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Understanding the American Revolution and its People
Harriet Beecher Stowe: Her Life and Writings
John T. Marck
An outstanding writer, learn all about the life of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the impact of her book,
"Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe
Her Life and
Uncle Tom's Cabin, or
Life Among the Lowly
"And behold the tears of such as are oppressed; and on the
side of their oppressors there was power. Wherefore I praised the dead that are
already dead more than the living that are yet alive."
In March 1862, Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the White House
and upon meeting President Abraham Lincoln, it is said he said, "So this is the
little lady who made this big war?" Although it is doubtful that Lincoln said
these words, there is no denying that her novel had an impact on the slavery
She was born Harriet Elizabeth Beecher on June 14, 1811 in
Litchfield, Connecticut. Born into a family of ministers and reformers, her
father was a well known Congregational Revivalist, and seven of her brothers
were ministers. The most famous of these brothers was Henry Ward Beecher, a
celebrated public speaker, and her eldest sister Catherine was renowned for her
stern teaching methods.
Harriet attended Catherine's school in Hartford, where she
later taught, and also attended another of her schools in Cincinnati. She loved
to write, and her first published work was a geography book, followed by a
sketch, which was her first attempt at fiction. So good, this won a magazine
contest. While in Cincinnati, she soon began to learn about slaves and slavery,
with the slave state of Kentucky across the river. One day, upon visiting a
Kentucky plantation, she saw first hand the plight of the slaves. Upon her
return home, she orchestrated the escape of a black maidservant who was a
At the age of 24, she married Calvin Stowe, 33, who was a
professor of Bible studies at her father's seminary in Cincinnati. Together they
would have seven children, over a fifteen-year period. This left her little time
with which to write, but she did manage some. Having completed several short
stories, her collection was published which finally convinced her family that
she could write.
In 1850, she and her husband moved to Brunswick, Maine where
he accepted a professorship at Bowdoin College. One day while attending a church
service, Harriet became inspired and returned home and began writing what would
be her greatest novel. As she completed various chapters of this novel, it was
published in 36 installments as a serial story in the
an anti slavery magazine in Washington, D.C.
In 1852, her masterpiece, now in two volumes was published in
book form, titled, Uncle Tom's Cabin or Life Among the Lowly.
The first day it was released it sold 3,000 copies, and 300,000 the first
year. Although outstanding in its own write, it did happen to come at a perfect
time in America's history, with the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which increased
the Northern resistance toward slavery. Furthermore, Uncle Tom's Cabin
brought to reality in the North the human side of slavery, and the effect was
that for the first time, readers felt the evils of slavery. Consequently,
Harriet was celebrated in the North, and hated in the South.
With Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe was able to
write in such a manner as to stir emotions, brought out by her vivid
characterizations. Using stereotypical descriptions, she described exactly what
slaves, slavery, and Southerners were about. However, she knew little if
anything about these subjects from first-hand experience, but rather from
abolitionist movements, combined with her own imagination.
Although misunderstood, her intention was not an indictment
toward the South or Southerners, but was merely against the institution of
slavery itself. In spite of her repeated attempts to convince them otherwise,
Southerners looked upon it as an attack on their way of life, and denounced it
angrily. Consequently, Uncle Tom's Cabin became ammunition in
the sectional arguments, outselling all other books of the century, and spawned
numerous stage plays. Harriet, quite distressed that her work was misconstrued,
published in 1853 an explanation of the book titled A Key To Uncle Tom's
Cabin, but this did not work, falling on deaf ears.
Uncle Tom's Cabin was actually not as one-sided as the
South would have made it appear. In the early scenes, the story depicted Colonel
Shelby and Augustine St. Clare as very kindhearted gentlemen of the South who
took good care of their slaves. But still it was true, treated good or bad, they
still advocated slavery, the one thing Harriet was trying to abolish. But the
most famous of the villains was Simon Legree, who with his whips and
bloodhounds, made the greatest, most lasting impression on the readers.
Harriet went on to write more than twenty books over the next
twenty years. Her second anti slavery novel was titled
sold well, but less successful than Uncle Tom's Cabin. She also wrote
several shorter works which were published in the Atlantic Monthly and
the Christian Union. Many of her writings excelled Uncle Tom's Cabin
in their literary merit, but none surpassed the success of
Unfortunately, both she and her husband were poor business
managers, thus she had to continue writing and producing books for support. Some
of her novels in the later years were hastily written to cover advances from
publishers. Many of these were loosely constructed, and did contain the same
moral fire as did Uncle Tom's Cabin, but their relevance and
timing could never match those consequences that made Uncle Tom's Cabin
the social and political work of art it was. It made Stowe the first
professional writer since Thomas Paine to strongly influence American history.
On July 1, 1896, Harriet Beecher Stowe died in Hartford,
Connecticut. When asked about the book that made her famous, she replied,
"God wrote it."
I believe that
Uncle Tom's Cabin is a book
that everyone should read. If you haven't yet had the opportunity, check it out
and join Cassy, Miss Ophelia, Topsy, Evangeline, Tom and others for an
experience I think you'll enjoy.
Copyright© John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article
and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold,
reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written
permission from the author.