How Ordinary People in Manchester Helped End Slavery in America! (Performed by Year 4 Lime)
In the 1800s, Britain became a rich country selling things made in its huge factories to the rest of the world. In cities like Manchester, huge factories made clothes from American cotton. Men and women (and sometimes children) worked very hard and earned enough to survive. The factory owners became very wealthy. But what about the people who picked the cotton in the fields?
In the Southern states of America, a country just 80 years old in 1860, 4 million African-Americans lived as slaves. They belonged to their masters and were paid nothing as they worked growing and harvesting crops like cotton.
Some of our volunteers tried cotton-picking. Cotton plants were spiky, and picking the cotton all day in the sun was exhausting, back-breaking work. Men, women and children younger than 10 worked in the fields of states like Georgia. If they tried to escape they faced fierce punishments.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. He wanted to stop any more states from having slaves. When he won the election in 1860, the slave-holding states of the South went to war with the free states of the North. This war between the North and the South is what we call the American Civil War.
When the American Civil War started, the cotton stopped arriving in Britain. Wealthy factory owners started to lose money and their workers lost their jobs. The Cotton Famine made people in towns like Manchester very poor. Some people in Britain thought the answer was to go to war in America against the North so the cotton would start coming across the sea again.
The Civil War was a long and bitter fight. The armies of the North did not find it easy to defeat the South. Lincoln worried that the powerful nations of Britain and France would join the South’s side. He badly needed some friends in the world if America was to survive as one country and slavery was to end.
Cotton workers in Manchester were in a desperate situation. They needed a way to make a living. But they believed that slavery was wrong and did not want to earn a living making clothes from cotton that was picked by slaves.
Instead, they refused to use cotton picked by slaves and to let their country go to war against the North. They gave up their jobs and risked being poor and going hungry instead. It was a real sacrifice.
They wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln to express their support for him and urged him to end slavery in America once and for all.
Lincoln was extremely impressed by the generosity and solidarity shown by ordinary cotton workers in Manchester. He read their letter and replied to them:
"I cannot but regard your decisive utterances on the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country.
"It is indeed an energetic and re-inspiring assurance of the inherent truth and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity and freedom… Whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exists between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual."