Merchants and Planters Prices Current, [C.A.Stuart, editor?] Vol. II, No. 33

Mobile, Alabama, May 9, 1840. 2 printed pages plus Partial Autograph Letter (2 x 2” portion of letter torn out) and stamp less address leaf. Sent by the commercial freight forwarding company, Barnewall and Manroy to John Gladstone, Liverpool, England. Except for the missing portion of the letter, and some darkening at folds, the printed statement in Very Good condition and quite an attractive imprint.

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This is a typical printed Prices Current of the antebellum period; this publication began in 1839 and continued until the end of 1853. But it’s notable for two reasons:

First, the accompanying letter, written by freight forwarding agents who specialized in shipping southern cotton to Liverpool, was sent to Sir John Gladstone, father of the future British Prime Minister and owner of some of the largest slave plantations in Jamaica and Guyana. The letter describes an expected shipment of cotton from Jamaica to Mobile and, notwithstanding the loss of some words of the text, seems to indicate that there was an overabundance of cotton coming on the market, particularly that of “middling and inferior quality”, an important financial judgment in the second year of the national American Depression that followed the Panic of 1839.

What is most significant about the letter is that the editors and publishers of the Prices Current had the temerity to offer the front page of their publication to an anonymous writer who signs himself simply “ALABAMA”. Declaring himself dedicated to the well-being of the “agricultural classes of our State”, the writer argues that the financial hard times was aggravated in the South by the “evil consequences of over-production” of cotton, which was also being competitively produced in India, South America, and Texas. He suggests that a desirable “check” on excessive cotton production might be accomplished by several means: “the introduction of manufactories; the culture of silk; the extended cultivation of bread stuffs; the raising of stock, etc.”  He does not, of course, compound this heresy by speculating about how these alternatives might impact the “peculiar institution” of Slavery which was so closely tied to King Cotton.

A rare and somewhat remarkable statement.  It would be interesting to know what reaction Gladstone might have had to reading this caveat, although history does report that his own enormous wealth was acquired, not through the cotton trade, but by investment in the import of grain and other commodities.