Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/361

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343
"The Impending Crisis "

it only serves to appropriate the wages of the labourer." In 1858 he also issued his Southern Platform, a digest of the opinions of "the most eminent southern Revolutionary characters" upon the subject of slavery, which was widely circulated. In Virginia, Dr. Henry Ruffner, President of Washington College, the present Washington and Lee University, advocated in 1847 the gradual emancipation of slaves in the western counties of the state, on the ground that slavery was destructive to the best interests of the white people. After a lengthy demonstration of the evils induced by slave labour, he declared: "Delay not, then, we beseech you, to raise a barrier against this Stygian inundation—to stand at the Blue Ridge, and with sovereign energy say to this Black Son of misery; 'Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther!'" But the Southern protest par excellence was The Impending Crisis of the South (1859), the work of Hinton Rowan Helper of North Carolina. With the moral aspect of slavery he had no interest; that he left to Northern writers, especially to "Yankee wives" who have "written the most popular antislavery literature of the day. Against this I have nothing to say; it is all well enough for women to give the fictions of slavery; men should give the facts." These facts were suggested to him by a visit to the free states of the West. Their wealth and prosperity, as compared with conditions in the home country, made a deep impression upon him. He thereupon made a study of the comparative resources and development of the slave and free states. His conclusion was that slavery was a positive evil to the white men of the South. Notable was the distinction he drew between the slaveholders who were numerically in the minority, but shaped the public policy, and the non-slaveholders, numerically in the majority, but having little political power. Let the latter organize, take over the government, exclude the slavocracy from office holding, and abolish the institution which sapped the strength of the country. The book, published after some difficulty, became exceedingly popular in the North, and was reprinted in 1859 as a campaign document. In the South it was regarded as incendiary literature; agents who distributed it were imprisoned and fined, and any one possessing a copy was regarded as a traitor to his country. Among those who had commended the book was John Sherman, candidate for the speakership of the House of Repre-