Fernando Wood is not the most common name associated with the Civil War, but, he was, and should be known for his “southern states-rights” sentiments. Wood was the Mayor of New York City from 1859 until 1865. He is known as a man of contradictions. According to Horace Greeley’s Tribune “no man ever went into higher office under a deeper cloud of ignominy.” Wood made it clear that he wanted to preserve states’ rights. Ultimately he hoped to have New York City secede; for, he believed in a needed autonomy for the City due to its national importance (evidenced by the internal conflict New York faced during the Civil War). Wood specifically believed that secession would prove profitable because it would allow New York City to continue the cotton trade with the Confederacy. In order to understand Woods’ desire to secede and have New York City become its own entity it is important to understand the place of New York City in the context of the Civil War. Some may even say that New York City could be seen as a microcosm of the Civil War itself; although no battles actually took place in the City the ideological tensions were just as fervent if not more. New York City was divided for many reasons, possibly the largest source of tension was the economic role that New York played nationally (in both the North and the South).
It was difficult for the North and South to function without one another because of their interrelated nature. Some have even said that the south could be considered a “colony of the North.” Southern states were responsible for the production of cotton and other raw materials that were then shipped to the north to be manufactured. The finished goods were then shipped and sold back to southern states. This symbiotic relationship was inevitably disrupted when the southern states seceded. The south did not have enough man power to fight a war and produce the same amount of raw materials; similarly, they lost the final products typically shipped from the northern industrial states. New York felt all of the residual effects of the awkward break between the north and south, for, it thrived though southern business and trade.
Possibly the most controversial action taken by Wood was his unauthorized communication and support shows with the Southern states; this made clear his belief in the ideas of “states’ rights.” Overstepping these power structure boundaries is ultimately what has profiled Wood as the somewhat enigmatic character he is. A man who supported the north-south relation but ultimately supported New York City as its own entity. He believed that if New York was to secede it could resume trade with the south and avoid economic limitations created by the war.