Hinton Rowan Helper
was a Southern US
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...
critic of slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...
during the 1850s. In 1857, he published a book which he dedicated to the "nonslaveholding whites" of the South. The Impending Crisis of the South
The Impending Crisis of the South is a book written by a white male named Hinton Rowan Helper, which he self-published in 1857. It was a strong attack on slavery as inefficient and a barrier to the economic advancement of whites...
, written partly in North Carolina but published when the author was in the North, argued that slavery hurt the economic prospects of non-slaveholders, and was an impediment to the growth of the entire region of the South. Anger over his book due to the belief he was acting as an agent of the North attempting to split Southern Whites along class lines lead to Southern denunciations of 'Helperism'.
Helper was born near Mocksville, North Carolina
Mocksville is a town in Davie County, North Carolina, USA. The population was 4,178 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Davie County.-Geography:Mocksville is located at ....
. He was the son of a small slave-owning farmer in Western North Carolina
Western North Carolina is the region of North Carolina which includes the Appalachian Mountains, thus it is often known geographically as the state's Mountain Region. It is sometimes included with upstate South Carolina as the "Western Carolinas", which is also counted as a single media market...
. His father died before Helper was a year old, but he was cared for by a wealthy extended family and obtained a good education with the financial help of his uncle. He graduated from Xavier College Preparatory in 1848, and went to California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...
in 1851 in hopes of finding wealth, but came back in 1854 disillusioned.
In 1855 Helper wrote the book The Land of Gold
, which widely ridiculed the state. Deeply opposed to slavery and the condition of Southern culture and lack of economic progress, Helper later wrote one of the most effective criticisms of the South titled The Impending Crisis of the South
. In it he argued the South's growth, prosperity, and cultural development were being held back by slavery. He deployed statistics from the census to show that land values, literacy levels, and manufacturing rates were considerably lower in the South than in the North. He warned of the devastation caused by slavery through deforestation. He proposed that slaveholders be taxed to colonize all free blacks in Africa or Latin America.
The success of The Impending Crisis of the South
made Helper famous overnight. It also heightened the political crisis by raising fears among Southerners that poor landless Southern whites might turn against slavery if they saw that it did not benefit them. The fear of class divisions within the white community was enough to lead many Southerners who had previously been opponents of secession to embrace it after the election of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...
After the war Helper appeared as a white supremacist, urging the wholesale expulsion of former slaves. His hatred of blacks eventually became a phobia, to the point that he would not patronize hotels or restaurants that employed Negroes. Southern enemies of Reconstruction were unwilling, however, to forgive his previous opposition to slavery, and so he remained a marginal, and increasingly unstable, character in postwar America.
Lincoln appointed Helper as United States consul in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is the capital and largest city of Argentina, and the second-largest metropolitan area in South America, after São Paulo. It is located on the western shore of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, on the southeastern coast of the South American continent...
from 1861 to 1866. He spent most of the postwar years promoting a scheme to build an intercontinental railroad connecting North and South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...
, which would help replace black and brown peoples with whites. The "Three Americas Railway
" was supposed to extend from the Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....
to the Strait of Magellan
The Strait of Magellan comprises a navigable sea route immediately south of mainland South America and north of Tierra del Fuego...
. His schemes never came to anything, and he died by his own hand in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....
The Impending Crisis of the South
The book, which was a combination of statistical charts and provocative prose, attracted little attention until 1859 when it was widely reprinted in condensed form by Northern opponents of slavery. Helper concluded that slavery hurt the Southern economy overall (by preventing economic development and industrialization), and was the main reason why the South had progressed so much less than the North (according to the results of the 1850 census
The United States Census of 1850 was the seventh census of the United States. Conducted by the Bureau of the Census on June 1, 1850, it determined the resident population of the United States to be 23,191,876 — an increase of 35.9 percent over the 17,069,453 persons enumerated during the 1840...
). Helper spoke on behalf of the majority of Southern whites of moderate means—the Plain Folk of the Old South
The Plain Folk of the Old South refers to the middling class of white farmers in the Southern United States before the Civil War, located between the rich planters and the poor whites. At the time they were often called "yeomen". They owned land and had no slaves or only a few. Most of them were...
—who he said were oppressed by a small (but politically dominant) aristocracy of wealthy slave-owners.
The reaction in the South was very negative. According to John Spencer Bassett, who studied the issue and wrote in 1898, circulating Helper's book could be the basis of criminal charges and politicians often accused each other of having read it,but, many of the most successful politicians read it and used it to change the problems stated. In his 1867 essay, "War of races. By whom it is sought to be brought about. Considered in two letters, with copious extracts from the recent work of Hilton R. Helper", John Harmer Gilmer calls Helper a profane miscreant, one of many insults directed at Helper in that essay.
There are very few references to blacks in the book, and certainly slavery as an economic institution is denounced, not black people. It generated a furor in the South, where authorities banned its possession and distribution and burned copies that could be seized. Between 1857 and 1861 nearly 150,000 copies of the book were circulated, and in 1860 the Republican party distributed it as a campaign document. In December 1859 Democrats returning to Congress reacted with indignation because 68 Republicans had endorsed the book and planned to use it as campaign literature in the presidential election of 1860. Opponents blocked the election of Republican John Sherman
John Sherman, nicknamed "The Ohio Icicle" , was a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from Ohio during the Civil War and into the late nineteenth century. He served as both Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State and was the principal author of the Sherman Antitrust Act...
as speaker because he had endorsed the book.
- Hinton Rowan Helper House
Hinton Rowan Helper House, the residence of Hinton Rowan Helper from 1829-49 also known as Evans Place is a house in Mocksville, North Carolina.It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973....
was Helper's residence, 1829-49, and is maintained as a monument.
- Liberty ship
Liberty ships were cargo ships built in the United States during World War II. Though British in conception, they were adapted by the U.S. as they were cheap and quick to build, and came to symbolize U.S. wartime industrial output. Based on vessels ordered by Britain to replace ships torpedoed by...
SS Hinton R. Helper. See List of Liberty ships (G–Je)
Works by other authors
- Attacking slavery from within: the making of The Impending Crisis of the South, Journal of Southern History, August, 2004 by Rolf Myller (The actual author is probably David Brown see:JSTOR)
- Southern outcast: Hinton Rowan Helper and The impending crisis of the South By David Brown (2006)
- 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.
- American National Biography, (2000) sub Helper.
- William E. Stevenson
William Erskine Stevenson was an American cabinet-maker, farmer, and Republican politician from Parkersburg, West Virginia. He was the third Governor of West Virginia from 1869 until 1871....
, accused of sedition against the state for circulating Helper's book
In United States history, the term Fire-Eaters refers to a group of extremist pro-slavery politicians from the South who urged the separation of southern states into a new nation, which became known as the Confederate States of America.-Impact:...
, Pro slavery Southerners.
- The Redneck Manifesto
The Redneck Manifesto:How Hillbillies Hicks and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats is the title of a 1997 book by author Jim Goad, in which he delineates some of his views about what he sees to be the disenfranchisement of lower-class white people, and how certain aspects of American society,...
, a book discussing what the author claims is the disenfranchisement of lower-class White people.
- Arthur Kemp
Arthur Benjamin Kemp is a prominent British white separatist, writer, speaker, activist and political figure who has been the Foreign Affairs Spokesperson for the British National Party and was responsible for the content of that party's website. He was born in Southern Rhodesia and worked as a...
, who wrote an essay, The Lie of Apartheid, which argued that apartheid was in fact an impracticable and unworkable system which led directly to the Afrikaners’ demise as a political force in that country.