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Helper’s Book

June 1, 2016

Lincoln mentioned something during his Cooper Union address which especially reminded the South of its hatred for the Republican Party.  It wasn’t John Brown.  Lincoln had disavowed him.  It wasn’t Lincoln’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.  Though his conclusions contradicted the South, Lincoln’s logic was impeccable.  It wasn’t even slavery itself.  Lincoln minced no words when he condemned slavery, but he did not call for its immediate abolition.

Instead, there was something which Lincoln mentioned only once in passing which was already stirring the South to secede if a Republican were elected President.  Lincoln referred to it as “Helper’s Book.”

Hinton Rowan Helper, a native of North Carolina, moved north and in 1857 published a book entitled The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It.  He asserted that slave labor was unfair competition to non-slaveholding white Southern farmers and laborers.  Helper’s book was loaded with statistics and cogent arguments which demonstrated this thesis.  In July 1859 a digest of Helper’s book was published with endorsements from Republican members of Congress.  Among these was John Sherman of Ohio, who, because of his endorsement, then lost his bid to become Speaker of the House.

In February 1860 Lincoln was not yet the Republican nominee for President, but he understood the toxic effect of association with Helper’s book.  When he campaigned among the workingmen of the North that fall, he would remind them that slavery was incompatible with economic opportunity and progress.  In the meantime, in a speech that would likely be seen in print by Southerners, Lincoln carefully gave only passing mention to Helper’s book.

 

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