Uncle Tom's Cabin
During the early 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe became an abolitionist during the 1830s when she lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati was located on the Ohio River, just north of Kentucky, a slave state. Thousands of runaway slaves passed through Cincinnati as they traveled to freedom along the Underground Railroad. She also became friends with several Ohio abolitionists, including John Rankin, whose home in Ripley, Ohio served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The stories that she heard from runaway slaves and Underground Railroad conductors while she lived in Cincinnati served as the basis for her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
In 1850, Stowe and her husband, Calvin, moved to Brunswick, Maine. While living in Maine she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 inspired her to write the novel. She objected to the federal government actively assisting slave owners in reclaiming their runaways in the North. William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist editor, published a newspaper called the Liberator. Like Garrison, Stowe realized that most Northerners had never witnessed slavery firsthand. Most Northern whites had no idea of how brutal slavery could be. Through Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe sought to personalize slavery for her readers. She wanted to educate them about the brutalities of the institution. She hoped that her readers would rise up against slavery if they understood the beatings, the rapes, and the division of families that often occurred.
Because Uncle Tom's Cabin was a work of fiction, Stowe was criticized for her allegedly inaccurate portrayal of slavery. Stowe's novel was based on extensive research with former slaves and with active participants, white and African American, with the Underground Railroad. Despite the criticism, the book became a bestseller. An abolitionist newspaper, The National Era, originally published the book as a serial in 1851 and 1852. In 1852, the story was published in book form and sold more than 500,000 copies in its first five years in print. It brought slavery to life for many Northerners. It did not necessarily make these people devoted abolitionists, but the book began to move more and more Northerners to consider ending the institution of slavery. In 1862, Stowe met President Abraham Lincoln while she was visiting Washington, DC. Lincoln purportedly stated, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!" While Stowe did not start the war, Uncle Tom's Cabin did increase the differences between the North and the South. Many Northerners realized how unjust slavery was for the first time. With increasing opposition to slavery, Southern slave owners worked even harder to defend the institution. The stage was set for the American Civil War.
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