James D. B. De Bow and Southern Industrialization

By Hunter Wallace

We have explored Robert Barnwell Rhett here in the past, but I have only made passing references to Louisiana’s great fire-eater, James D.B. De Bow. This looks like it will be an excellent book:

“In the decades preceding the Civil War, the South struggled against widespread negative characterizations of its economy and society as it worked to match the North’s infrastructure and level of development. Recognizing the need for regional reform, James Dunwoody Brownson (J. D. B.) De Bow began to publish a monthly journal—De Bow’s Review— to guide Southerners toward a stronger, more diversified future. His periodical soon became a primary reference for planters and entrepreneurs in the Old South, promoting urban development and industrialization and advocating investment in schools, libraries, and other cultural resources. Later, however, De Bow began to use his journal to manipulate his readers’ political views. Through inflammatory articles, he defended proslavery ideology, encouraged Southern nationalism, and promoted anti-Union sentiment, eventually becoming one of the South’s most notorious fire-eaters …”

De Bow was one of the antebellum South’s leading fire-eaters and its most well known advocate of industrialization.

From the book:

“De Bow became the first Southerner to recognize and promote a comprehensive regional economic and social vision that blended the South’s past with a more diverse future. He foresaw how slavery and plantations could coexist with railroads, factories and cities. He wanted readers to understand that industrialists, merchants, and planters had similar goals and that they all needed to work together to improve the South’s future.”

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  1. “He foresaw how slavery and plantations could coexist with railroads, factories and cities.”


  2. The dynamics of antebellum slavery isn’t compatible with an industrial economy. Slave owners simply wouldn’t be able to compete with hirers of wage labor.

  3. The American economy was holding the South back. The free-market system encouraged the South to focus on export crops, the Northeast on banking, manufacturing and shipping, and the Midwest on food production.

  4. “The American economy was holding the South back. Etc.”

    Dixie–Placing Blame Elsewhere for a Century-and-a-Half.

  5. “It made the South dependent on Midwestern food and Northeastern manufactured goods.”

    I see. The last time this subject came up here, a few years ago, you were claiming just the opposite: It was the Yankee tariff, not free trade, that had forced the south to buy “inferior Northern manufactures,” or whatever was your phrase. In explaining the South’s defeat, you go from reason to reason to reason–but never to the real reason: Upholders of the slave-based plantation economy of the region were politically dominant there. They led the region into a clash with the North, where the abolitionists were politically dominant, possibly because a substantial body of Northerners were concerned about slavery’s racial implications, regardless of its morality. You fought; you lost. As you yourself know, from the comments posted by me and other Northerners here, over the years, we up North hardly even think about it any more. When we find ourselves being called Yankees by you, it’s a shock. You sound to us like jihadists, calling the U.S. military crusaders. I suppose it’s possible to build oneself a satisfactory future by lying to oneself about the past, but that’s not a method I’d recommend.

  6. The high tariffs made British manufactured goods more expensive and stimulated jobs in the Northern manufacturing belt. The complaint was that the burden of taxes disproportionately fell on the South, which was more reliant on exports, while federal revenue was disproportionately spent on internal improvements in the North.

  7. Can we return to the man at hand? De Bow among other Fire-Eaters not only wanted to help further industrialize the South, but also sought to help further its educational programs and the dealing of inmates. He was quite revolutionary for his times and influential to boot. My main criticism is that he accepted the Union after defeat rather than going the way of some of the other Fire-Eaters.

  8. “Can we return to the man at hand?”

    What you go on to say about De Bow makes clear that what Mr. W. and I were discussing is the actual subject at hand, John.

    Look–I’m a marginal Aryan at best, but maybe my marginality itself enables me to see the Aryan plight clearly. We have, let’s say, two-and-a-half to three millennia of Aryan literature, so-called Western literature. What do we learn from it? A great many Aryan women are obnoxious, a great many Aryan men are proud. During the millennia in which Aryans had comparatively little contact with non-Aryans, pride in men and obnoxiousness in women came to be seen, by Aryans themselves, as part of the human condition, as “human nature.”

    Are those qualities found in non-Aryan men and women? Being unfamiliar with the literatures of, say, China and Japan, I can’t guess; but from my observations of those nations, in the present day, I can believe the answer is no. Look at what you write there: “My main criticism [of De Bow] is that he accepted the Union after defeat rather than going the way of some of the other Fire-Eaters.” Not knowing the histories of the other Fire-Eaters of whom you’re speaking, I can’t be sure what you mean by that, but it sounds as if you mean the defeated South should have doubled down, as one says, on its intention to extricate itself from the Union.

    My response to that would be: Because? What would such a doubling down have constituted other than indulgence in pride, the Aryan nemesis. Should the defeated Japanese have doubled down on their Emperor worship after World War II? Take a look at, say, aerial nighttime photographs of the splendor of present-day Hiroshima. Compare those photographs, mentally, with your image of the South, say, half a century after the Civil War. Notice any difference? I’d say, yes, there’s probably a big difference, spelled as follows: P-R-I-D-E. That’s Southern pride I’m talking about.

