Ante-Bellum Writings of George Fitzhugh and Hinton Rowan Helper on Slavery

Ante-Bellum Writings of George Fitzhugh and Hinton Rowan Helper on Slavery

Ante-Bellum Writings of George Fitzhugh and Hinton Rowan Helper on Slavery

Ante-Bellum Writings of George Fitzhugh and Hinton Rowan Helper on Slavery

Excerpt

The critical decade which ended with the firing on Fort Sumter witnessed a major battle of the books over slavery which ignited the explosion of 1861. Harriet Beecher Stowe may not have been "the little lady who made this big war"--to use an expression attributed to Lincoln-- but the millions of copies of her Uncle Tom's Cabin not only intensified antislavery feeling both here and abroad but they elicited a retaliatory "Anti-Tom literature" of Southern novels, essays, and poems. The year after Mrs. Stowe's novel, there appeared Frederick L. Olmsted's critical articles on his observations of plantation life during a fourteen-month sojourn. Olmsted offered evidence that slavery did not pay and that it retarded Southern development. One interested reader, Hinton Helper of North Carolina, drew upon Olmsted's facts and theories for his own explosive book, The Impending Crisis (1857). English visitors from the illustrious Charles Dickens down added their own accounts of the evils of a slave society, while theologians on both sides perused the Bible for either justification or condemnation of slavery. Talented Southern writers like William Gilmore Simms frequently diverted their creative talents into proslavery propaganda.

Not so far behind Mrs. Stowe in influence on the coming of the war were the zealous propagandists George Fitzhugh and Hinton R. Helper of North Carolina. Fitzhugh was the earnest spokesman of Virginia tidewater planters; Helper expressed the aspirations and prejudices of the non-slaveholding highlander and small farmer of the Southern Appalachian country. Fitzhugh wished the non-slaveholder to unite with the planter in a common bond of interest in the survival of Slavery; Helper urged . . .

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