All of this was very earnest and very eloquent, but also very mistaken, and the general fallacy of the South’s position was shown by no less a man than he who afterwards became vice-president of the Confederacy. Speaking in the Georgia legislature in opposition to the motion for secession, Stephens said that the South had no reason to feel aggrieved, for all along she had received more than her share of the nation’s privileges, and had almost always won in the main that which was demanded. She had had sixty years of presidents to the North’s twenty-four; two-thirds of the clerkships and other appointments although the white population in the section was only one-third that of the country; fourteen attorneys general to the North’s five; and eighteen Supreme Court judges to the North’s eleven, although four-fifths of the business of the court originated in the free states. “This,” said Stephens in an astonishing declaration, “we have required so as to guard against any interpretation of the Constitution unfavorable to us.”
Still another voice from the South, in a slightly different key, attacked the tendencies in the section. The Impending Crisis (1857), by Hinton Rowan Helper, of North Carolina, was surpassed in sensational interest by no other book of the period except Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The author did not place himself upon the broadest principles of humanity and statesmanship; he had no concern for the Negro, and the great planters of the South were to him simply the “whelps” and “curs” of slavery. He spoke merely as the voice of the non-slaveholding white men in the South. He set forth such unpleasant truths as that the personal and real property, including slaves, of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas, taken all together, was less than the real and personal estate in the single state of New York; that representation in Southern legislatures was unfair; that in Congress a Southern planter was twice as powerful as a Northern man; that slavery was to blame for the migration from the South to the West; and that in short the system was in every way harmful to the man of limited means. All of this was decidedly unpleasant to the ears of the property owners of the South; Helper’s book was proscribed, and the author himself found it more advisable to live in New York than in his native state. The Impending Crisis was eagerly read, however, and it succeeded as a book because it attempted to attack with some degree of honesty a great economic problem.
The time for speeches and books, however, was over, and the time for action had come. For years the slave had chanted, “I’ve been listenin’ all the night long”; and his prayer had reached the throne. On October 16, 1859, John Brown made his raid on Harper’s Ferry and took his place with the immortals. In the long and bitter contest on American slavery the Abolitionists had won.