Abraham Lincoln was one of the great presidents of the United States, but he also has unique ties to Manchester that are important now more than ever.
He was the 16th President of the United States of America and held office from 1861 – 1865.
During his four-year tenure, Lincoln led the nation through its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis during the American Civil War. He preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernised the U.S. economy.
His achievements have branded him the United States’ maytr hero and he’s consistently ranked as one of the greatest presidents of all time. Basically, he’s pretty influential. His impact wasn’t just felt on US shores either, he even means a great deal on this side of the pond and whether you were aware or not, he has fascinating ties to Manchester.
In fact, there’s a statue of him erected in a public square on Brazennose Street in the heart of the city centre and that square is also known as Lincoln Square too. You may not have even known it existed, you may have passed it before and hadn’t realised it was him, you may have walked through the square and hadn’t actually clocked a statue standing proudly there at all. Maybe you don’t really care, but you should.
So, the question still remain then – why is there a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Manchester city centre? Where did it come from? What’s the significance of it? And why is it so important today?
The answer is really quite brilliant.
The Abraham Lincoln statue was designed by American sculptor George Grey Barnard and first arrived in Manchester in back in 1919. It was originally erected in Platt Field’s Park, however it was moved in 1986 to its current position on Brazennose Street.
The statue was one of two presented to the people of England by Charles Phelps Taft, the son of William Howard Taft, who was President of the United States. The gift was meant to be a symbol of Anglo-American unity, but according to ManchesterHistory.net, the reason it ended up in Manchester was actually “a little convoluted”.
The other statue sits proudly in the heart of the UK capital and the one that now calls Manchester home was actually originally destined for Liverpool, but in 1918, members of the Manchester Art Gallery committee provided the money to bring it our city instead.
The statue is was intended to be a replica of the one in Cincinnati, Ohio, but unfortunately became known as the “stomach ache statue” due to the placement of Lincoln’s hands. As a result, Manchester received the cast-off, whilst London welcomed a replica of a larger statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.
The reason for the statue’s presence and the importance of it in today’s society lies in the inscription on the plinth that it stands upon.
The statue 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” and is a reference to the sacrifice of Lancashire cotton operatives who boycotted cotton picking in the Southern US states in a protest against slave labour – a sacrifice that Lincoln himself acknowledged.
It is true that by supporting the union under President Lincoln at a time of economic blockade, this lead to Lancashire cotton workers being denied access to raw cotton and thus caused considerable unemployment throughout the county and cotton industry as a whole, but it did however assist Lincoln in the ending of the American Civil War.
As a sign of appreciation and respect, Abraham Lincoln personally penned a letter thanking the working people of Manchester.
An extract from the letter reads:
“To the working people of Manchester 19th January 1863 / I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working people of Manchester / and in all Europe are called to endure in this crisis. It has been often and studiously / represented that the attempt to overthrow this Government which was built on the / foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one which should rest exclusively / on the basis of slavery, was likely to obtain the favour of Europe.
Through the action of disloyal citizens the working people of Europe / have been subjected to a severe trial for the purpose of forcing their sanction / to that attempt. Under these circumstances I cannot but regard your decisive / utterances upon the question as an instance of sublime heroism which has / not been surpassed in any age or in any country. It is indeed an energetic / and re-inspiring assurance of the inherent truth and of the ultimate and universal / triumph of justice, humanity and freedom…
I hail this interchange of sentiments / therefore, as an augury that whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune / may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exists / between the two nations will be as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.”Revealing Histories & Terry Wyke
So, there you have it.
In the week following the widely-publicised scenes in Bristol where Black Lives Matter activists brought down a statue erected of notorious slave trader Edward Colston during protests, Manchester’s statue of Abraham Lincoln, though a “stomach ache statue” it may be, still serves as an important reminder of this city’s values and rich industrial past.
A piece of history to remember.