An American business journalist, statistician, and protectionist, James Dunwoody Brownson De Bow (1820-1867) was a proslavery propagandist for Southern sectionalism.
James D. B. De Bow, who was born in Charleston, S.C., on July 20, 1820, became an almost penniless orphan on the death of his father, a once prosperous merchant. After limited schooling and severe privations, he saved enough to enter the College of Charleston, graduating as valedictorian in 1843. Unsuccessful as a lawyer, he took up journalism in an effort to supplement his income. He contributed political and philosophical articles to the Southern Quarterly Review and became its editor in 1845.
De Bow was also actively involved in the campaign to promote Southern economic development, and at the 1845 commercial convention in Memphis he was a delegate and secretary for South Carolina. To further the cause of Southern commerce, he founded the Commercial Review of the South and Southwest, based in New Orleans. At first this monthly magazine was unsuccessful, and it was suspended in 1847. But it was revived with the aid of Maunsel White, a wealthy sugar planter, and eventually acquired a larger circulation than any other Southern magazine. In 1848 De Bow became professor of public economy, commerce, and statistics at the University of Louisiana, occupying a chair White founded for him, and he held a similar appointment at the Kentucky Collegiate and Military Institute.
During the 1850s De Bow was an increasingly influential and partisan spokesman for the Southern viewpoint, and his writing undoubtedly helped to widen the breach in the country. He defended slavery, declaring that the South suffered neither competition between slave and free labor nor the conflict between immigrant and native workers which occurred in the North. He advocated the reopening of the slave trade and favored tariff protection.
Predicting gloomy prospects for agriculture, De Bow called on Southerners to emulate the North by developing trade and manufactures and by providing state land grants for railroads. He believed railroads would enhance the region's strength and prosperity but, like John C. Calhoun, he regarded Federal internal improvements as corrupt and unconstitutional. De Bow strongly advocated the compilation of statistics to reveal and mobilize Southern economic resources, and in 1848-1849 he was head of the newly established Louisiana state government statistical bureau. Despite De Bow's strong sectional bias, President Franklin Pierce appointed him superintendent of the U.S. Census in 1850, a post he held until 1855. In addition to issuing the Seventh Census, he published Industrial Resources of the South and Western States (3 vols., 1853) and a compendium based on the census, entitled Statistical View of the United States (1854).
In the late 1850s De Bow was involved in plans to construct a Southern transcontinental railroad and to promote direct trade between the South and Europe. Although few of his schemes bore fruit, his importance was recognized by his presidency of the Knoxville Commercial Convention of 1857.
During the Civil War, De Bow was chief Confederate agent for the purchase and sale of cotton, and after the war he revived the Review. He died on Feb. 27, 1867.
The two major sources are W. D. Weatherford, James Dunwoody Brownson De Bow (1935), and James A. McMillen, The Works of James D. B. De Bow (1940). The latter work contains a bi bliography of De Bow's Review, a check list of his miscellaneous writings, and a list of references relating to him. See also the brief account in Joseph Dorfman, The Economic Mind in American Civilization, 1606-1685, vol. 2 (1947). □