Hinton Rowan Helper, and the Antislavery Movement

On June 26, 1857, the New York Daily Tribune published an advertisement touting a new book, The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It. The author was Hinton Rowan Helper, born in Davie County. The book, which denounced slavery in no uncertain terms, caused a sensation.

Helper argued that an economic system based on enslavement only slowed the South’s growth and illustrated the various ways in which the region lagged behind the North. He went further, denouncing slave owners as “robbers, thieves, ruffians and murderers,” and arguing that slaves should gain freedom by violence if necessary.

In his native state, Helper became a villain of the highest order. His book was outlawed, and anyone found owning a copy could be imprisoned. In 1857, editor James G. Bennett handed President James Buchanan a copy saying, “There is gunpowder enough in that book to blow the Union to the devil.”  The Impeding Crisis further polarized American politics, and helped get Abraham Lincoln elected in 1860. Next to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, no book was more important in stimulating sectional strife.

Helper’s childhood home, built in 1818, is a National Historic Landmark.

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