For what reasons did Hinton Helper call for an end to slavery?
Hinton Helper's arguments may seem puzzling to a modern reader, as he argued against the institution not from sympathy for enslaved people but for ordinary whites who he thought suffered economically and socially in a slave society. Helper himself was a Southerner (from North Carolina) and he suggested that slavery was a backward institution that tended to hinder economic growth and to concentrate capital in the hands of a handful of wealthy landowners. Helper pointed out that free white workers would never be able to compete with enslaved labor, and that they had been cynically manipulated by the planter class, whose interests were the opposite of their own:
The lords of the lash are not only absolute masters of the blacks, who are bought and sold, and driven about like so many cattle, but they are also the oracles and arbiters of all non-slaveholding whites, whose freedom is merely nominal, and whose unparalleled illiteracy and degradation is purposely and fiendishly perpetuated.
Astonishingly for a Southerner in the sectional crisis of the late 1850s, Helper went so far as to advocate an end to slavery:
The first and most sacred duty of every Southerner, who has the honor and the interest of his country at heart, is to declare himself an unqualified and uncompromising abolitionist.
While he clearly thought slavery an evil institution, Helper was largely aloof to the misery of African-Americans. Indeed, he held strongly racist beliefs, and argued that one of the chief evils of the institution was that it put whites in close proximity with African-Americans, whom he deemed inferior. Nevertheless, his was a radical perspective in the mid-nineteenth century South, and his 1857 work The Impending Crisis of the South, the source of the quotes above, was an incendiary work. It was banned in the South, including his native North Carolina, and its endorsement by many Northern politicians in 1858 served as evidence to many Southerners that Northern public opinion was set against them.