"MEN WERE HANGED FOR POSSESSING THIS BOOK": FIRST EDITION, FIRST PRINTING OF HELPER'S IMPENDING CRISIS OF THE SOUTH, 1857—"PROBABLY THE MOST CAUSTIC, SCATHING AND VITUPERATIVE CRITICISM OF SLAVERY AND SLAVEHOLDERS EVER WRITTEN"
HELPER, Hinton Rowan. The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It. New-York: Burdick Brothers, 1857. Octavo, original blind-stamped brown cloth; pp. (i-v), vi, (vii), viii-x, (11), 12-420.
First edition, very scarce first printing, of the controversial white Southerner's argument for the economic and political rights of nonslaveholding whites—arguably "the most important single book, in terms of its political impact, that has ever been published in the U.S."—more hated in the South than Uncle Tom's Cabin and a decisive factor in Lincoln's presidential campaign, an exceptional copy in original cloth.
"On the eve of the Civil War, probably only John Brown's name was more reviled by southerners than Hinton Rowan Helper's, and few would have shed tears if he had suffered the same fate" (Brown, Southern Outcast, 2). Yet Helper claimed Impending Crisis, his most famous work, was primarily an economic and political argument for the rights of nonslaveholding southern whites like himself. Unable to find a southern publisher, in 1857 he moved to New York, where he "offered to give it away. Since commercial publishers feared they would lose southern trade if they published such a book, he gave a bond protecting his publisher against loss. Finally, in June 1857, the first version of Impending Crisis appeared. It was a book that would eventually reach more Americans than any work of nonfiction at the time" (Hobson, Tell About the South, 51). The book quickly "caused a major furor… so much so that George Fredrickson believes that 'it would not be difficult to make a case for Impending Crisis as the most important single book, in terms of its political impact, that has ever been published in the U.S.' Few scholars would dispute Hugh Lefler's verdict that it was 'probably the most caustic, scathing and vituperative criticism of slavery and slaveholders ever written'" (Brown, 2-3).
Highlighting the book's extraordinary impact, "Stewart Holbrook stated, 'No one, so far as records show, was ever hanged for owning a copy of Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, or even arrested. Such was not the case with Impending Crisis:… Men were hanged for possessing this book. Many more men were mobbed, and the legislature of the South passed laws specifically forbidding its sale, purchase and even its possession' [emphasis in original]… Even though he shared the racism of the slave owners, his advocacy of ridding the South of slavery was not to be tolerated" (Bosmajian, Burning Books, 161). "Although Helper had envisaged that his book would convert southern nonslaveholders, it appears that his arguments hit home the hardest with the northern electorate" (Brown, 188). The book "confirmed many northerners in their belief that the introduction of slavery anywhere would deprive white workers and farmers of economic opportunities, but its impact on southern opinion was even greater… [inflaming] class conflict among southern whites," and prompting Lincoln's Republican Party to use it in the presidential campaign to sway the white majority. "Although Helper was sometimes described as an abolitionist who had seen the error of his ways, his racist views of the Reconstruction era did not in fact contradict his earlier antislavery writings. He had attacked slavery for the harm it allegedly did to whites, not out of sympathy for blacks" (ANB). With rear errata, index. Sabin 31271. Howes H400. Blockson 9545. Dumond, 353.
Text fresh with scattered foxing, trace of soiling; with light edge-wear and a few stains to original cloth. An elusive very good copy in unrestored cloth.