Uncle Tom’s Cabin – The Slave Trade
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 livelihood and at the time the biggest business in the south was agriculture. But the actual amount of people that made money off of slaves less than Stowe depicts. Out of the $61 million invested on slave property in 1840’s Virginia, the state brought in less than 3% profit on the investment capital ( Levy 67). The truth of the matter was that slaves were not a good investment. An estimated 75% of the slave trade in the upper south was “superannuated, sick, women in unfit condition for labor, and infants unable to work.” ( Taylor 1) . Bondmen weren’t that important, and in fact their numbers were seeing decrease at the time Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The total percentage of bondmen in Kentucky population had stood at 24 percent of white males in 1830, but by 160 it saw it’s decrease to 19.5 percent( Harrison 1). The south didn’t rely on slavery for profit and the few that did didn’t make that much money at it.
One of the incorrect stereotypes in Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the depiction of what the public thought of slave traders. One description of a trader in chapter 12 was "O, but nobody thinks anything of these traders! They are universally despised, --never received into any decent society." (145). Stowe’s generalization of them is mostly true. The general public did not approve the slave trading business or, for that matter a majority of the prominent slave holders. One slave owner in Kentucky stated that, “ to be called such a lowly creature as a ‘negro trader’ was the last word of opprobrium to be slung at a man.”(
Smith 1). Stowe makes the readers think that Slave traders are the scum of the earth and that everyone hates them. Later in the riverboat scene in chapter 13 Stowe portrays a chilling picture of what type of men the traders are. She really tries to drive it home that the slave trade is evil and the traders are evil more evil than the institution. A woman slave has just jumped the boat in an attempt to drown herself rather than be a slave any longer, the trader has a rather nonchalant reaction to her extreme measures,
… He was used to a great many things that you are not used to. Even the awful presence of Death struck no solemn chill upon him. He had seen Death many times, --met him in the way of trade, and got acquainted with him, --and he only thought of him as a hard customer, that embarrassed his property operations very unfairly; and so he only swore that the gal was a baggage, and that he was devilish unlucky, and that, if things went on in this way, he should not make a cent on the trip. In short, he seemed to consider himself an ill-used man, decidedly; but there was no help for it, as the woman had escaped into a state which never will give up a fugitive, --not even at the demand of the whole glorious Union. The trader, therefore, sat discontentedly down, with his little account-book, and put down the missing body and soul under the head of losses! – 160
Stowe again is driving home the fact that these traders are horrible men, involved in the evils of a horrible institution. Yet despite Stowe’s vivid depiction of the slave traders as social rejects and shunned people because of their profession many salesmen to the cotton kingdom managed to thrive despite the generally negative reception by the mass public. Edward Stone was one such trader. He was one of the first traders to bring slaves from the middle south to New Orleans. He started his business after being a successful planter and Bourbon County local official. He wasn’t a public outcast, or seen as evil. Surprisingly, there were many more traders weren’t the horrible men Stowe depicted them to be; they were just trying to make a living. Major traders came along after the rising cotton prices of the mid 19th century. Many slave traders conducted their business quietly, and slave-trading firms sprung up to make the process go smoother like Lewis Robbards of South Carolina. If the public were so anti slave traders then it wouldn’t have been possible for firms like Robbards to survive the way they did. The government even passed laws in favor of the traders that supposedly everyone hated to their cores. The South Carolinian legislature revoked a law they set up in 1833 called the non-importation statute. The law was originally set up to not allow interstate slave trade. Later in 1849 they revoked the law, allowing bondmen, or traders the opportunity to purchase a profit on likely negros from other states. They made it easier for them to do their job (McDougle 1). The public saw the traders as a necessary evil in most cases, but the fact remains that there were some honest traders out there, not all of them were the varying degrees of evil as depicted in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
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Harriet Beecher Stowe Harriet Beecher Stowe was a high Class women, reformer, and writer in the 1800’s. She Wrote many anti-slavery documents that helped reform Society. You may know her as the writer of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the best-selling book in the 1800’s about how bad Slavery was. Because of the encouragement if her husband, Calvin E. Stowe, Bibliographical Data: Uncle Tom's Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote this novel during the time of the debates that lead to the Civil War and near the time of the Compromise of 1850. The book provides a defiant protest against the social and political conditions of that era. The division between the northern industrial states and the southern agrarian states was Uncle toms cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was the daughter of a Calvinist minister and she and her family was all devout Christians, her father being a preacher and her siblings following. Her Christian attitude much reflected her attitude towards slavery. She was for abolishing it, because it was, to Uncle Toms Cabin Sample essay topic, essay writing: Uncle Toms Cabin - 445 words
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