It may seem unusual for Manchester to have a statue of Abraham Lincoln, as there are no obvious links to the 16th President of the United States. In fact, Manchester was a very important ally to Abraham Lincoln’s Union during the American Civil War.
As the largest processor of cotton in the world, Manchester took a strong moral and political stance by supporting Lincoln despite his blockade of the Confederate states beginning in April 1861. This measure drastically reduced supplies of cotton reaching Liverpool and, therefore, the cotton mills of Lancashire.
At a meeting of the Workingmen of Manchester, held at the Free Trade Hall on 31 December 1862, an address was read congratulating Lincoln, offering support to his struggle and urging him to emancipate all American slaves, despite the economic distress caused by his actions.
The meeting took place just as the cotton famine was beginning to have serious distress across the county (it affected different Lancashire towns at different times, but all were suffering by the winter of 1862).
It is remarkable that the workingmen’s address offered support to the Northern cause. This was at a time when it was widely thought that the quickest way to restore the cotton supply, and hence end the depression, was for Great Britain to recognise and intervene on behalf of the Confederacy. In supporting Lincoln and the Union, Manchester workingmen put their principles ahead of their economic self-interest.
This decision came at a cost as the Lancashire Cotton Famine saw many textile workers lose their jobs, or work reduced hours, and struggle to feed their families. Local author Edwin Waugh contributed a series of articles on the home life for Lancashire cotton workers during the Cotton Famine to the Manchester Examiner in 1862 showing the impact that the Civil War was having on everyday lives across Lancashire (our ref: 942.72 I49A).
Contemporary sketches in the Illustrated London News show cotton workers idle in mills, making do with old clothes, queuing for charity and scrambling for news from America.
Lincoln wrote a letter on 19 January 1863 to thank the people of Manchester for their support. Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives holds a photocopy of the transcript received by Abel Heywood, the Lord Mayor of Manchester and the Chairman of the Chairman of the meeting of Workingmen, on 9 February 1863.
Much later Mr. and Mrs. Charles Phelps Taft of Cincinnati, Ohio, donated a statue of Abraham Lincoln as a reminder of the link between Manchester and the United States. The statue, by George Grey Barnard, was originally sited in the grounds of Platt Hall, Platt Fields Park, in 1919. It was moved to Lincoln Square on Brazennose Street in 1986.
A set of documents relating to Lincoln held by Manchester Libraraies, Information and Archives (including the rest of Lincoln’s letter) can be found here.
Introduction by Dr David Brown, Senior Lecturer in American Studies, University of Manchester