Andrew Johnson: Plebeian and Patriot

By Robert W. Winston | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER VIII
JEFF DAVIS SPOILS THE BROTH

In December 1859 the House did not adjourn for the usual Christmas holidays. It was in no humor for merry-making. Since convening early in December it had tried in vain to organize and elect a speaker. John Sherman, leading candidate for the speakership, had disqualified himself, in the opinion of the conservatives, because of an endorsement of the Impending Crisis.

This remarkable publication, written by J. Rowan Helper, a poor North Carolina white, was creating almost as much trouble in Congress as John Brown's Raid.1 In this book Helper insisted that the South was a decadent country, that slavery was gradually undermining its prosperity and destroying its soul, that it was the most backward section of the Union. Not only did he make this contention; he undertook to prove it by cold facts from the census table. His remedy was the abolition of slavery and colonization of the negro. Though his attack on southern slave-holders was untrue and unnecessary, his demonstration was unanswerable. At the bare mention of Helper's book southern Congressmen went into a frenzy, the term "Helperite" becoming the synonym for treachery to the South. Though published in 1857, the book did not come into prominence till the winter of 1859, about the time John Brown was going to the gallows in Virginia. Helper Impending Crisis was Andrew Johnson's vade mecum--his arsenal of facts.

While the House was endeavoring to elect a speaker the greatest confusion and discord prevailed. Southern Congressmen charged that Harper's Ferry and John Brown's Raid were the direct result of Black Republicanism as contended for by Helper and by Seward and Lincoln. Seward's "irrepressible

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1
First Session Thirty-sixth Congress, p. 574.

-108-

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