Slavery has not always been an evil deal. In the earlier society especially in the eighteenth century, it was freely acceptable all over the world. However, this came to change toward the end of the eighteenth century into early nineteenth century. British philosophers who began to argue that slavery was not right and moral brought about the antislavery movement. This attracted criticism and pro slavery intellectuals to retaliate. The pro slavery philosophers especially those from the south of the United States heavily retaliated supporting slavery. This essay will focus on pro slavery during the antebellum period and the writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work in Uncle Tom’s cabin.
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The antebellum period in America saw numerous writings and literature produced to defend slavery. The literature produced especially by the southerners was towards supporting slavery. In the earlier times, the literature supported slavery as a necessary evil in the society. Later it began to be seen as an economic boost or rather as a good in the society1. In the north of America, there were also those who began to write in support of slavery.
The literature was so wide that it ranged from written poems to books and even to songs that became composed. All the greatest books written during this period have slavery as a theme. In the books, these writers hugely and immensely supported slavery. The pro slavery support even spread to publications that did not even have any relevance to slavery. The situation was as if every writer were to write about slavery and support its practice in the south of America.
The pro slavery movement even spread into religious publications. The churches had an extraordinary effect on spreading the pro slavery message. This was mainly because; they controlled numerous institutions and means of accessing people. It was not only in church that the message of proslavery became promoted it even spread to schools, and universities owned by churches. The churches even controlled publications that they used to spread the pro slavery message. Priests including Richard Furman were at the fore front of the pro slavery movement2. The church philosophers even quoted the bible so as to justify slavery.
Academic philosophers were also not left out of the pro slavery movement. Although the religious publication and writers had the most influence, there was also the intellectual group. The economist Thomas Dew in his publication review of the debate in the Virginia legislature pioneered the academics philosophers on proslavery. In this publication, he used the laissez faire argument that market forces controlled slavery and was beneficial to the economy. Additionally, other academic writers such as Henry Hughes saw slavery as a result of capitalism, and that it was inevitable.
In North America slavery began to be radically abolished and many slaves were increasingly becoming free. This tough did not mean that there were no people who supported slavery in the north3. On the contrary, the southerners were particularly adamant to continue practicing slavery. This was mainly due to the cotton industry that was thriving in the south. This cotton industry required laborers and this led to slavery being the best option. It is for this reason that the southerners may have exploded with philosophies and writings on the necessity of slavery to prevent its end in the south.
The book Uncle Tom Cabin is among the most popular book in the period of early nineteenth century. The book by Henry Beecher Stowe was among the first anti slavery publication. It was among the first publication that portrayed and demonstrated the evil of slavery. Initially Americans only heard of slavery and were not able to know the harsh reality that it involved. The book Uncle Tom’s cabin was able to demonstrate these realities. It was even after the book became published that the civil war began. Many believe that the book may have been responsible for the war.
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The book revolves around Tom who is a slave and his life from one slave owner to another. It also highlights his faith in Christianity that keeps him strong and beliefs in a better future. The story begins when Arthur Shelby sells Tom along with other slaves to a slave trader. Shelby was a kind master who had treated his slaves well and did not want to sell them, but due to lack of money he sells them. Tom then meets with the St.Claire family that buys him4. It is here that Tom gains his Christian faith due to his relationship with Eva, the daughter of the slave owner.
Eva later dies and makes her parents swear to treat the slaves well, where St.Claire swears never to sell Tom. Unfortunately, he dies, and his wife fails to keep the promise. Tom is, therefore, sold to another slave owner called Legree. This slave owner is cruel and beats up Tom along with the other slaves. Tom maintains his faith through the many temptations while also encouraging the other slaves. Tom encourages other slaves like classy to escape, but the end for him is grim and Legree eventually beats him to death.
The main theme of the book is that it shows the cruelty of slavery, and advocates for its abolishment. The writer has portrayed the life of a slave who has neither freedom nor peace. The owners of the slaves force them to do things that are not of their own will, for instance when Legree forces Tom to whip his fellow slaves5. The mother and their children become separated, and slavery does not care for their relationship. The novel also shows that slavery can be salvaged; the book portrays this by having some slave owners empathize with their slaves.
The novel also shows that, with Christian love, the issue of slavery can be abolished. It is adamant to condemn that religion should be used to encourage slavery. Stowe struggles to show that religion preaches love and this love should be shared amongst all people even those from a different race. The novel has also shown that women have the crucial role to stop slavery. Characters such as Eva Emmeline and classy portray the role of women in this book. Emmeline and classy are able t escape from slaver, while Eva encourages those around her not to practice slavery.
Uncle Tom novel is a representation of slavery by many Americans. Critics, on the other hand, argued that Stowe had shown more of the better aspects of slavery as compared to the evil. There were also those who retaliated with more literature and picture publications to rebel against the Uncle Tom novel. They argued that those slaves who tried to escape were worse off that those who remained with their noble masters.
Slavery was a cruel act of humanity, but this was not a common view to all. Some people promoted and argued for slavery especially in the antebellum period through publications by religious leaders, intellectuals and even philosophers. However, Stowe was different as she published her novel ‘Uncle Tom Cabin’ that is an anti-slavery publication that represented slavery as a reality. The book also advocated for the abolishing of slavery in America, and many think of this book having started the civil war.
- Barnes, Albert. An inquiry into the scriptural view of slavery. New York: Negro universities press, 1969.
- Faust, G. Drew. The Ideology of slavery: proslavery thought in the antebellum south, 1830-1860. New York: LSU Press, 1981.
- Stowe, B. Harriet. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Elizabeth Ammons. New York: Norton, 1994.
- Drew, G. Faust. The Ideology of slavery: proslavery thought in the antebellum south, 1830-1860. (New York: NY, LSU Press. 1981), 3.
- Albert, Barnes. An inquiry into the scriptural view of slavery. (New York: NY, Negro universities press 1969), 23.
- (Faust, 1981,4)
- Harriet Beecher Stowe. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. ed. Elizabeth Ammons.(New York: Norton, 1994), 45
- (Stowe, 1994, 67)