in DeBow's Review lists exports out of New Orleans for the 1855-56 season at 1,795,023 bales.

Thanks
 

1950lemans

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 23, 2013
Location
Connecticut
Can you provide your source for the above figures? They seem quite high. The 1860 US Census lists a total US cotton crop of 5,386,867 bales of cotton (400 lb.) and an article in DeBow's Review lists exports out of New Orleans for the 1855-56 season at 1,795,023 bales.

Thanks
Info is from Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War, David G. Surdam, 2001.
Chart 11.2. The 1860 figures pretty much match your figures.

Having difficulty uploading a .pdf otherwise I would show the chart. Sorry.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Is it possible that the early in the war the blockade conentrating on incoming blockade runners to ensue Great Britain and France got just enough cotton run out thorough the blockade that they did not need to intervine. Once the Union held some Southern areas and sold some cotton overseas, the blockade seemed to tighten up. Perhaps I am just too cynical.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Once the Civil War started Lincoln was face with a lack of cotton crisis. Lincoln was put under political pressure to secure cotton for the Northern factories. War or no war, no governor wanted to close the mills in their home state. Lincoln was also faced with the fact that cotton products such as tents were needed by the Union armies. The problem was how to obtain Southern cotton without providing money to the Confederacy. Some 900,000 bales of cotton reached the New England ports during the Civil War. About 300,000 bales were confiscated from captured areas or legally purchased there, and another 160,000 bales were meant for foreign markets. The remaining bales came from what one might call "illegal, extra-legal or other sources". Some Northern businessmen made huge profits off of this questionable trade in cotton. Some Northern mills reported a 600% increase in profits during the war.

Dispute the Union blockade Lincoln had to ensure that not only enough cotton reached England and France to keep them form breaking the blockade to obtain cotton, but Lincoln also had to satisfy the profit hungry Northern businessmen, secure cotton goods for the Union army, while at the same the time not allowing the Confederacy to obtain too much money to purchases foriegn made war material. This resulted in a real balancing act for Lincoln.

1. The link below connects to a recent (2013) book dedicated to the topic.
http://www.westholmepublishing.com/trading_with_the_enemy.php

2. The following url links to a free sample chapter of the above book.
https://civilwarchat.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/sample-chapter-trading-with-the-enemy/

3. The final url below provides a speech about the book by its author.
https://civilwarchat.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/trading-with-the-enemy/
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
From link number two, posted above:

"King Cotton was not the impotent power it is often ridiculed to be by twenty-first century observers. Ward Hill Lamon, who was one of Lincoln’s legal partners for five years before the war and his personal bodyguard during the presidency, explained why Southern secession was such a frightening threat to Northerners:

[Cotton] formed the bulk of our exchanges with Europe; paid our foreign indebtedness; maintained a great marine; built towns, cities, and railways; enriched factors, brokers, and bankers; filled the federal treasury to overflowing, and made the foremost nations of the world commercially our tributaries and politically our dependents. A short crop embarrassed and distressed all Western Europe; a total failure, a war, or non-intercourse, would reduce whole communities to famine, and probably precipitate them into revolution."
 

1950lemans

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 23, 2013
Location
Connecticut
Can you provide your source for the above figures? They seem quite high. The 1860 US Census lists a total US cotton crop of 5,386,867 bales of cotton (400 lb.) and an article in DeBow's Review lists exports out of New Orleans for the 1855-56 season at 1,795,023 bales.

Thanks
Here it is!
 

Attachments

  • Cotton Exports.PDF
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18thVirginia

Major
Joined
Sep 8, 2012
"Woof!" is right here. I don't even know where to begin on this subject. That Lincoln walked the line is probably about right. I've not seen evidence he had his finger in the till but he certainly knew what was going on.

That Butler "worked with a purpose to supply the Union with needed cotton" is certainly true. His purpose was to enrich his family (and probably his cronies) and their is no doubt about this.

With respect to Edwin Stanton's opposition to liberal cotton trade policy, I'm pretty sure General William T. Sherman had something to say it in his memoir. :wink:

Do you have some estimates and/or evidence of how much Butler enriched his family through supplying cotton?
 

KansasFreestater

1st Lieutenant
60,000 bales = the amount the US purchased from the Confederacy. Executive order of Sept. 24, 1864 allowing for purchase of products of states in insurrection.
Holy moley!!! I never knew about that.

I really think we're only scrapping the surface of the real story of "cotton and the CW".
Boy, is that the truth! This thread has definitely made me want to learn more.
(That's all I need -- yet one more track to go chasing down! As the Book Stack Grows.... )
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Does anybody know what the "official regulations" of the Federal Government on cotton trading were?

