Platforms Illustrated, 1864, New-York Historical Society Library. Election of 1864: Sumner, Grant and Farragut holding Lincoln up on platform (Baltimore convention); Seymour and Wood leading McClellan’s platform (Chicago convention).
Most people think of New York as the center of all that is liberal and progressive in America, with strong, Dutch-instilled values of tolerance permeating the culture. However, New York is also a place of business, and before the Civil War that meant it dealt heavily with the business of slavery. In December 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede, but on January 7, 1861, New York City Mayor Fernando Wood suggested that the city follow suit.
Although New York ended slavery in 1827, the city profited from slave-grown cotton, which accounted for 7/8 of the world’s supply as the city positioned itself as a center of international trade. According to our New York Divided resources, “White newspaper editors praised slavery as a benevolent system of labor and the only fit condition for people of African descent in America. Discrimination and ridicule greeted black New Yorkers every day,” hardly the attitude we expect from the “melting pot” of America. Wood suggested that New York become a “free city,” independent from both the North and South, in order to not lose business to seceding Southern states.
The city was also a center of mixed sentiment regarding Abraham Lincoln. While his speech at Cooper Union may have sealed his presidential candidacy, “Many New Yorkers gave Lincoln a cold shoulder when he visited on his way to the inauguration,” according to Lincoln and New York. Mayor Wood hoped to capitalize on this hatred, saying independence would be “disrupt[ing] the bands which bind her to a venal and corrupt master.” However, that all changed with the attack on Fort Sumter. According to the New York Times: