Spotlight on Statues: Abraham Lincoln, Brazenose Street

If you’ve ever been walking up from Deansgate back up towards Albert Square, you may have looked up and wondered why there is a honking great big statue of the 16th President of the United States a stone’s throw away from a Greggs in the middle of Manchester.

By Manchester's Finest | Last updated 18 July 2018

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It is safe to say it doesn’t seem quite right- but I do assure you it was not a mistake, it isn’t stolen, and the reasoning for this statue is one pretty interesting story.

The statue was originally one of two presented as a gift to the people of England by Charles Phelps Taft, son to the 27th President of the US as a symbol of Anglo-American unity. The statue by sculptor George Bernard was initially destined for London, but rejected due to the placement of the hands which light-heartedly nicknamed it “the stomach ache statue”. In 1918 the members of the Manchester Art Gallery committee provided the money to bring it to the city and erected in 1919 in Platt Field’s park where it stayed until the mid-1980s.

But this doesn’t help us explain why it is here in the first place. For that, we have to take a little look at the plaque. It is dedicated to “The support that the working people of Manchester gave in their fight for the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War…….By supporting the union under President Lincoln at a time when there was an economic blockade of the southern states the Lancashire cotton workers were denied access to raw cotton which caused considerable unemployment throughout the cotton industry.”

So, what does that all mean? Well, back in the 1860’s Manchester and her busy textile industry dressed the entire world. This industry provided thousands of jobs, fed families and made fortunes for many working-class Mancunians. Manchester had power and held influence. So when many of her factories began to boycott the use of cotton that was picked in the US by the use of slavery…it made an enormous impact.

Across the pond, Abraham Lincon was sat in the oval office fighting for the abolition of slavery and the Civil war was in full swing. Lincon wanted to break away from the southern states that wanted to maintain the institutionalisation of slavery and Lincon urged the people of Europe to form a blockade. The county of Lancashire alone had previously imported 1.3 million lbs of cotton a year from plantations in the Southern States, and after a meeting at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1862, the people of Manchester backed Lincon’s embargo fully despite the economic effect it would have on business owners and workers alike.

Ultimately, these actions caused the Confederates to fall to their knees as desired. Slavery was abolished in January 1865, and Lincon wrote to the people of Manchester and praised them for the “sublime Christian heroism, which has not been surpassed in any age or any country.”

So, next time you are popping into Wings for some salt and pepper ribs, make sure you give him a nod and know deep down that our hard-faced Mancunian ancestors helped change history.