Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Social, commercial, and political revulsions, the effects of which can scarcely be imagined"

Those steeped in the Civil War know that the Confederacy foolishly, as it turned out, hoarded its cotton crop in the hope and expectation that by doing so it would force Great Britain to intercede to avoid financial disaster and social unrest.

What led the South to this conclusion? I had not heard of this report, described in James L. Huston's The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War, but my guess is that it was a substantial factor:

During the second session of the Thirty-fourth Congress [the session that began in December 1856], southerners pushed a bill through both houses that allowed a representative of the United States government to travel abroad and assess the European consumption of cotton. For this exploration Franklin Pierce chose John Claiborne, a Mississippi states' rights leader and later biographer of the fiery John A. Quitman. Claiborne returned in early 1857, cutting short his visit, and presented his findings. The report substantiated the southern belief that England's economy depended upon cotton, and Claiborne further hypothesized that if the cotton supply should ever be “cut off,” the event “would be followed by social, commercial, and political revulsions, the effects of which can scarcely be imagined.”


  1. Anonymous5:22 PM

    Hi Elektratig,

    That image is of Quitman, not Claiborne. It would be interesting to know to what degree Chartism and British involvement in the recent Crimean War confirmed this impression.


  2. Sean,

    On the picture, you are of course absolutely correct. Mea maxima culpa. Now if I can only figure out how to change the caption.


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