Whilst the 150th anniversary of the American civil war continues to provoke considerable debate and a range of commemorative events, I am reminded of the war's impact on a specific part of the world - though one not located within the 50 US states, but across the Atlantic. Tucked away in a quiet section of Manchester stands a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln, his very presence encapsulating a civil war link which many Britons are unaware of - one that significantly altered the historical landscapes of both America and the north west of England.
Discovering Lincoln's statue in Manchester initially perplexed me. Questioning those around me, I came to realise that whilst many people were oblivious to the existence of the statue, those who recalled having seen it remained unaware of its significance. The more I learned of Lincoln's relationship with Lancashire, the deeper my own bond became. Hence I took a closer look at my adopted city.
To look closely at the buildings of Manchester is to discover the remnants of a time when the city was known as Cottonopolis and the cotton spinning mills thrived. A majority of the surviving mills have been converted into lofts and office spaces, their former existence as textile factories buried under years of history and societal change. There endures a prideful awareness amongst northerners of the cotton famine and the subsequent downfall of Lancashire's reign as cotton king - an understanding of the impoverishment and severe changes to northern society that stemmed from the eventual collapse of its industrial lifeblood.
The resulting economic depression came as a consequence of the American civil war, rooted in the Union's proclamation of a Blockade Against Southern Ports. On 19 April, 1861 Lincoln officially authorised the Federal Navy to block southern Confederate ports throughout the war - a decision that would drastically alter the landscape of American and British history. Relying on the southern Confederate states for supplies of raw cotton, Lancashire experienced a severe depression as the cotton industry - the foundation of northern economic stability - began to deteriorate.
Although Britain adopted a neutral position during the war, there was a temptation to support the southern American states in their determination to secede from the Union. For the southern states to secede and retain control of their ports would, after all, lead to a replenishment of cotton and the rebirth of an industry. But the blockade of imported cotton was no longer at the heart of Lancashire's focus - instead the very origins of the cotton itself, grown and picked by slaves, become the fundamental issue. During a period of brutal hardship and an uncertain future, the people of Lancashire demonstrated integrity and a deep sense of loyalty to a cause whose importance came before immediate access to cotton: the abolition of American slavery.
On 31 December, 1862 the working people of Manchester voiced their support with the Union:
...the vast progress which you have made in the short space of 20 months fills us with hope that every stain on your freedom will shortly be removed, and that the erasure of that foul blot on civilisation and Chritianity - chattel slavery - during your presidency, will cause the name of Abraham Lincoln to be honoured and revered by posterity. We are certain that such a glorious consummation will cement Great Britain and the United States in close and enduring regards.
In a letter to the people of Lancashire dated 19 January, 1863 Lincoln wrote the following response:
I hail this interchange of sentiments, therefore, as an augury that, whatever else may happen, 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.
And so an American President and the people of Lancashire formed a pivotal union, establishing a relationship that fundamentally changed the cultural and political landscapes of both countries. The Lancashire cotton famine and the American civil war remain inextricably linked - and it was during this specific period of shared history that a meaningful and integral connection developed between Lincoln and the people of Lancashire.