The novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin as written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in the United States in 1852. The novel depicted slavery as a moral evil and was the cause of much controversy at the time & long after. Uncle Tom’s Cabin had impact on various groups & publics. It caused outrage in the South and received praise in the North. It is in opinions and historical movements that the impact of this novel can be justified and shows how its publication was a turning point which helped bring about the Civil War.
When Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852 after the beginning of the American Civil War, he supposedly said to her, “ So you’re the little woman that wrote the book that started this Great War.” Lincoln was referring to Stowe's novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It recounts the struggles of several African American slaves to preserve their families and survive the experience for slavery. This quote immediately implies that even the President of America had recognised and emphasised the impact of the novel on American Society as being the key cause to something as important as the Civil War.
When Stowe began working on her fictional account of slavery, it was published in 1851 in weekly instalments in an anti-slavery newspaper. This meant that primarily it did not reach all types of audiences, it would at first only be read by abolitionist groups and Northern publics. It was primarily a morality tale meant to sway public opinion in the North. The character Uncle Tom is an African American who retains his integrity and refuses to betray his fellow slaves at the cost of his life. His firm Christian principles in the face of his brutal treatment made him a hero to whites. Tom was truly the first black hero in American fiction. In contrast, his tormentor Simon Legree, the Northern slave-dealer turned plantation owner, engaged them with his cruelty. Stowe convinced readers that the institution of slavery itself was evil, because it supported people like Legree and enslaved people like Uncle Tom. Because of her work, thousands rallied to the anti-slavery cause.
Due to popular demand Stowe’s work was published in book form as Uncle Tom’s Cabin on March 20th, 1852. It was not the first anti-slavery novel, but it was by far the most successful. The novel sold 10,000 copies in the first week and 30,000by the end of the first year. Within two years Uncle Tom’s Cabin had sold 2,000,000 copies worldwide. Performances of a play based on the novel drew audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands. For many Northerners who had no experience with slavery, the novel personalised the evils of slavery. Some Northerners, however, criticised the book, some because they believed it exaggerated slavery’s cruelty but some abolitionists because they thought it downplayed slavery’s cruelty. Although it created some divisions in Northern society, the boundary lines between North & South were clearer than ever. Abolitionists especially, loved the novel and the way in which it had impact on the North and South. Northern and Southern authors wrote at least 25 proslavery and “Anti-Tom” novels between 1852 and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.
Anti-slavery writings were significant in the abolitionists’ fight against slavery. Using books, newspapers, pamphlets, poetry, published sermons, and other forms of literature, abolitionists spread their message. Stowe was perhaps less threatening to white audiences than were black ex-slaves, this could contribute to the success of the book. Stowe being a member of a prominent abolitionist family had spent many years living in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she had witnessed the plight of slaves fleeing from the slave state of Kentucky. She was moved to write the book after hearing Christians debating about slavery which she thought was wrong.
Pro- slavery novels were written to counter act these Anti-Slavery novels. These depicted the happy lives of slaves, and often contrasted them with the miserable existences of Northern white workers. The Impact of the Novel on the South was also immense. Southerners were outraged, and declared the work to be criminal, slanderous, and utterly false. A bookseller in Mobile, Alabama, was forced out of town for selling copies. Stowe received threatening letters and a package containing the dismembered ear of a black person. At the time the book was written, most slaveholders and owners thought that all slaves would lie and steal unless they were beaten and kept under strict supervision. Stowe attempted to disclaim this acertation throughout the novel. In chapter seven, we see through Eliza’s eyes, just how painful and heart wrenching her personnel sacrifices are to her. Images created such as slaves caring and being, good honest people was deliberate to cause more controversy and to perhaps sway the opinions of Southerners who were perhaps leaning towards the Northern approach. Whether Stowe achieved this is somewhat immeasurable however it is fair to say that North South divide bordering states perhaps saw more discord than others states.
Quote from Chapter seven of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as detailed above ;
Most white Southerners denounced the book as an inaccurate and unfair portrayal of their “peculiar institution”
The impact on the black population was that most black-Americans reacted enthusiastically to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Frederick Douglas was a friend of Stowe’s; she had consulted him on some sections of the book, and he praised the novel many times in his own publications. Most black abolitionists felt similar to white abolitionists, after-all they were fighting for the same cause and most saw it as a tremendous help to their cause which of course in hinds-sight we can see as morally right.
In terms of impacts on slaves, most were illiterate and therefore would not have been able to read the novel but would certainly have noticed the impact on the white American society. In fact some slaves may have felt that the reactions of their slave owners to the book was reflected in the way that they suppressed them and that matters were ultimately worse for them. However the impact for the long run was perhaps better for the country than was realised at the time, as it helped bring about the Civil War, mainly due to the fact that the war was needed to end all conflict.
In Conclusion, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was revolutionary in 1852 for its passionate documentation the tragic break-up of black Kentucky families “sold down the river.” Its political impact was immense, and its emotional influence immeasurable. In a time when most people sat back and accepted slavery as a way of life, Harriet Beecher Stowe portrayed it as a long slow death. Because she dared to be different, her fame will eternally endure. Like most white writers of her day, Harriet Beecher Stowe could not escape the racism of the time. Further divisions in opinions were therefore perpetuated by the book, as it was a turning point in the sectionalism of the North and South of America. She was scorned in the South because of her protestations of slavery, yet it pleased the North and in the long run, that is its significance.
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