HARRIET BEECHER STOWE (1811–1896).
Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly.
Boston: John P. Jewett & Co.; Cleveland: Jewett, Proctor & Worthington, 1851-52.
Few monuments of literature can match the social influence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
by Harriett Beecher Stowe. In the decade preceding the American Civil War, during which the book sold an unprecedented three million copies, its story of a family torn apart by slavery galvanized the abolitionist movement and turned America’s “original sin” into a life-and-death issue not only for slaves, but for millions who either benefited from slavery or otherwise might not have considered it to be their concern.
In early 1851, Stowe experienced a vision of a dying slave while she was taking communion. A story about a slave family developed quickly in her mind, and in June of that year installments began to appear in The National Era
, a weekly abolitionist newspaper based in Washington, DC. The resulting novel was an immediate success, eventually ranking second only to the Bible among English best-sellers of the nineteenth century. Although some critics now believe Stowe’s characterizations extended the survival of demeaning stereotypes, by the standards of its time Uncle Tom’s Cabin
was a major step forward for race relations and human rights.