    The difference between the Japanese and Southerners is that the Japanese have self-respect. After World War II, the Japanese felt no need to prove they were the ones who’d been right. They reflected on their judgments and decisions by which they’d proceeded into war against the U.S.; then they made some mental adjustments and rebuilt themselves into one of history’s greatest peoples, far greater, at present, than any of the white peoples. Having been born in 1953, I’m old enough to remember a period in, maybe, the early 1960s, when the phrase “Made in Japan” was a punch line, reflective of the supposedly low quality of trinkets Japan exported while its economy was being rebuilt–literally from ashes. Suffused with self-respect, the Japanese kept rebuilding. I remember, too, the first time, around 1969 or ’70, that I saw a quartz watch, a Seiko. “This is something new,” a woman behind a department store counter said, as she exhibited it to my friend who was shopping for a Father’s Day gift. “From Japan.”

    It was something new all right; and before long, that Seiko–Made in Japan–had sent the phrase “Swiss watch” into the history books, alongside Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    The Aryan will learn self-respect, or he will perish. What is self-respect? Well, actually, self-respect, too, is pride–managed.

  9. De Bow was also in favor of public health initiatives. His own brother and mother died from a cholera outbreak in Charleston. Also, he could see that New Orleans was deserted for much of the year due to diseases like malaria and yellow fever, and that this was a factor holding back its commercial development.

  10. Excuse me Mr. John Bonaccorsi, of Philadelphia, but if I lead on that I knew so much than I was a liar, but I feel after reading “The Fire-Eaters” by Eric Walther, that I have seemingly a better grasp of the Fire-Eaters than you according to that book at least.
    Mr. Edmund Ruffin was primarily the Fire Eater I meant when I said that Mr. De Bow should not have returned towards the Union. Mr. Ruffin felt there was more honour in death after attempting to free his beloved Southland, than to attempt to return with disgrace to the Empire’s bidding. The closest analogy one might use is that a Captain should go down with his Ship, so rather than jumping ship Mr. De Bow could have at the least continued to make strides for a Free and Independent Southland. I do not necessarily promote the death of the movements leadership if there should come a disastrous failure, but rather a continued struggle rather than turning back and embracing the enemy at large with their Black Republicans. When the Beer Hall Putsch fell, they returned even stronger.
    Pride has as much to do with a man as breath, it has just as much if not more to do with it than bread. Pride and Faith can push men beyond the boundaries of mere mortals and enable them to touch the face of the stars, how else could you explain the feats of the U.S. Empire versus the U.S.S.R. Empire when they both raced into space to outdo one another. As to the claim that Southern Pride came to destroy the South after the war. How preposterous, how long have you remained on Occidental Dissent, and yet have not seen what was staring you in the face? Slavery was the main lifeblood of the Southland at that time and if you would have compared say the South prior to the War with Japan at the relative same time you would have found, at least this is my belief that the standards of living, education, and wealth and prosperity of the South was overwhelmingly superior to Japans. This slavery turned disaster after the war because of the Empire’s intervention on behalf of the blacks and the blacks then losing Southern leadership in favour of the Empires. This caused a great divide between the Whites and the Blacks which is most likely going to be irreparable. So the economic situations at the time I called forth and current are different, is that not how it should be? When after losing the South’s sovereignty to their Northern neighbors do you suppose there would yet be a way to increase its industrial output when all the North cared for was stripping the South bare and the empowerment of Africans?
    To claim the Japanese a fairly good people is as far as I know relatively good, but to call them one of the greatest might be a bit of a long stretch. What of the Vikings who coming from a land of forever ice sailed south and conquered everything in their way. What of the peoples that inhabit Iberia and Spain, after so long suffering under Islamic rule to finally push back the Moslems and restore Christianity. What of the Isle of Britain which was so very small and yet came to control most of the world, and Ireland after long being subservient to their brethren finally breaking free at last to regain their sovereignty. The Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese, might yet be a good people, but to call them “great” when you and I have so little knowledge of them and so much more knowledge of our own European people, is to spit in the face of all that we should love and hold dear. One could suppose that since you are of the Empire by birth you have less love and zeal for your own people than a people who have been maligned for so long. When a Yankee kicks at the South and hear its Folk cry, out there are guns to ensure a Yankee’s safety, and furthermore open cabinet seats in the land of Southerners to welcome Yankee’s and foreigners in to help destroy the South.
    When Mr. Griffin claimed that it was the Yankee tariff that harmed the South. He was as he would most likely agree with now, partially right. Yet now with his addition that free trade also harmed the South he could consider himself entirely correct. For it was not free trade alone that harmed the South just as it was not the Yankee’s tariff, but rather the combination thereof which helped ensure the dependence of Southerners on Northern made goods.
    The Aryan if one wishes to use that term, will learn, no must learn, to look within if he wishes to survive. He must recall the great Fire-Eaters of the Past, recall Charlemagne, Alexander the Great, Aristotle, and Christ, by finding them within himself, he unleashes a greater power than any rusted iron chains could yet withhold. Then he must set to work the freeing of his peoples, only through this and not self-respect could anyone hope to not perish and live a lesser life.

