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Title: Cotton, Liverpool and the American Civil War
Author: Powell, Jim
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2018
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Before its civil war erupted, America had supplied 80 per cent of the raw material for Britain's largest industry, the cotton trade. After the outbreak of war in 1861, this fell to almost zero. The purpose of this thesis is to examine what happened to the British raw cotton trade and to the Liverpool cotton market during the American Civil War. Both topics have been largely ignored by historians. Specifically, the investigation covers: a study of the alternative sources of supply, what was done to develop them before and during the war and why the attempts failed; a narrative of the cotton trade during the war in the context of political and public opinion; a quantification of the raw cotton available to Britain during the war and of the proportion of latent demand that could be met; an examination of attitudes and behaviour within Liverpool during the war; and a study of the financial side of the market, covering the the explosion of prices, the activities of speculators and cotton brokers and the business failures at the end of the war. The principal findings are these. There was no realistic alternative to the dominance of American cotton and, in its absence, no possibility of finding an adequate replacement. In consequence, Britain's production of cotton yarn in the years 1862-64 was at 46 per cent of the level of the preceding three years and, making a reasonable allowance for lost market growth, at 36 per cent of the requirement. The near-unanimous belief of historians that the Lancashire cotton famine was wholly or mainly caused by an over-production of cotton goods before the war is examined in detail, and is flatly contradicted by the evidence. Another accepted historical opinion, that Liverpool and its cotton traders overwhelmingly supported the Confederacy, is shown to be a great exaggeration. The reality was more subtle and more diverse but, at the very least, Liverpool strongly supported neutrality and non-intervention. More detail on the activities of Liverpool's cotton traders, and in particular the brokers, is provided than has ever previously been published. The conclusion is that the brokers, especially those who sold on behalf of importers, were the real power in the market, more so than their clients. The orgy of speculation in cotton during the war is laid bare, as is the role of brokers within it, and the fury that this provoked in Manchester. Liverpool's cotton brokers are shown to have had massive conflicts of interest, to have enriched themselves while much of Lancashire starved, and to have shown an almost complete indifference to the wider cotton trade. The civil war would have been a calamity for Britain's cotton trade in any event. What happened on the Liverpool market simply made it worse.
Supervisor: Ashworth, William ; Huzzey, Richard ; Milne, Graeme Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral