CHAPTER X. KING COTTON
For two weeks there was no lightening of Southern depression in England. But on June 28 McClellan had been turned back from his advance on Richmond by Lee, the new commander of the Army of Virginia, and the much heralded Peninsular campaign was recognized to have been a disastrous failure. Earlier Northern victories were forgotten and the campaigns in the West, still progressing favourably for the North, were ignored or their significance not understood. Again, to English eyes, the war in America approached a stalemate. The time had come with the near adjournment of Parliament when, if ever, a strong Southern effort must be made, and the time seemed propitious. Moreover by July, 1862, it was hoped that soon, in the cotton districts, the depression steadily increasing since the beginning of the war, would bring an ally to the Southern cause. Before continuing the story of Parliamentary and private efforts by the friends of the South it is here necessary to review the cotton situation - now rapidly becoming a matter of anxious concern to both friend and foe of the North and in less degree to the Ministry itself.
"King Cotton" had long been a boast with the South. "Perhaps no great revolution," says Bancroft, "was ever begun with such convenient and soothing theories as those that were expounded and believed at the time of the organization of the Confederacy.... In any case, hostilities could not last long, for France and Great Britain must have what the Confederacy alone could supply, and therefore they could be forced to aid the South, as a condition precedent to relief from the terrible distress that was sure to follow a blockade." This confidence was no new development. For ten years past whenever Southern threats of secession had been indulged in, the writers and politicians of that section had expanded upon cotton as the one great wealth-producing industry of America and as the one product which would compel European acquiescence in American policy, whether of the Union, before 1860, or of the South if she should secede. In the financial depression that swept the Northern States in 1857 De Bow's Review, the leading financial journal of the South, declared: "The wealth of the South is permanent and real, that of the North fugitive and fictitious. Events now transpiring expose the fiction, as humbug after humbug explodes." On March 4, 1858, Senator Hammond of South Carolina, asked in a speech, "What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years? I will not stop to depict what everyone can imagine, but this is certain: England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her save the South. No, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is King." Two years later, writing before the elections of 1860 in which the main question was that of the territorial expansion of slavery, this same Southern statesman expressed himself as believing that "the slave-holding South is now the controlling power of the world.... Cotton, rice, tobacco and naval stores command the world; and we have sense enough to know it, and are sufficiently Teutonic to carry it out successfully."
These quotations indicative of Southern faith in cotton might be amplified and repeated from a hundred sources.
Moreover this faith in the possession of ultimate power went hand in hand with the conviction that the South, more than any other quarter of the world, produced to the benefit of mankind. "In the three million bags of cotton," said a writer in De Bow's Review, "the slave-labour annually throws upon the world for the poor and naked, we are doing more to advance civilization ... than all the canting philanthropists of New England and Old England will do in centuries. Slavery is the backbone of the Northern commercial as it is of the British manufacturing system...." Nor was this idea unfamiliar to Englishmen. Before the Civil War was under way Charles Greville wrote to Clarendon:
"Any war will be almost sure to interfere with the cotton
crops, and this is really what affects us and what we care
about. With all our virulent abuse of slavery and
slave-owners, and our continual self-laudation on that
subject, we are just as anxious for, and as much interested
in, the prosperity of the slavery interest in the Southern
States as the Carolinan and Georgian planters themselves, and
all Lancashire would deplore a successful insurrection of the
slaves, if such a thing were possible."