Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Turning the Tide
Introduction and thesis
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had an incredible impact on the ideals of the American public in the mid-1800s. Published in 1852, prior to the Civil War and the election of Abraham Lincoln, the book brought to light the trials and tribulations that slaves dealt with, and the perils they faced as they attempted to find freedom. The book was instrumental in changing the view of the American public by pulling back the veil, and allowing people to really see that slaves were more than property, but rather living, thinking people.
About the Author
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) was born in Litchfield, Connecticut as the sixth child of a Calvinist preacher. Her mother died early in Stowe’s life when Stowe was five years old. She did have access to an education that many girls and women did not have access to. Her sister, Catharine, founded the Hartford Female Seminary where Stowe was able to learn and gain an education, and later teach at the same school (“Life”). It was her time spent here where she worked on her craft before taking the next step. After marrying Calvin Stowe and losing her 18-month-old son in the summer of 1849 , she received a newfound inspiration (Britannica). She could now empathize and relate to the emotional despair wrought on enslaved mothers, and the feeling of losing your child.
In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law. This law prohibited abolitionists from helping escaped slaves on their road to freedom. This law was another inspiration for Stowe in the writing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as Stowe was an abolitionist who helped slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad, and even housed fugitive slaves during their refuge to Canada. In June 1851, The National Era published Stowe’s first installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
About the Book
In 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published and available to the public (“Stowe’s). Stowe had a mission in mind and that was to educate Northerners on the plight of slaves, and the blight of slavery. She wanted to show the horrors running rampant in the South, and attempt to reach out to Southerners who were ignorant to the realities of slavery. She wanted to show that slaves were more than property, but rather real human beings, who feel no differently than non-slaves.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin had an immediate impact. Southerners and anti-Abolitionists immediately moved to slander Stowe and depict her in a negative light. Other pro-slavery books, or anti-Tom novels, began to crop up and show the South in a better light. That the Southern society wasn’t as bad as Stowe made it out to be, however none of these stories could lessen the impact that Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was impossible to fight against the wave of resentment that crept through the North as they challenged the ideals of Slavery, and the issue of slavery began to simmer hotter than before as they reached their inevitable boiling point, Civil War.
Impact and Legacy
As Congress continued to argue about the realities of slavery, 1861 saw the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. Shortly after, it brought about the secession of the South from the Union and the start of the Civil War. Lasting four years, between 1861 and 1865, the American Civil War was fought primarily over the status of slavery in the United States, and to this day remains the bloodiest military conflict in the history of the United States. Upon Union victory however, we did achieve the abolishment of slavery and the abolition of slaves and their transformation into free citizens.
It’s difficult to take a tangible accounting of the effect that Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on the outcome of the war, or if the war would have even started without the book. We can’t underestimate ability Stowe had to empathize slaves and her mastery allowing others to do the same. How many people came to the front based on her work? How many Northern politicians became abolitionists upon reading her words? As Stowe once said, “There is more done with pens than swords.” (“Stowe’s)
Clearly, the immeasurable impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been appreciated for a long time, and I don’t see the end coming any time soon. Stowe’s empathy and mastery of her craft had a massive impact on the state of the United States. Ending slavery was paramount to the future of the United States, but more than that it was the end of a massive humanitarian crisis and allowed people to have futures. Harriet Beecher Stowe was able to accomplish something truly incredible.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Harriet Beecher Stowe”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 Jun. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harriet-Beecher-Stowe. Accessed 7 April 2021.
“Life” Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, https://www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/harriet-beecher-stowe/harriet-beecher-stowe-life/
“Stowe’s Global Impact.” Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/harriet-beecher-stowe/her-global-impact/.