  11. “[I]f I lead on that I knew so much than I was a liar, but I feel after reading “The Fire-Eaters” by Eric Walther, that I have seemingly a better grasp of the Fire-Eaters than you according to that book at least.”

    I haven’t yet read your whole post, John, but no, you didn’t seem to me to be overstating your knowledge. I had just wanted to make it clear that I myself don’t know anything about the Fire-Eaters and was thus not sure what you were saying about them.

    Anyway–I’ll now read the rest of your post.

  12. My feeling is, people should be thinking about the future instead of the past. I get tired of hearing about the Beatles and Elvis. The Beatles haven’t played together in 45 years, and will never again. Elvis has been gone since 1977.

    It’s obvious that Hunter knows a lot about American history and writes about it intelligently, so do many of the people on here, so I don’t mean any disrespect by saying focus more on the future.

  13. John —

    I’m in sympathy with much of what you say–but with much of it I’m not.

    Yes, pride is everything–but there is no formula for the management of it. It either makes a man, or it breaks him. The man himself will determine which. My point is that the South has managed pride badly–for a century and a half. I haven’t denied that slavery was the lifeblood of the South. Quite the opposite: I’ve said the war came precisely because the leaders of the South were intent on keeping it that way. That’s fine: that was their choice. It was, in my view, a poor choice–but it was the choice they made. When you or Mr. W. or any other Southern diehard speaks snidely of “the Empire” or about tariffs or unwise Jeffersonianism or anything else other than that fundamental choice to fight for slavery, you are trying to deny that that was the choice of the Southern leadership. That’s your pride–mismanaged pride.

    You indicate that you and I should hold the European people dear. I do. I hold the Southern people dear. When I say you’ve poorly managed your pride, I personally am not maligning you, anymore than a man is maligning his brother if he tells him, honestly, that he’s mismanaging his pride. My sense, not incidentally, is that Southern diehards feel almost entirely free to speak with contempt of their fellow whites who live in the North. Whether the war should have been prosecuted, those young Northern soldiers were your fellow whites. You don’t even entertain for a second the possibility that they took seriously the moral problem of black slavery in the U.S. Every time you snidely speak of “the Empire,” you are suggesting that they were misguided at best; but really, you seem to want to say that everything they did was in bad faith. No, it is you who are in bad faith, seeking to pretend, for a century and a half, that you did not fight for the very thing you did fight for.

    On a smaller note, yes, the American South, as part of white civilization, might have been more advanced in, say, 1910 than was Japan, but I was speaking of Japan’s remarkable recovery from World War II. As I said, look at those photographs of present Hiroshima: they’re beautiful. Consider that Seiko watch I mentioned. Think what is now connoted by the phrase “Made in Japan.” Think of the high quality that phrase represents. Before the ink on the instrument of surrender at Appomattox was even dry, the men and women of the South could have begun conducting themselves so that “Made in Dixie” would have come to represent that–and then you would have had a satisfaction greater than anything you might have gained by fighting on, as the Fire-Eaters wanted. You can still have it.

    • Japan has no natural comparative advantage in manufacturing. It actually a poor country in terms of natural resources. That Japan is now one of the wealthiest countries in the world is due to a conscious decision to develop an intensely competitive industrial economy.

  14. I remember when Japanese metal toys were made from recycled food cans. You could see the labels on the inside of the toys. That’s how far they’ve come. The Japanese are a great people. I admire them. They went from a feudal people to conquering Russia’s navy in a small amount of time. If they had not been bogged down by fighting in China in WWII I don’t think we would have done even 20% as well as we did in defeating them. The Japanese built nukes in WWII. They just didn’t have time to build enough of them. Ever see that discovery channel show on the submarine that carried a few airplanes?


    What do you think those were for? The Kamikaze’s? What if the Kamikaze’s had nukes? See “Japan’s Secret War: Robert K. Wilcox”. That being said I’m not Japanese and don’t want to live like them or have their culture.

    John Bonaccorsi is right about pride but not just from Southerners. Northerners are just as bad if not worse. Slavery, no-slavery or whatever the North invaded the South. The idea that the North fought for Blacks is a complete no starter. Everyone knows this is not true. Bonaccorsi’s pride is no weaker than ours by telling us the whole thing was the love of Blacks by the North and if we had just given that up all would be well.

    Notice the Jews care nothing for pride…externally. When a White man would say,”I wouldn’t do that”, a Jew would. Maybe cut your throat later but they would do anything for the moment to survive or profit.

  15. “Bonaccorsi’s pride is no weaker than ours by telling us the whole thing was the love of Blacks by the North and if we had just given that up all would be well.”

    Sam–that was a remarkably efficient undoing of your own point. “Well, maybe I am being proud–but you’re being proud, too.” That’s like a caption from a New Yorker cartoon.

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