Few visitors were as objective and expert as Frederick Law Olmsted in appraising the plantation system. This Hartford-born scientific farmer was the son of a prosperous merchant, who afforded him the opportunity of studying agricultural science and engineering at Yale. As a result of a stay in England he published the interesting Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England (1852), noting rural life and city workmen, particularly the Liverpool working class. Much of the time he cultivated a 130-acre farm on Staten Island, which was devoted in large part to fruit trees. By the time he came to study the plantation system, he had a practicing expert's knowledge of farming.

Olmsted had already made up his mind about the evils of slavery before he accepted a journalistic assignment to visit the slave states extended by a fellow Free-Soiler, Henry Raymond, editor of the New York Daily Times. On December 11, 1852, he set out on a fourteen-month tour starting from Virginia down through the Deep South to Texas. He wrote his newspaper articles as he went along, and these became the substance of a trilogy of books,A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856), A Journey Through Texas (1857), and A Journey in the Back Country (1860). These were condensed and considerably revised in The Cotton Kingdom (1861), just before the outbreak of war. In future years, Olmsted was to embark on a brilliant career as one of America's foremost landscape architects, designer of New York's Central Park and the White City at the Chicago's World Fair.

He hoped by his writings to convince planters that slavery did not pay -a mission not unlike that of Hinton R. Helper's The Impending Crisis of the South(1857), which appeared shortly after Olmsted's first book; but Olmnsted's was a far more reliable and descriptive work than the polemic volume of the North Carolinian rebel. His acute interviews, his highly readable dialog, and his evaluative skill made his work easily the best account extant of the Old South and plantation slavery.