Not satisfied with his new profession, De Bow began contributing political essays to the Charleston-based Southern Quarterly Review and soon became one of its editors.
Editor. De Bow was born in Charleston on July 10, 1820, the son of Garrett De Bow and Mary Bridget Norton. Garret De Bow was a native of New Jersey who prospered as a merchant in New York before he relocated to South Carolina. Young James De Bow attended Cokesbury Institute in Abbeville District before entering the College of Charleston, where he graduated at the head of his class in 1843. He was admitted to the bar the following year.
Not satisfied with his new profession, De Bow began contributing political essays to the Charleston-based Southern Quarterly Review and soon became one of its editors. One of his articles, “Oregon and the Oregon Question” in July 1845, was noticed abroad and debated in the French Chamber of Deputies. In the same year De Bow served as secretary at the Southern Commercial Convention held in Memphis, which debated internal improvements for the South.
The discussion of economic issues led De Bow to launch a monthly magazine devoted to business matters in the South. With the support of John C. Calhoun, Joel Poinsett, and others, De Bow left Charleston for the more thriving port of New Orleans, where he published the first issue of the Commercial Review of the South and Southwest in January 1846. The title was soon shortened to De Bow’s Review. Although the magazine initially faced difficulties getting contributors and subscribers, De Bow’s editorials soon gave him a reputation as a fervent sectionalist. His articles appeared regularly, representing his outspoken and violent partisanship when debating on matters threatening to divide the nation. He defended slavery against abolitionists and concluded that the North threatened to stifle the southern economy and destroy its social order by limiting the expansion of slavery. He felt that protective tariffs were desirable and believed that regional manufacturing and banking had great potential. Despite his calls for economic diversification in the South, he expected agriculture to remain predominant and encouraged farmers to adopt the latest technology and to pursue innovation in agricultural science.
In addition to publishing his Review, De Bow became the head of the new Louisiana Bureau of Statistics and a superintendent of the United States Census under President Franklin Pierce. He issued the seventh census of 1850, and in 1854 the Senate printed his Statistical View of the United States. After leaving this post in 1855, he gave public lectures and organized economic curricula in universities. He contributed largely to commercial conventions held in the South before the Civil War, particularly with respect to a southern terminus for a transcontinental railroad, direct trade between the South and Europe, and a canal through Central America.
During the Civil War, the Confederate government made De Bow its chief agent for the purchase and sale of cotton. His rhetoric and desperate support for the Confederacy were crushed with the Union victory. He died on February 27, 1867, while on a trip to Elizabeth, New Jersey. De Bow had married twice. In 1854 he married Caroline Poe, and the couple had two children before Caroline’s death in 1858. In 1860 he wed Martha Johns of Nashville, with whom he had four children.
Durden, Robert F. “J. B. D. De Bow: Convolutions of a Slavery Expansionist.” Journal of Southern History 17 (November 1951): 441–61.
McMillen, James Adelbert, ed. The Works of James D. B. De Bow: A Bibliography of De Bow’s Review with a Check List of His Miscellaneous Writings, Including Contributions to Periodicals and a List of References Relating to James D. B. De Bow. Hattiesburg, Miss.: Book Farm, 1950.
Skipper, Ottis Clark. J. D. B. De Bow: Magazinist of the Old South. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1958.