March 20th 1852: ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ published

I just noticed that the schedule function didn’t work yesterday so failed to post what I had set for the 20th. Sorry it’s late but here it is anyway!

 

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Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 – 1896)

 

On this day in 1852, American author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was published. Previously published as a serial in the anti-slavery periodical the National Era, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ tells the story of a black slave and recounts the harsh reality of his enslavement. Stowe was an ardent advocate of the abolition of slavery, and wrote the novel in response to the passage of the controversial 1850 Fugitive Slave Act which was part of the Compromise of 1850. The Act ordered Northern citizens to assist in the return of runaway slaves from the South, thus forcing the generally anti-slavery North to become complicit in the continuance of the ‘peculiar institution’. Northerners resented the influence of the Southern ‘Slave Power’, especially their continued victories in Congress. The Fugitive Slave Act was seen as just another example of the South trying to spread slavery, which many Northerners saw as a threat to white liberty. Thus the popular discontent over the slavery issue helped make ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century and saw its translation into sixty languages.

 

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Original 1852 novel version of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’

 

The novel helped keep the flames of anti-slavery sentiment alive, and is therefore sometimes attributed with helping start the American Civil War. The war had no singular cause, and whilst the debate over slavery is often considered a primary reason, a variety of economic and political factors were at play as well. For example, some see the war as a battle between an emerging industrial, capitalist North and a rural South. However, at least in my opinion, all of these other concerns came down to the primary division between Northern and Southern society – slavery. Thus ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, with its critique of slavery, helped fan these tensions which eventually resulted in the bloodiest war in American history. However, whilst still hailed as a great anti-slavery work of its day, the novel falls short of modern expectations with its stereotypical portrayal of African-Americans.

 

“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
– what, according to legend, Abraham Lincoln said upon meeting Stowe in 1862

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