The Impending Crisis of the South

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The Impending Crisis in the South — How to Meet It
AuthorHinton Rowan Helper
PublisherBurdick Brothers
Publication date
June 26, 1857; 163 years ago (1857-06-26)

The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It is an 1857 book written by Hinton Rowan Helper of North Carolina, which he self-published in New York City.[1] It was a strong attack on slavery as inefficient and a barrier to the economic advancement of whites. The book was widely distributed by Horace Greeley and other antislavery leaders, and infuriated Southerners.

The book condemned slavery, but did not take what Helper considered to be the ineffectually sentimental or moralistic abolitionist approach (as seen in Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852): Hinton explicitly wrote "not with reference, except in a very slight degree, to its humanitarian or religious aspects."[2] Instead, Helper crafted an analysis that appealed to whites' rational self-interest, rather than any altruism towards blacks. Helper claimed that slavery hurt the Southern economy by preventing economic development and industrialization, and that it was the main reason why the South had progressed so much less than the North (according to the results of the 1850 census and other verifiable factual measures) since the late 18th century. Helper tried to speak on behalf of the majority of Southern whites, poor or of moderate means— the Plain Folk of the Old South—whom he claimed were oppressed by a small aristocracy of wealthy slave-owners.

Helper's tone was aggressive: "Freesoilers and abolitionists are the only true friends of the South; slaveholders and slave-breeders are downright enemies of their own section. Anti-slavery men are working for the Union and for the good of the whole world; proslavery men are working for the disunion of the States, and for the good of nothing except themselves."[3]

Political impact[edit]

The Compendium version appeared in July 1859; it was an abridgement that kept the statistics but watered down some of the confrontational rhetoric, for use in Republican Party campaigning. This version met with fierce opposition in the South and many places banned it. Possession of a copy was treated as criminal offense in most of the South. Distributors of the book were arrested, and three men in Arkansas were hanged for possession of it.[4]

It widened the gulf between North and South, especially through the protracted December 1859 – January 1860 political struggle about electing John Sherman to the speakership of the House. Historians[who?] agree it helped sharpen sectional political differences in the years immediately preceding the American Civil War.

In rebuttal, Louis F. Schade wrote A Book for the "impending Crisis"!: Appeal to the Common Sense and Patriotism of the People of the United States. "Helperism" Annihilated! The "irrepressible Conflict" and Its Consequences!.


  1. ^ Helper 1857, ch.X "Why This Work was not Published in Baltimore".
  2. ^ Helper 1857, "Preface".
  3. ^ p. 363
  4. ^ Noble, William (1990). "The Most Dangerous Book in America". Bookbanning in America : who bans books?--and why?. Middlebury, Vt.: P.S. Eriksson. pp. 77–78. ISBN 0839710801.
  • Brown, David. "Attacking Slavery from Within: The Making of the Impending Crisis of the South," Journal of Southern History (2004) vol 70, the standard historical survey
  • Cardoso, J. J. "Hinton Rowan Helper as a Racist in the Abolitionist Camp," The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 1970), pp. 323–330 in JSTOR
  • Channing, Steven A. Crisis of Fear: Secession in South Carolina (1974) online pp 104-5
  • Fredrickson, George M. "Antislavery Racist: Hinton Rowan Helper," in Fredrickson, The Arrogance of Race: Historical Perspectives on Slavery, Racism, and Social Inequality (1988), pp 28–53 online excerpt
  • Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (1962), 364-79.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]