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The Future of Cotton

The Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1092, pp. 519-520.

June 8, 1861


That which feeds the industry of between three and four millions of our fellow-countrymen can hardly become an uninteresting topic. Present circumstances, however, invest it with extraordinary interest. England is at this moment in a very analogous position with regard to a famine of cotton to that in which it stood with regard to the cholera in 1831. . . . But this we do say, with the utmost confidence, that the warning rung into our ears by the civil war in America is far too distinct to be reasonably set at nought; and that, unless we take effectual steps to secure ourselves and our interests against sudden ruin, we shall have none but ourselves to blame for the ravages of so fearful a calamity should it unhappily overtake us.

Page 520

... If we are content to leave things for the future as they are at present—to receive cotton from the slaveholders of the Secession States in the same proportion as we have been accustomed to do, or even as we did no later back than 1860, when we imported ... 80 per cent of our whole supply from America, 15 per cent from India, and 5 per cent from all other sources—... we must make up our minds to endure all the disadvantages, as well as to risk all the misfortunes, which inevitably beset such an unwise and improvident arrangement.... The Southern States of America are the stronghold of negro slavery, and cotton is the food upon which it principally thrives. Those States have recently formed themselves into a Confederate Republic, the object of which is to conserve and to extend the slave system. Now, quite apart from the interests of the slaves themselves, and looking exclusively to those of freedom, morality, and religion, it does seem to us to be an obvious duty, a duty enforced upon us just now by the arrangements of Divine Providence, that we should strenuously exert ourselves to defeat an experiment so largely fraught with evils to humanity. We can, if we will, make slave labour in the cultivation of cotton well-nigh unprofitable; at any rate we can reduce its profits so considerably by competition as to leave scarcely an inducement to perpetuate the unnatural and demoralising system. By depriving America, as we might very soon do, of the command of the European market for her staple article, we should crumble away the strongest support upon which slavery rests, and probably compel the planters of the South, in sheer self-defence, to make preparation for a safe and early transition to a sounder social basis. . . .

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