DeBow's Review on THE DESTINY OF COTTON CULTURE.

 

James Dunwoody Brownson DeBow was the founder and editor of the highly influential DeBow's Review, which he published on and off from 1846 until his death in 1867. A secessionist, and an advocate of Southern development and industrialization, DeBow favored Breckinridge in the 1860 election and was an ardent supporter of the Davis administration during the war.

This article appeared in the May, 1858, issue of the Review (pages 442-443), and was sent to me by Mr. Jim Johnson, based on the version available online at the Making of America site at the University of Michigan.

THE DESTINY OF COTTON CULTURE.

The "future of the Cotton culture in the United States" has been the subject of a well considered and well reasoned series of essays in the Southern Cultivator, of Augusta, Ga.

From the March number we quote the following remarks:

How will civilization affect the future of Cotton culture?

This will depend entirely on the turn which American civilization shall take. If it becomes more heathen and less Christian in its maxims and efforts, no cotton lands will be improved, unless in exceptional cases, until stern necessity compels the performance of that long-delayed duty. The high price of slaves will tend to retard more elaborate husbandry and planting with a view to prevent the deterioration of cheap lands at the South; and it will induce public sentiment to acquiesce in the sacrifice of the soil in all the planting States.

If negroes and planting labor were no more difficult to be had than farming lands, every enterprising man would have within his reach the means to improve the soil of the South; but with slaves at almost fabulous prices, they must be used to work up the elements of cotton in rich land, or they will fail to yield a profit to the purchaser. They cannot be employed in planting on poor and worn out fields, much less in making and carting manure upon them, without a serious loss, if bought at the present time. The importation of more laborers for the economical improvement of our impoverished cotton districts is an obvious and growing necessity. We wish it were otherwise; but feel it to be our duty to state facts, not as one might wish them to be, but precisely as we find them. As negroes are wanted mainly to raise our great staples, the extreme scarcity of planting labor is proved beyond cavil by the sums of money paid for them, when cash is most difficult to be had for all other purposes.

Having no inconsiderable share of a continent to settle, subdue, and everywhere cultivate and improve, it places the cotton-growing industry, talent, and enterprise, in an equally unjust and unnatural position, to prohibit the importation of laborers adapted to the work to be done.  Severe restrictions on any lawful industry, like the prevention of immigrants from Africa to grow the tropical and semi-tropical staples of the sunny South, to drain its numerous swamps, and enrich all its poor uplands, can only be justified by proving that such immigrants either as apprentices or slaves, would be a great evil and wrong. The future of cotton culture will soon force the necessity upon us of deciding what kind of labor we will have; for the exclusion of all kinds will be wholly out of the question.

Some years ago, seeing that laborers in this quarter of the Union bore no sort of proportion to the area of land which ought to be thoroughly tilled and rejuvenated, or turned out to grow up into forests, the writer suggested in this journal the propriety of bringing coolies from China.

But much more experience and observation have led us to doubt the wisdom of mixing up China men with our present laborers, and to look to the land whence the latter originally came as the most natural and promising source of supply in future. There need be no more misconduct in bringing laborers from Africa than from Liverpool or Bremen; the French government has wisely undertaken to supply negroes to its sugar-growing colonies; and, sooner or later, England will do likewise. Already her ablest writers and journals pronounce her once boasted emancipation policy a failure, and a sad mistake.

If this be true, then our exclusion of negroes from Africa (with a hundred times more land for them to cultivate than all in the British West Indies) is equally a mistake. Europeans will not produce by their own toil, rice, sugar, and cotton; nor renovate the fields impoverished by the growth of these tropical plants.  Cautiously surveying the whole ground for years, with nothing personal to make or lose in the matter, our convictions ought to be pretty near the truth.

Civilization has yet much to learn; and its want of cotton is teaching that of Europe a valuable lesson. In the meantime, we who produce this article of universal consumption should not close our eyes to any of the defects in our planting or policy.  If we cause slave labor to be unnaturally expensive, the injury done to the public will ere long react upon the monopolists with a just and blighting retribution.