Mar. 3, 2021
Why Reparations? Our Free Labor Made Cotton King And New York City Great
FERNANDO WOOD, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY IN 1860 THOUGHT HIS TIMING WAS PERFECT. The election of an antislavery president had finally forced the South to make good on years of threats, and the exodus of 11 states from the Union had begun. Militant South Carolina was the first to secede, after a convention in Charleston five days before Christmas of 1860. Within weeks, 6 more states had broken off from the Union, and by the end of May, the Confederacy was complete.
As the most profound crisis in our young nation’s history unrolled, Wood, the mayor of New York, America’s most powerful city, made a stunning proposal: New York City should secede from the United States, too.
“With our aggrieved brethren of the Slave States, we have friendly relations and a common sympathy,” Wood told the New York Common Council in his State of the City message on January 7, 1861. “As a free city,” he said, New York “would have the whole and united support of the Southern States, as well as all other States to whose interests and rights under the constitution she has always been true.”
Although many in the city’s intelligentsia rolled their eyes, and the mayor was slammed in much of the New York Press. Wood’s proposal made a certain kind of sense. The mayor was reacting to tensions with Albany, but there was far more behind his secession proposal, particularly if one understood that the lifeblood of New York City’s economy was cotton, the product most closely identified with the South and its defining system of labor: the slavery of millions of people of African descent.”