Cotton Whigs and union: the textile manufacturers of Massachusetts and the coming of the Civil War
O'Connor, Thomas Henry
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Ihe disastrous effects of the War of 1812 upon New England commerce led to the rise and development of the cotton textile industry as an alternative to financial bankruptcy. During the 1820's, the textile manufacturers rose to social and economic prominence in the Bay State, and by 1830 had achieved a position of virtually undisputed political power. The appearance of William Lloyd Garrison and his Liberator in 1831 presented a distinct threat to the political ideals and the economic fortunes of these New England cotton men. Fearful that the Abolitionists would goad the South into secession and war, the propertied men of Boston engaged in a series of efforts designed to assure the South of their good intentions, and to keep the slavery issue out of national politics. The movement of Westward expansion during the late thirties, however, brought the problem of slavery out into the open. Unable to prevent the annexation of Texas, and overridden in their attempts to vote down the war with Mexico, the "Cotton Whigs" directed their energies toward keeping slavery out of the Western lands through political means. When the Compromise of 1850 produced a period of relative quiet, Boston's men of business were convinced that although they had conceded the principle of slavery expansion to the South, topography would make its practice a virtual impossibility. This relative calm was rudely shattered by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Few groups were as outraged as the business elements of Boston, and, directed by Amos A. Lawrence, they sponsored the emigration of free-soil settlers to Kansas. Kansas was to be the supreme test of the "Cotton Whig" policy of upholding slavery in the States, while opposing the expansion of slavery into the Territories. Seeking a more positive way to avoid conflict with the South, the "'Cotton Whigs" tried to develop a compromise political party. When the American, or the "Know-Nothing" party failed to meet their requirements, they helped to found the Constitutional Union party. But the course of national events was running in the opposite direction. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 produced secession in the South, and although the "Cotton Whigs" continued to work for peace, they worked in vain. With the outbreak of war they backed the Federal war effort and became indistinguishable from any other social or political group in the North. As far as the cotton manufacturers were concerned, the Civil War came about despite their efforts, not because of them, and in the light of this research it seems difficult to sustain the thesis that the War was the result of the "inevitable" clash of two divergent economic systems. On the contrary, the American manufacturer appears to have been among the most influential forces consistently working to prevent the disruption of the Union and seeking to establish harmonious relations between North and South.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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