Since inter-belligerent trade was almost a certainty, each side adopted regulations to control it in a manner optimal to their interests. Generally President Davis looked the other way out of necessity, whereas Lincoln looked the other way out of policy.

While the Confederate Congress tried to restrict shipment of specific commodities (such as cotton) into the North, it never outlawed trade with states remaining in the Union. It was silent on the matter of imports because the necessities of life were often more readily available to southerners on the far side of enemy lines than through the blockade.

Lincoln’s regulations were more convoluted owing to conflicting interests. Prohibition on trade would leave destitute whites and former slaves in federally occupied regions of the Confederacy with no means of economic support. But less altruistically, New England mills wanted feedstock to keep their factories running and workers employed. For diplomatic reasons, Lincoln wanted enough cotton to slip out of the country to avoid a cotton famine in Europe that might otherwise provoke Old World intervention in the American war.

The above is excerpted from:
https://civilwarchat.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/trading-with-the-enemy/

In short, the federal rules were not constant. Chapter 2 of Trading With the Enemy provides a detailed discussion.
 
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Sesech

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 9, 2015
Location
Alabama
Since inter-belligerent trade was almost a certainty, each side adopted regulations to control it in a manner optimal to their interests. Generally President Davis looked the other way out of necessity, whereas Lincoln looked the other way out of policy.

While the Confederate Congress tried to restrict shipment of specific commodities (such as cotton) into the North, it never outlawed trade with states remaining in the Union. It was silent on the matter of imports because the necessities of life were often more readily available to southerners on the far side of enemy lines than through the blockade.

Lincoln’s regulations were more convoluted owing to conflicting interests. Prohibition on trade would leave destitute whites and former slaves in federally occupied regions of the Confederacy with no means of economic support. But less altruistically, New England mills wanted feedstock to keep their factories running and workers employed. For diplomatic reasons, Lincoln wanted enough cotton to slip out of the country to avoid a cotton famine in Europe that might otherwise provoke Old World intervention in the American war.

The above is excerpted from:
https://civilwarchat.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/trading-with-the-enemy/

In short, the federal rules were not constant. Chapter 2 of Trading With the Enemy provides a detailed discussion.

Thanks for the reply. The reason I asked was because in July of 1864 Lincoln wrote General R.S. Canby,
"Frequent complaints are made to me that persons endeavoring to bring in cotton in strict accordance with the trade regulations of the Treasury Department, are frustrated by seizures of Ditrict Attorneys, Marshals, Provost-Marshals and others, on various pretences, all looking to black-mail, and spoils, one way and another."

I just wondered what those "regulations" were.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Thanks for the reply. The reason I asked was because in July of 1864 Lincoln wrote General R.S. Canby,
"Frequent complaints are made to me that persons endeavoring to bring in cotton in strict accordance with the trade regulations of the Treasury Department, are frustrated by seizures of Ditrict Attorneys, Marshals, Provost-Marshals and others, on various pretences, all looking to black-mail, and spoils, one way and another."

I just wondered what those "regulations" were.

Canby was a strict opponent on inter-belligerent trade. Lincoln, for reasons noted above, was not. The federal rules did change in the autumn of 1864. Some of this is explained in the speech linked in the url in post 16 above, which also reveals even more shocking scandals.
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
Do you have some estimates and/or evidence of how much Butler enriched his family through supplying cotton?

It may be impossible to know. What we do have is primary source evidence of a Butler Family bribery attempt at New Orleans in 1862 that is shocking in its brazenness.

General Benjamin Butler had been relieved of command at New Orleans and replaced with General N.P. Banks, who received a letter from Butler's brother dated December 27, 1862. The letter to General Banks said, in part,

"If you will allow our commercial program to be carried out as projected previous to your arrival...giving the same support and facilities as your predecessor...I am authorized to place at your disposal...$100,000."

Banks refused the money and fired the original off to his wife with his private sentiment of disgust over it. She saved it and it survives in the Banks Papers at the Library of Congress.

For perspective, $100,000 in 1862 is roughly $2 million in today's money. That the Butlers were offering this sum to bribe the new military commander suggests the value of their "commercial program" was far greater, but we are left guessing.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Sharing opportunities sharing profits, even outright bribery were common business practices back then. The huge profits in the cotton trade tempted many business men and certainly military officials as well. That said, some of the things connected to the Union trade in cotton seems to be outrageous even by Civil War era business standards. It does appear that some 'good Union men' did not mind buying cotton even if the money might be used to equip Confederate troops.
 
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