The Impending Crisis of the South, first published in 1857 and written by a white male named Hinton Rowan Helper, was a strong attack on slavery as an inefficient institution and a barrier to the economic advancement of American whites. The book was widely praised and distributed by Horace Greeley and other Northern antislavery leaders, and incurred the anger of white Southern leaders.
The Impending Crisis of the South condemns the institution of slavery, but Helper did not employ a sentimental or moralistic abolitionist approach to his arguments (in contrast to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin). Instead, Helper articulated an empirical analysis designed to appeal to the economic and social interests of whites, rather than altruism towards blacks. Accordingly, Helper claimed that slavery was detrimental to the development of the Southern economy because it was an antiquated agrarian institution that prevented industrialization. Therefore, slavery was the main reason why the South had progressed so much less than the North since the late 18th century. Furthermore, Helper claimed to write on behalf of the Southern whites who were poor or of moderate means (the "Plain Folk of the Old South"), whom he claimed were oppressed by a small, but politically dominant, aristocracy of wealthy slaveowners intent on preserving an elitist socio-economic system.
Although Helper intended to write from an analytical perspective, his overall tone was aggressive towards Southern slaveholders:
“Freesoilers and abolitionists are the only true friends of the South; slaveholders and slave-breeders are downright enemies of their own section. Anti-slavery men are working for the Union and for the good of the whole world; proslavery men are working for the disunion of the States, and for the good of nothing except themselves."
An abridged version of The Impending Crisis of the South appeared in July 1859, which diluted some of Harper's confrontational rhetoric. The Republican Party heavily cited this version during the 1860 election campaign in order to bolster their claims that Northern industry and prosperity were directly tied to free labor and free soil, and that the expansion of slavery into new territories threatened the economic advancement of the United States. In the South, however, The Impending Crisis of the South was met with outright hostility and resistance; some states even banned its publication and sale.