Raw cotton dominated the role of the United States in world trade. In some years, it constituted 60% of the nation's total exports. Southern cotton supplied 7/8 of the world supply. Shrewdly, New York merchants became middlemen between planters in the American South and the cloth-making mills of Britain and France. (See Gallery 1.)

Although slavery in New York ended in 1827, the city profited from slave-grown cotton. Economic interest slanted New York politics and public opinion toward the South. 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. (See Gallery 2.)

New York City Panorama. Illustration by Edward Burckhardt, 1842-1845. Collection New-York Historical Society.