Final Project Proposal

From the project choices I posted during Week Five, I plan on researching the how the American Civil War changed cotton trade between the American South and the European counties of Great Britain and France. Before the American Civil War, According historian Louis P. Masur, three-fourths of the world’s cotton supply was produced in the American South. The Atlantic cotton trade not only made the Southern aristocrats wealthy, it also established the American South as a world economic power. Under the myth that Southern cotton was an indispensable commodity, Southern Senator James Henry Hammond in 1859 made his “King Cotton” speech. In the speech Hammond said that no one makes war on cotton because if the cotton trade is disrupted or stopped that the whole civilized world would collapse starting with England. Since the South relied heavily on foreign trade, the “King Cotton” diplomacy would end up hurting the Southern states. During the American Civil War, the North constructed a blockade which virtually cut off Southern cotton trade with European nations. Instead of trying to sell off the cotton they had on hand, the South started their embargo of cotton to Europe. Producers cut back on production and also burned excess cotton. The rationale behind the embargo was that British and French powers, needing Southern cotton, would crush the Union naval blockade and involve themselves in the Civil War. This was flawed thinking. What the South did not know was England and France were sitting on enormous reserves of cotton due the Southern overproduction. Also cotton production in Egypt and India started to yield acceptable cotton crops. As a result, Britain and France with the cotton supplies almost virtually uninterrupted would not come to the aid of the South and their war to continue the system of slavery. I recently found out about the European connection (mostly Britain) to the American Civil War where there was an actual fear and threat of European involvement interested me in this topic. Since most people think the Civil War was a conflict between the North and South, the Atlantic world dynamic shows how the war not only affected the United States but also Europe.

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