With the onset of secession, Olmsted decided to reissue his observations in a single publication. He was motivated by the possibility that the British might formally recognize the Confederacy, or — worse yet — directly intervene in the crisis. To help him edit the manuscript Olmsted hired Daniel Goodloe, a well-known abolitionist and editor who had written his own extensive critiques of slavery. Finding the returns of the 1860 Census insufficiently organized, they relied on the 1850 Census to make their case.
Olmsted and Goodloe identified slave labor as the single most damaging influence on the southern economy: it was inefficient, absorbed capital away from reinvestment, and required substantial overhead. Worst of all, the price of slaves drove cotton production — rather than the other way around — and was immune to competition from free labor. Such a system could never generate real prosperity. Even Olmsted’s title, “The Cotton Kingdom,” turned the South Carolina politician James Henry Hammond’s famous phrase — “Cotton is King” — on its head. Instead of a place of wealth and economic superiority, Olmsted found a closed society imprisoned by the crop, unable to advance, diversify or feed its own people. This was entirely an economic — rather than a moral or humanitarian — case against slavery, for the authors were tailoring their case for a British public concerned about their cotton supply