Why did Abraham Lincoln come to Manchester?

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1. An unlikely link

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It may seem unusual for Manchester to have a statue of Abraham Lincoln as there are no obvious links to the 16th President of the United States of America. In fact, Manchester was a very important ally to Abraham Lincoln’s Union during the American Civil War.

2. The statue

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Phelps Taft of Cincinnati, Ohio, donated a statue of Abraham Lincoln as a reminder of the link between Manchester and the United States. The statue, by George Grey Barnard, was originally sited in the grounds of Platt Hall, Platt Fields Park, in 1919. It was moved to Lincoln Square on Brazennose Street in 1986.

3. The Cotton Famine

As the largest processor of cotton in the world, Manchester took a strong moral and political stance by supporting Lincoln despite his blockade of the Confederate states beginning in April 1861.

This measure drastically reduced supplies of cotton reaching Liverpool and, therefore, the cotton mills of Lancashire.

The decision came at a cost as the Lancashire Cotton Famine saw many textile workers lose their jobs, or work reduced hours, and struggle to feed their families.

Contemporary sketches in the Illustrated London News show cotton workers idle in mills, making do with old clothes, queuing for charity and scrambling for news from America.

4. The Workingmen of Manchester

At a meeting of the Workingmen of Manchester, held at the Free Trade Hall on 31 December 1862, an address was read congratulating Lincoln, offering support to his struggle and urging him to emancipate all American slaves, despite the economic distress caused by his actions.

The meeting took place just as the cotton famine was beginning to have serious distress across the county.

This was at a time when it was widely thought that the quickest way to restore the cotton supply, and hence end the depression, was for Great Britain to recognise and intervene on behalf of the Confederacy.

The Manchester workingmen put their principles ahead of their economic self-interest.

5. Lincoln's reply

Lincoln wrote a letter on 19 January 1863 to thank the people of Manchester for their support. Manchester Central Library holds a photocopy of the transcript received by Abel Heywood, the Lord Mayor of Manchester and the Chairman of the Chairman of the meeting of Workingmen, on 9 February 1863.

Lincoln thanks the people of Manchester: "Under the circumstances, I cannot but regard your decisive utterances upon 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 power of truth, and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity, and freedom."