Uncle Tom's Cabin
Digital History ID 320
Harriet Beecher Stowe
One northern moderate who was repelled by the Fugitive Slave Law was Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), a 41-year-old mother of six from Maine. Stowe had learned about slavery while living in Cincinnati, Ohio, across the Ohio River from slaveholding Kentucky. Her book--one of the first works to show an African American as a hero--placed slavery into a religious framework deeply meaningful to nineteenth-century Americans. The book quickly became one of the best-selling novels of all time.
The novel describes two parallel stories of redemption and deliverance. Tom, who is sold down the river to the brutal Simon Legree, ultimately achieves spiritual salvation, while George and Eliza Harris achieve physical freedom. By awakening Northerners to the fact that slaves suffered just as the ancient Hebrews suffered bondage in Egypt, Stowe created a heightened awareness of slavery's moral evil.
Stowe was a member of one of early nineteenth century America's most influential families. Her father, the Reverend Lyman Beecher (1775-1863), was a major figure in the shift from the established churches of the colonial period to the new era of denominational competition--and from the doctrines of original sin and predestination to new notions of human agency, which regarded sin as voluntary rather than predetermined. After the disestablishment of Connecticut's Congregational Church in 1818, Beecher became an advocate of reform and revivals as ways to combat barbarism and infidelity and ensure personal piety and public morality.
On its first day of publication in 1852, Stowe sent a copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Slavery had been abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833, and Stowe holds Britain up as a model for Americans.
This simple narrative is an honest attempt to enlist the sympathies of both England & America in the sufferings of an oppressed race, to whom in less enlightened days both England and America were unjust. The wrong on England's part has been atoned in a manner worthy of herself, nor in all her strength & glory, is there any thing that adds such lustre to her name as the position she holds in relation to human freedom (may America yet emulate her example!)
Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute
Additional information: Harriet Beecher Stowe to His Royal Highness Prince Albert
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