Traders or Traitors: Northern Cotton Trading During the Civil War

USS ALASKA

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Traders or Traitors: Northern Cotton Trading During the Civil War

David G. Surdam
Department of Economics Loyola University of Chicago

Conclusions
The tightening Federal naval blockade created potential for spectacular profits for those who could obtain and transport cotton cheaply. A total ban on trade would have only magnified the potential profits and would have likely created a greater impetus for illicit smuggling and its attendant evils. Lincoln wanted to use cotton, and perhaps he believed that even greed could be used to further the national interest. Lincoln, himself, was scrupulous about his personal finances [French, 1989, p. 382; Donald, 1995, p. 313, 325]. Why did a man with such personal integrity eventually countenance a system that became rife with abuse and corruption? Why did he grant favored treatment to so many friends and associates in obtaining permits? In comparison, Jefferson Davis was so strict regarding cotton that he didn't help his older brother, Joseph, in preserving their stocks of cotton from being burned [Hermann, 1990, p. 105]. In an ironic twist, General Grant saw and condemned the corruption inherent in the trade, but later he became renown for an administration characterized by his associates' corruption. Lincoln oversaw a system whereby his associates gained even at the possible cost of prolonging the war, but we revere him as "Honest" Abe. Lincoln was at least sensitive to the potential scandal from the cotton trade. On some instances he refused to issue permits because of the impropriety involved. Still, the cotton trade, with its attendant profitability, probably posed too great a temptation for any set of men to avoid some sinful behavior; Lincoln was not surrounded by saints. Moreover, the attempts to get cotton and the methods for apportioning permits served critical local interests. Massachusetts and New York were critical states for the Republicans in 1864. The Massachusetts cotton textile manufacturers needed cotton to stay in business, and Lincoln was loathe to abandon them. New York was not safely Republican, and Lincoln needed to insure the support of men such as Thufiow Weed (Lincoln won the state by fewer than 7,000 votes). But satisfying local interests was a risky strategy. Grant's military strategy was to pin Lee down and starve him out by cutting the supply lines from the South; by allowing the trading of food supplies for cotton in southern Virginia, Lincoln's cotton policies were undermining Grant's strategy at a time when war-weariness was at its peak. By helping Massachusetts and New York manufacturers and traders, Lincoln was putting the war effort at risk. Fortunately for him, his military leaders won vital victories before the 1864 election, maintaining the Union cause, but the margin for error was slender.


http://www.thebhc.org/sites/default/files/beh/BEHprint/v028n2/p0301-p0312.pdf

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wausaubob

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With the cotton came information. And the cotton that moved north could be transported through Canada and end up in Liverpool.
There were some painful reasons not to completely shut down cotton buying.
 

USS ALASKA

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One of the 'benefits' to this trade would be that the North has a little more say and control over what is being returned to the South for her cotton as opposed to it getting shipped directly to say, Liverpool...
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ucvrelics

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There are many incidents of the Union army stealing cotton and moving it North for GREAT profits. There are also example of Southern cotton being sent up North to be sold with the money going to help feed and cloth CS prisoners held in yankee prisons. Below is a link to a great article "trading with the enemy" also below that is a report of the first Union officer to arrive here in Demopolis. When the Union Army stole this cotton in 1865 the price was $1.68 a pound. With a bale being 500lbs this works out to be 8.4 million dollars and that's just in 5 to 20 miles of here in Demopolis. Thats some REAL folding money in someones pocket. It had to be re-baled in order to hide where it came from, from the cotton merchants in Mobile as each plantation had it own bales so the buyers knew where it came from. Also, of note in the below report is using negros to re-bale it, how ironic.

https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/trading-with-the-enemy/

yankees-stealing cotton.jpg
 

USS ALASKA

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What is the time frame of alleged stealing by Union Army ? Anything prior to the end of the war would have been confiscating not stealing.

I would imagine that the semantic definition would come down to whether you were a 'confiscator' or one who was being 'stolen' from.

I was impressed with the pragmatism of the Unionist understanding that if it was going to happen, at least try to steer it to the most benefit of the North. Food and medicine are one shot items that need to be constantly refilled. An Enfield rifle or Whitworth cannon can be used again and again...
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USS ALASKA

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Cotton was legally confiscated, not stolen. Sending confiscated cotton to England was excellent foreign policy to help alleviate calls for European intervention.

Sir, but the amounts were very low - compared to antebellum exports - weren't they more of a symbolic gesture? Not that that doesn't have it's own value...

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By late June Lee had already surrendered for the Confederacy, but others like Taylor, Forrest had not surrendered. It actually was on June 23,1865, the date of the note that Gen. Stand Waite finally surrendered. It appears in Col. Hubbard note that many troops were still billeted in this area, as he mentions the unrest. Also that the cotton in question, he states was Government owned and not property of individual Southern plantation owners. Based on that statement the confiscation of government goods would have been within his authority. He also mentions Confederate beef cattle that was in the custody of planters. So hostilities had not ended in reality , even though they had officially.
 

USS ALASKA

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The date on this report of the actual stealing of Southern cotton was June 23 1865 way past the official end of hostilities.

Sir, not to quibble...but...that is also the official date of when the Federal Blockade ended. 'Hostilities' could be said to have been continued until that date 'officially'. Wasn't there a USSC ruling that used the start / end dates of the blockade as the dates for the ACW?

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ucvrelics

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By late June Lee had already surrendered for the Confederacy, but others like Taylor, Forrest had not surrendered. It actually was on June 23,1865

Lee surrendered on April 9th 1865, Gen Dick Taylor May 8th 1865 and Gen Forrest May 9th 1865. Just so you know the dates.
 

cash

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Sir, not to quibble...but...that is also the official date of when the Federal Blockade ended. 'Hostilities' could be said to have been continued until that date 'officially'. Wasn't there a USSC ruling that used the start / end dates of the blockade as the dates for the ACW?

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The war didn't officially end until Andrew Johnson's 1866 proclamation announcing the rebellion had ended in Texas.
 

USS ALASKA

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The war didn't officially end until Andrew Johnson's 1866 proclamation announcing the rebellion had ended in Texas.

... that the insurrection which heretofore existed in the State of Texas is at an end and is to be henceforth so regarded in that State as in the other States before named in which the said insurrection was proclaimed to be at an end by the aforesaid proclamation of the 2nd day of April, 1866.

And I do further proclaim that the said insurrection is at an end and that peace, order, tranquillity, and civil authority now exist in and throughout the whole of the United States of America.


http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=71992

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ucvrelics

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So with that being said before AJ 1866 proclamation it was OK for the union army of occupation to pillage and plunder??
 
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