New York City Before, During, and After the Civil War
In its long and illustrious history, New York City (NYC) has gone through tremendous change. From a small trading post on the tip of Manhattan Island, to the greatest metropolis in the world, NYC has continued to evolve over time. One period in particular that had more degrees of change than many others, was 1860 to 1865. The lives of the residents of the great port city would be completely changed forever.
The common life of a NYC merchant in 1860 was that of a well-rounded diplomat. One who was able to make deals with both the Southern plantation owner, who sold him the cotton from which the merchant made his money, and the European who the merchant sold this cotton to. This merchant was well aware of how the cotton came from the ground, through the gin, and into the bales. He was well aware that his whole economy was based on this cotton. He also had moral feelings toward the "peculiar institution" that had given him this cotton to trade. But the question on his mind is, "why bite the hand that feeds you?"
Anxiety and fear were common emotions faced by these merchants at that time. If you were to sever the ties between the north and the south, what will America's greatest importing and exporting city do? Will this schism between the nation cause NYC's growth to stop? What effect, if any, would the formation of a new republic in the south have on the lives of the people and commerce of the City?
In 1860, there were several different directions NYC could go. One option would be to stay firm and represent the ideals of capitalism, freedom, and liberty, which had made the city so strong. To side with the nation that their grandparents had liberated from tyranny, only eighty years before. Another option is to side with NYC's oppressed southern brothers, who feel as though the federal government is imposing upon their constitutional rights. With a Republican in office, there would be an end to slavery and their whole way of life.
Surprisingly it was the latter, that NYC adopted first. There are several important reasons for this. First, NYC merchants, fearing that if the south formed a new nation, it would lower its tariffs and make NYC's ports obsolete. There was a great fear that New Orleans, not NYC, would be the major port city to the continent, and would control all imports heading to the vast lands west of the Mississippi river and all cotton exports. NYC's dominance of goods imported and exported had lasted for almost 200 years, and many feared it would be over.
Another reason New Yorkers were southern sympathizers was the debt owed to NYC merchants by the south, which had accumulated to over 200 million dollars. Many feared if the sectional conflict had continued, the debt would not be paid. But if NYC sided with no one and was neutral, the difference between philosophies would not interfere with its commerce and payment of debt. The flow of...