England and Cotton "Cotton Diplomacy"
"The cards are in our hands", proclaimed the Charleston Mercury, "and we intend to play them out to the bankruptcy of every cotton factory in Great Britain and France or the acknowledgement of our independence." The Memphis Argus told planters to "keep every bale of cotton on the plantation."
England imported three-fourths of its cotton from the American South. "What would happen", asked James Hammond in his famous prewar "King Cotton" speech of 1858, "if no cotton was furnished for three years?... England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her, save the South."
Since the administration of President Jefferson Davis wanted to avoid any appearance of international blackmail, the Confederate Congress never formally approved a cotton embargo, but state governments and private citizens voluntarily withheld the crop from the market in hopes of creating a "cotton famine" abroad. The Confederacy was mistaken in its belief that their embargo on "King Cotton" would force the British government to intervene on the side of the South in the Civil War. For one thing, a bumper cotton crop in 1860 had glutted the marketplace, lowering prices and allowing mill owners in England to stockpile cotton.
The initial Southern embargo on the export of cotton and, later, the increasing effectiveness of the Northern blockade did, however, have a brief impact on British life, but in 1862, when the shortage began to be felt more strongly, new sources of supply had been developed in India, Egypt, and elsewhere. Also, more than a million bales had gotten through the blockade, and the British economy was stabilized by a compensating war boom in other industries.
England and France were both wary of entering a war with the United States. Furthermore, Southern society tied cotton to slavery, and England, setting an example France would follow, led the abolitionist movement in the world community.
Fascinating Fact: With his "cotton diplomacy", President Davis unwisely allowed his country to hoard its one great asset; thus, the Confederacy undermined its best opportunity for financing the war.
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