Expository 2010 Runner-up
“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” -Abraham Lincoln-
The American Civil War was a time of great tragedy and sorrow. Many historians still do not agree on the official cause that began a war to divide a nation, but slavery was an undeniable factor. History has a way of repeating itself, but the question to be asked is, can we learn from our past to build our future? Many connections can be drawn from the American Civil War, those affected by it, and the events of today. The institution of slavery during the nineteenth century can be compared to the capture of Saddam Hussein in our day. Those affected by the American Civil War, especially the middle-class workingmen of Britain in the late 1800s, can also be compared to the many people who support the democratic ideals and freedoms that many cherish today.
By 1860, America had formed into an independent nation that was booming, both economically and industrially. However, divisions among people and ideals began to form around the issue of slavery in the United States. The southern states, especially South Carolina, thrived on the vast cotton production made possible through slavery. The northern states, however, relied heavily on a growing agricultural industry, especially that of wheat. As the North continued to shy away from slavery and become more powerful, the southern states decided to secede from the whole, or the Union. The southern states, or the Confederacy, believed that it was their right to become a separate division with their own form of government and control. Soon, the division of the nation ran so deep that a call to war rang out with the first gunshot on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 (“The American Civil War”). That gunshot began one of the most devastating wars that the American nation has ever known.
During the course of the American Civil War, ambassadors were sent to different countries to seek out allies. One of those nations was Great Britain, the most powerful country during the nineteenth century (Brauer 57). Many of the British upper-class and various government leaders, including the Prime Minister, immediately favored the southern states simply because they did not believe the conflict in America would last very long, and the southern states continued to win many battles early on in the war (Hayes 228). Soon, however, with key victories at Antietam in 1862 and Gettysburg in 1863, the North began to overpower the southern states and change the course of the war. Shortly after the Battle of Antietam, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in both the North and the South. As the war continued, the North became even more dominant and, in time, blockaded the southern states, which made import or export of any goods impossible (“The American Civil War”).
Although both the North and the South were hoping to be allied with Britain, Britain was heavily dependent on resources from both sides of the conflict. Eighty percent of the cotton Britain used in its textile industry was imported directly from the southern states (Park 432). However, a series of bad harvests forced the British to drastically increase their imports of wheat and other food from the North (Barney 155). As much as Great Britain needed southern cotton, it needed northern wheat even more. This threw many of the British middle-class workingmen into unemployment and caused many of the textile industries to close. By 1864, of the 440,000 workers in the textile industry in Great Britain, 310,000 lost their jobs and fell into poverty (Park 432).
Although these people had lost their jobs and were risking losing their lives, there was no call for action against the northern blockade. Many wonder why, in the face of such hardships, there was no call for retaliation. Joseph H. Park states, “One of the reasons which can be advanced as an explanation of the workingman’s attitude is his hostility to slavery. Slavery was, doubtless, an institution which he abhorred. They were firm in their hatred of slavery, and firm in their faith of democracy” (435). Only thirty years earlier, Britain had passed its own Emancipation Act, which freed the slaves in that country. Britain could not, and would not, support a group that still supported slavery. Not only did these workingmen support the North’s position on emancipation, they also greatly supported the ideas of freedom and democracy that the North represented. They could have easily called for war against the blockade, but they could see the outcome of the greater good and had experienced the results from their own Emancipation Act.
Many correlations exist between the American Civil War, the British workingmen of the nineteenth century, and post-9/11 America today. The institution of slavery can be compared to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. His actions, while he was in power, were degrading, inhumane and horrifying, much like we view slavery today and how many viewed it during the nineteenth century. Many people did not support the war against Saddam Hussein because they felt as though it had no connection with the events of 9/11 or Osama Bin Laden. However, it was for the greater good, the same greater good that the workingmen could see with the abolition of slavery, that Saddam Hussein was removed from power. This caused a chain of events that allowed for the reformation of a country and opportunities for the democratic ideals of freedom and choice to be realized by the world. This new hope, the same kind of hope seen by the British workingmen and many others today, is only a shadow of greater events to come.
“The American Civil War.” HistoryChannel.com. 2004. History Channel. 29 Sept. 2004 <http://historychannel.com/>.
Barney, William L. The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Student Companion. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.
Brauer, Kinley J. “British Mediation and the American Civil War: A Reconsideration.” The Journal of Southern History 38 (1972): 49-64. JSTOR. SUU Sherratt Lib., Cedar City, UT. 29 Sept. 2004 <http://www.jstor.org/>.
Hayes, Paul. The Nineteenth Century: 1814-80. New York: St. Martin’s, 1975.
Park, Joseph H. “The English Workingmen and the American Civil War.” Political Science Quarterly 39 (1924): 432-457. JSTOR. SUU Sherratt Lib., Cedar City, UT. 29 Sept. 2004 <http://www.jstor.org/>.