How Was the New Orleans Economy Affected by the Union Blockade?
The Union blockade had a number of impacts on the New Orleans economy. The Union blockade made it impossible for New Orleans to attract foreign businesses and led to a sharp economic decline. In January 1861, New Orleans’ voters narrowly supported secession from the Union. Many older Whigs voted in Bell, a secessionist, as were cotton merchants and other merchants. Many residents found it difficult to decide to seize the Union because of the state’s dependence on slavery.
In addition to the economic damage, the Union Navy lost more than 1,000 lives during the blockade. Forts Jackson and St. Philip were poorly defended, so military leaders in Louisiana devised a chain-and-timber raft blockade to prevent the Union fleet from advancing. The chain was damaged over time, and the blockade became weaker over time. By the end of the war, seventeen federal vessels broke through the blockade, and both the Union and Confederacy had lost casualties. The Confederate ram Manassas was visible in the left background.
The Free State Movement was a major factor in New Orleans’ recovery from the devastating economic effects of the union blockade. While 70 percent of prominent unionists in New Orleans were outsiders, the group’s leadership was composed of radical abolitionists such as Thomas Durant and Benjamin Flanders and more moderate unionists like planter James Madison Wells. In addition to these whites, blacks were also elected to the state legislature during Reconstruction. Another influential leader of the Free State Movement was Michael Hahn, a Bavarian immigrant who became president of Louisiana and later to Congress.
Union officials were well aware of the economic crisis. They created a welfare state for the poor to respond to it. In 1862, New Orleans’ imports fell from $156 million to $30 million. This dramatic drop in trade resulted in a decline of the city’s economy. The city’s government established a welfare state to ensure that the city didn’t become less prosperous as a consequence of the blockade.
The influx of black refugees from Haiti exacerbated the tension between the white population and free people of color. The situation was not as dire as it was a few years ago. The Spanish had left the city and the city was seeing an increase in black residents. French-speaking residents were asking their leaders to reduce the free black population. The administration of President Thomas Jefferson also urged William C. Claiborne, the territorial governor, to lift the blockade.
In 1865, New Orleans became politically more prominent. The Working Men’s National League was a coalition of immigrant and native labor that sought to end “Slave Power.” The Working Men’s National League, a coalition of native and immigrant labor, wanted to dismantle “Slave Power.” However, it was neither an abolitionist or advocate for free black labor. Its members were motivated by class resentment towards the planters and the slave owners, who benefited from their labor.