“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
– Abraham Lincoln
This statue of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the USA, was sculpted by George Grey Bernard. It was planned to stand outside the Houses of Parliament in London, to mark 100 years of unbroken peace between the UK and the USA.
However the design was controversial, and eventually a different statue was chosen. The first statue, bought by private American owners, was donated to Manchester to recognise its support for Lincoln’s Union movement during the American Civil War. In 1919 it was installed in Platt Fields, just outside the city. It was moved to Lincoln Square in 1986.
Manchester’s huge cotton processing industry, employing thousands of people, imported almost all its raw cotton from America. In 1861, the Civil War prevented cotton shipments. The region was divided: some felt that supporting Lincoln would mean a longer war. Lancashire’s mill towns would be devastated without cotton imports. However, many workers passionately supported Lincoln’s anti-slavery stance.
A mass meeting in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1862 was attended by a mixture of the Manchester middle class and cotton workers. They agreed to support Lincoln and the blockade on cotton, essentially boycotting Southern cotton in protest against the use of slave labour. A letter in the name of the Working People of Manchester was sent to Abraham Lincoln. It speaks in support of
‘the erasure of that foul blot on civilisation and Christianity – chattel slavery… the vast progress which you have made in the short space of twenty months fills us with hope that every stain on your freedom will shortly be removed.’
Lincoln’s reply, thanking the cotton workers of Lancashire for their support, can be read on the statue’s base, including this line:
‘… I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working men of Manchester and in all Europe are called to endure in this crisis….’
The word ‘men’ has now been changed to ‘people’. This recognises the fact that more than half of the region’s mill workers were women. The strong moral and political statement made at the Free Trade Hall meant terrible hardship: it led to the Lancashire Cotton Famine. Without raw material, production in the county’s mills came to a halt. Many cotton workers lost their jobs and homes, and began to starve. Many efforts to relieve the situation led to public works programmes, where workers could find other ways to earn money.
This monument represents the integrity and solidarity of Manchester’s workers with enslaved citizens in America.