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The Textile Manufactures in the International Exhibition — British and Foreign

The Illustrated London News, vol.41, no.1153, p.47.

July 12, 1862


...Have we not seen how the very anticipation of even a short supply of one of these materials—cotton alone—has agitated the lending nations of Europe?—how the immense monopoly which one portion of the earth has been permitted to enjoy in the production of this now indispensable material has led to an arrogant assumption of a right to defy the laws of a great federation and trample on the freedom of a section of mankind unrestrained and unchecked? Such is the importance to which the great development of one portion of the textile industry of Great Britain has attained in our day that it was supposed that Englishmen would become accomplices in a great crime rather than allow the possibility of any limitation to its progress. . . .

A few earnest men, such as Mr. Thomas Bazley, M.P., and Mr. Henry Ashworth, have not been idle during the decade in endeavouring to draw public attention to the question of a supply of cotton from some source over which we have more control than that of the Southern States of America, but with what a poor result until the calamity of a dearth was upon us! The other day Mr. Bazley called the attention of an influential audience at the Royal Institution to the subject, especially pointing out the Island of Jamaica as a source whence we might expect a good supply of cotton of a suitable staple; it may, therefore, not be without interest to see what we said in these pages on this very subject when considering the cotton exhibits in the Great Exhibition. The views then expressed (May 31, 1851) were:—"That the Southern States of America cannot continue to supply our wants, as hitherto, with any degree of certainty, seems a settled question with those who best understand the peculiar position of the United States, and at the same time take into consideration the requirements of our manufacturers; apart from the fact that it would be unwise to continue to suffer the immense population of our cotton-manufacturing districts to depend upon an institution so uncertain in its character as slavery certainly is, for any movement which might take place in the Slave States of the American Union, by which its present servile population should temporarily suspend their industrial pursuits as cultivators of cotton, would inevitably tell with frightful effect upon the industry of the north of England and of Scotland in the suspension of trade for the want of raw material. This question, therefore, of the source whence our future cotton supply is to come is of infinitely more importance in a national and social point of view than at first sight appears; for it is a fact which cannot be too often brought forward for the consideration of 'the powers that be,' both home and colonial, that the great staple trade of probably one-third of the population of England and Scotland is mainly dependent, at the present time, for employment and almost for existence upon the worst institution of modern times, the slavery of the Southern States of America; and, without seeking to become alarmists, it would be a dereliction of duty not to take an opportunity like the present to endeavour to bring this fact more prominently forward than hitherto. With our East India possessions, with Natal, and many of our colonies, particularly some of the West India Islands, where cotton is indigenous to the soil, but where it has been neglected for far less profitable and important matters, we may, if those who guide our affairs think of it, do great things towards supplying our own wants; and, whilst contriving to keep up our trade with the United States, to be less dependent upon them, and induce them to supply even their own wants in a more satisfactory way then at present."

The writer subsequently visited the United States in a capacity which enabled him to examine thoroughly into the industrial pursuits of the people. His impressions as to the danger of the British cotton manufacture continuing, for all practical purposes, solely dependent upon the Slave Slates of America for the supply of raw material were confirmed, and to-day we see the very calamity foreshadowed in the passage of the quotation from these pages of eleven years ago, a stern reality; nor did it require the gift of prophecy to see this. Had our rulers been statesman for the present and future, instead of followers of a dead past in routine and precedent, or had our Manchester friends shown a little more logical foresight at all parallel to that shrewdness and intelligence which they display in every-day matters, they must have seen the error, to use a familiar illustration, of "placing all their eggs in one basket," apart altogether from their unintentional complicity with a system which it is revolting to contemplate, and which has borne, and will continue to bear, its own bitter fruits. The taunt which Englishmen had to put up with when visiting the United States, that "cotton ruled England, and the Southern States ruled cotton," is now a thing of the past. We must proceed at once to help ourselves; for we venture to predict, and with the certainty of a realisation quite as full as that which has followed the warning of 1851, that whenever England gets cotton again from the Southern States of America it will be the result of a cultivation of the soil by free men and women, unstained by the brand of slavery. Half a generation, which is quite as short a period as we can expect, may elapse before this change can be effected, but it is as inevitable as Truth and as inexorable as Justice.

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