Helper's career as a writer began with the publication in 1855 of Land of Gold, a little-noticed account of how California had failed to live up to his expectations. His next book, The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It (1857), became the center of a national controversy. The book called for the abolition of slavery because it was retarding the economic development of the South and limiting the opportunities of its nonslaveholding white majority. Helper argued that slavery was responsible for a one-crop system of plantation agriculture that benefited the slaveholding minority but denied to lower class whites the range of opportunities that a more diversified economy, like that of the North, would have provided. Since it appeared in the midst of the national debate over the fate of slavery in the federal territories, Helper's book attracted great public attention, being praised by northern free soilers and condemned by southern sectionalists. In 1859 an inexpensive Compendium, or digest, of The Impending Crisis was published with the endorsement of some leading members of the Republican party, who hoped to use it as a campaign document. Approximately 75,000 copies of the book and the Compendium were sold or distributed. Helper's work became a central issue in the bitter and prolonged contest for the Speakership of the House of Representatives that began in December 1959 and lasted for two months.