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Home North Carolina Davie County City of Mocksville Historical Markers Hinton R. Helper

Hinton R. Helper

US-64, Mocksville, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 35° 53' 53.934", -80° 34' 32.3184"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Author of The Impending Crisis, a bitterly controversial book which denounced slavery; U.S. Consul at Buenos Aires, 1861-66. Born 150 yds. N."
      Hinton Rowan Helper, author of The Impending Crisis, was born on December 27, 1829, the son of Daniel J. and Sarah B. Helper. He received his education at Mocksville Academy under the tutelage of Peter Stuart Ney and Baxter Clegg. After graduation in 1848, Helper became an apprentice to Michael Brown, a printer, in Salisbury.

      Two years later, Helper went to California as a gold prospector. He worked in the gold fields for three months, but returned to North Carolina having made only ninety-four cents. In 1855, he published his first book, California Land of Gold: Reality versus Fiction, an accounting of his experiences. In the work, Helper advocated the extension of slavery and rebuked “meddling abolitionists.”

      After returning briefly to Salisbury, Helper moved to New York. In 1857 he published The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It, which offered an entirely different assessment of slavery than had Helper’s first book. The Impending Crisis argued against agrarianism and slavery, stipulating that such an economic system only slowed the South’s growth. The work had 150 pages of statistics from the 1850 United States Census illustrating the various ways in which the South lagged behind the North. However, Helper went further, denouncing slave owners as “robbers, thieves, ruffians, and murderers,” and advocating that slaves should gain freedom by violence if necessary.

      In the South, and North Carolina in particular, Helper became a villain of the highest order. His book was outlawed, and anyone found owning a copy could be sentenced to prison time. Daniel Worth, Methodist preacher and cousin of Governor Jonathan Worth, found with several copies, received a one-year jail sentence, but fled the South while out on bond. In 1858, a public burning of Helper’s book took place in High Point.

      The Impeding Crisis further polarized American politics, and helped get Abraham Lincoln elected in 1860. In 1857, New York Herald editor James G. Bennett handed President James Buchanan a copy saying, “There is gunpowder in enough in that book to blow the Union to the devil.” Three years later, Bennett wrote, “Lincoln’s election was due to the very work of Mr. Helper, and kindred speeches and documents.”

      Soon afterwards, Helper pleaded for a government position in Lincoln’s administration. The request was granted, and from 1861-1867, Helper served as United States consul to Argentina where he married Maria Louisa Rodriquez.

      In 1868, Helper returned to the United States, and settled in Asheville. Despite the hatred most Southerners formerly held for him, Helper met with no problems. He subsequently moved to New York, St. Louis, and Washington, D. C. He wrote five other books, three of which were extremely racist and openly denounced the Negro race. Again changing his stance on slavery and African-Americans, Helper blamed blacks for the Civil War, and for the lack of Southern industry.

      After 1890, Helper spent the majority of his time in Washington, D. C. His writings became more and more delusional, and his wife and son soon returned to Argentina. Increasingly despondent and mentally unstable, Helper killed himself on March 9, 1909, in a Washington hotel room. He is buried in an unmarked grave, the burial expenses paid by the Authors Society of New York.

      Helper's childhood home, built in 1818 on lands formerly inside the Boone Tract, received recognition as a National Historic Landmark in 1974. It is a private residence.

H. C. Bailey, Hinton Rowan Helper: Abolitionist Racist (1965)
Hugh T. Lefler, Hinton Rowan Helper, Advocate of a ‘White America,’” Southern Sketches (1935)
James W. Wall, The History of Davie County (1969)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 97-98—sketch by James W. Wall
Related Themes: C.S.A., Confederate States of America, Confederacy
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Hinton R. Helper Historical Marker Location Map, Mocksville, North Carolina