February is Black History Month in the United States. As Americans take this time to celebrate the great achievements of our black ancestors, this month is also a time to reflect upon pivotal moments in the country’s cultured history. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or also known as Life Among the Lowly, is a book that is said to have been what increased the tensions between Southern slave-holders and Northern non-slave-holders in 1852, thus influencing the start of the Civil War. As a literary work, it was originally published in pieces by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a preacher’s daughter. Stowe was an avid abolitionist, actively protesting slavery in the United States at the time. She would hear the stories from black Americans who fled Southern racial oppression in search of freedom in the North. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a fictional representation of the various stories she heard.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin follows the life of Tom, a Christian slave. The novel focuses on the brutality of slavery at the time, displaying the physical horrors that slaves experienced at the hands of their slave and plantation owners. Stowe portrays Tom as a devoted Christian, who survives his suffering through his faith. While Stowe’s novel did much to bring the horrific reality of slavery to light for many Americans during its time, its greatest downfall was the stereotypical way that black Americans were expressed in character. The dramatization of slavery life and the ster HYPERLINK “https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/uncle-toms-cabin-1852/”e HYPERLINK “https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/uncle-toms-cabin-1852/”otypical portrayals of the characters have been Uncle Tom’s Cabin’sgreatest criticism throughout history. It is believed that it was Stowe’s novel that closed the gap between the two divided cultures of white and black Americans. White Americans were moved to feel empathy for those suffering from slavery. There are some that debate whether her dramatization of what slaves endured while playing upon the public’s common misconceptions of black American culture was worth the attention and support the novel gave to the Abolitionist’s Movement in ending slavery altogether.
“So this is the little lady who made this big war.”
These are the words believed to have been said by President Abraham Lincoln upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862. It is a historical controversy whether or not President Lincoln actually uttered these words to Stowe, however, the quote has been repeated frequently throughout history amongst literary and historical communities. With 300,000 copies sold in its first year of print, her novel is seen as one of history’s most influential works of protest literature. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the second-most popular book sold in 1852. The Bible was the only other book of its time that sold more copies. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in response to the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. This law was developed as way of keeping a small amount of peace between Northern non-slaveholder and Southern slave-holder Americans. The Fugitive Slave Act stated that if a black American were to escape their slave owner to find freedom in the North, that Northern Americans could not interfere in their recapture and return.
Harriet Beecher Stowe viewed slavery as inhumane and desired a different future for her country, one where everyone was free and no person was considered to be another’s property. In the published introduction to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe states,
“It is a comfort to hope, as so many of the world’s sorrows and wrongs have, from age to age, been lived down, so a time shall come when sketches similar to these shall be valuable only as memorials of what has long ceased to be.”
What a relief it is that Stowe’s words ring true in the present moments of history. As February and Black History Month comes to a close, may we remember those who had the courage to speak up against a great human wrong that led to a novel such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin becoming a piece of historical significance.