Mr. Sanford to Mr. Seward.

No. 67.]

Sir: I returned yesterday from Ghent, where I have been to inform myself concerning the condition of the working classes, as affected by the scarcity of cotton. For months past public and private charity throughout the kingdom have been invoked in behalf of the distressed workmen in Ghent, and those appeals have been responded to with great liberality by all classes of people in the country, who have contributed over 350,000 francs in aid of these suffering artizans.

Ghent is, as you are doubtless aware, the principal centre of cotton manufacture in Belgium, about two-thirds of the 70,000 bales manufactured in this country being consumed in that city, and employing, of the 40,000 workmen engaged there in various branches of manufacturing industry, 10,151, in nearly equal proportions as cotton spinners and weavers. Of these, 3,818 are entirely out of work, and of the remainder 3,650 are employed from five to nine hours per diem, 1,472 from nine to twelve hours, and 1,211 from twelve to fourteen hours in the day.

The plan first proposed, of employing these people on the public works, has been abandoned, as they are found to be physically unfit for out-of-door labor, and where not sent, as has been and is still done, so far as practicable, to districts occupied in other branches of manufacturing, such as linens, woollens, &c, they will have to be supported by public or private contributions.

The result of my visit to Ghent has been but to confirm the impression [Page 666] which inquiries elsewhere had created, that the distress of the workmen in the cotton manufacturing districts is not to be ascribed solely to the want of cotton and to the war in the United States, but rather to the over-production of previous years, which had led to accumulation of stocks of manufactured goods. Thus the price of American cotton has increased since the commencement of the war four fold and India cotton five fold, while the price of the manufactured goods in ordinary use has only doubled in the same period. The manufacturers with whom I conversed all admitted that the difficulty for their workmen was not want of cotton, but want of orders, those mills which are the most occupied now being engaged in filling orders dating long back, and from cotton purchased months ago; that they have the English market to buy from, and do buy as they need for the trifling orders they receive; that American cotton is not a necessity; on the contrary, that they are learning to do without it, not five per cent, of their present consumption being from the United States, the India cotton having taken its place, and the stock thus far (340,000 bales are now on the way from India) has been, and is likely to be for some months to come, sufficient for the diminished demand of manufacturers.

The war has, in fact, been a piece of good fortune to the cotton manufacturers generally, insomuch as they have made, probably, more money from the rise of cotton (the manufacturers of Lancashire are reputed to have made from twenty to thirty millions of pounds sterling) than they would have gained in their ordinary business had there been no scarcity, and they have also been saved from a crisis, the result of over-production, which would have certainly thrown many workmen out of employ and caused similar distress to that which is now so industriously ascribed to the war in the United States.

Cotton has been also sold in Ghent for exportation, but the amount is small. To the honor of the manufacturers, there seems to have been less disposition in Belgium to speculate in cotton and sell their stocks, leaving their workmen idle, than in neighboring countries. I have also observed that there seems no disposition here to mislead the working classes with regard to the real cause of their distress.

It is a source of satisfaction to observe that the appeals made in other countries to the passions of the working classes in ascribing their sufferings as due to “the injurious and useless war in the United States” have been thus far without the desired result of exciting hostility to the cause of the Union and consequent favor to that of the rebellion. So far as I have had opportunity by contact with them, or those who represent them here and elsewhere, they feel that they have a part in this war for which they are ready, if need be, to suffer, as they suffer now, and have before, from the speculations of their masters; that it is a cause worth suffering for, that of humanity, of freedom and self-government; that democratic institutions, which the people everywhere in the civilized world hold in affection, are now on their trial, and that upon its issue depends greatly the cause of progress and of liberal institutions everywhere.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.