Few books can truly be said to have altered the course of history, and even fewer can be said to have started an entire war. Uncle Tom's Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was one novel to do both. Abraham Lincoln said to Harriet Beecher Stowe upon meeting her, "So this is the little lady who made this big war.". Uncle Tom's Cabin had a tremendous effect on early 19th century thoughts of slavery; stirring abolitionist support in the north. The novel is a realistic, although fictional view of slavery with the images of brutal beatings and unfair slave practices. After reading Uncle Tom's Cabin thousand of northerners became impassioned for the anti-slavery cause. Uncle Tom's Cabin helped eventually to turn the tide of public opinion against slavery in the 19th century( Taylor 1).
This controversial novel was initially written to question slavery, convince people of its immorality and to promote the abolitionist cause. The novel's rendering of the slave holding south is not entirely an accurate interpretation of what it was like though. Beecher over exaggerated and overlooked several facts in novel, especially pertaining to the practice of slave trading. To have her readers empathize more with the slaves, Beecher put the worst stories in and the cruelest practices of the slave trade depicted by run away slaves. Although most of Uncle Tom's Cabin is very close to the reality of slavery, many aspects of the slave trade were portrayed inaccurately.
One of the first miscalculated aspects of the slave trade is the reason for southern states involvement in the interstate slave trade. Stowe depicted Kentucky's involvement in the slave trade due to the poor soil of the region and economic ties with the practice. She implied in the beginning half of the Novel that many Kentuckians resorted to being bondmen in the slave trade due to the infertile land of the Bluegrass Region. In Stowe's Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, (a book designed to muffle the critics of Uncle Tom's Cabin) she stated that "Slavery's subsequent lack of economic viability
[and] prevailing agricultural impoverishment are to blame for Kentucky's involvement in the notorious traffic
" (Stowe 254). On the contrary, Kentucky where the bulk of the slave trade was supposedly concentrated has long been blessed with great fertility. The high phosphorus content and the goodly depth of soil results in land favorable for cultivation (Levy 67). Stowe's explanation for why Kentucky became involved in the slave trade was misguided.
She also inaccurately displayed the importance of the slave trade in the southern economy. She makes it out to be a big business and in common place among many traders. In the novel Stowe starts chapter ten with Tom about to be sold off to the slave trader Haley, his whole family knows that Tom has been traded and is devastated about the situation. Stowe comments on the hardships of slave life and the fear of being sold at a moments notice when she states in her narrative voice that, "
many of the fugitives confessed themselves to have escaped from comparatively kind masters, and that they were induced to brave the perils of escape, in almost every case, by the desperate horror with which they regarded being sold south,--a doom which was hanging either over themselves or their husbands, their wives or children" (106). She goes on to say that there is a lot of money to be made by the industry. In a later section she depicts a slave warehouse, again she reiterates the fact that the slaves are horrified to be sold, she goes on to further imply that many slaves are sold many times in their lives for whatever reason. "Briskness, alertness, and cheerfulness of appearance, especially before observers, are constantly enforced upon them, both by the hope of thereby getting a good master, and the fear of all that the driver may bring upon them if they prove unsalable." (351). True, many southerners relied on slaves for their...
Cited: Libraries Online. 1978. University of North Carolina 5 Jan 2001 <http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/neh.html>
McDougle, Ivan E. "Sketches of America". Black Studies at Howard University. 1994.
4 Jan 2001
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