About James D. B. DeBow
James Dunwoody Brownson DeBow (July 10, 1820 – February 27, 1867) was an American publisher and statistician, best known for his influential magazine DeBow's Review, who also served as head of the U.S. Census from 1853-1857.
A resident of New Orleans, DeBow used his magazine to advocate the expansion of southern agriculture and commerce so that the southern economy could become independent of the North. He warned constantly of the South's "colonial" relationship with the North, one in which the South was at a distinct disadvantage.
DeBow became nationally known for an editorial he penned about the status of the territory obtained from the Mexican Cession of 1848. He claimed that the federal Union could collapse once the North's number of representatives exceeded those of the southern states in the United States House of Representatives. Moreover, one additional free state at the time would have tipped the balance in the United States Senate to the North, which had the large majority of the population.
DeBow hence proposed a legislative compromise to guarantee southern rights in a northern-majority Union. U.S. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky took up the cause and cemented together a five-part Compromise of 1850, which permitted the admission of California into the Union as a free state. However, southerners were given a concession: a stronger Fugitive Slave Law contrary to the Constitution. DeBow later opposed the fugitive slave measure on the grounds that runaway slaves could likely gain freedom in the North from sympathetic anti-slavery juries for reasons including that slavery was unconstitutional and/or that no laws authorized slavery.
On January 2, 1861, DeBow joined fellow Fire-Eater Lieutenant Governor H.M. Hyams at the Orleans Theatre in urging immediate southern secession from the Union. Some of the speeches were delivered in French because of the Creole members of the audience. Voters went to the polls five days later to choose delegates to a state convention to consider secession. The secessionists prevailed by an eight-to-five margin. Two days after that election, Louisiana proceeded to seize the federal arsenal at Baton Rouge.
Among authors who contributed to DeBow's Review was the southern surgeon and medical writer Samuel A. Cartwright, an authority on the establishment of sanitary conditions and also an advocate of the pro-slavery argument.
In 1866, he became the first president of the proposed Tennessee and Pacific Railroad, a business venture that he would not live to see fulfilled. Less than a year later, DeBow died of peritonitis, which he contracted on a trip to visit his brother in New Jersey.