Starving England for Cotton

September 13, 1861 – The Confederacy continued trying to garner support from Great Britain, even if they had to hold the British economy hostage to get it.

British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit:
British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell | Image Credit:

The British consul in Charleston, South Carolina, informed British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell that “an embargo (on cotton) in actuality was really the will of the people,” even though the Confederate Congress had not approved a bill prohibiting the exportation of cotton to Britain. Some Confederate legislators had urged starving the British of cotton until they recognized Confederate independence while others, including President Jefferson Davis, had opposed such a measure.

The British press had been critical of U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward’s “bullying,” but now they also criticized the Confederacy for withholding cotton. An article in the London Times stated that if Confederates “thought they could extort our cooperation by the agency of king cotton from us,” they were wrong. Lord Russell declared that intervening on the Confederate side “because they keep cotton from us would be ignominious beyond measure… No English Parliament could do so base a thing.”

Meanwhile, William Yancey resigned as the envoy to Britain after failing to obtain recognition for the Confederacy. Dissatisfied with the performance of Yancey as well as envoys Dudley Mann and Pierre Rost, President Davis transferred Mann to Brussels and Rost to Spain. He replaced Yancey with former U.S. Senator James Mason of Virginia and installed former U.S. Senator John Slidell of Louisiana as envoy to France. U.S. officials feared that these diplomats, the weak blockade, and the poor Federal army performance thus far would encourage European nations to recognize Confederate independence.



McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 384; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 116; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

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