Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The most famous work known today written to reveal the evils of slavery was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe met many slaves escaping to freedom to the North and wrote her novel based on the stories she heard from those who lived them. The story revolves around two individuals, Tom who was sold away from his family and the master he had known his entire life and Eliza who flees from her master in order to keep her son and save him from being sold to a heartless trader. In one scene, Stowe writes of a minor character Tom encounters. In it, the woman finds her infant sold right out of her hands and deems suicide the only option:
…The woman had been sitting with her baby in her arms, now wrapped in a heavy sleep. When she heard the name of the place called out, she hastily laid the child down in a little cradle formed by the hollow among the boxes, first carefully spreading under it her cloak; and then she sprung to the side of the boat, in hopes that, among the various hotel-waiters who thronged the wharf, she might see her husband. In this hope, she pressed forward to the front rails, and, stretching far over them, strained her eyes intently on the moving heads on the shore, and the crowd pressed in between her and the child.
"Now's your time," said Haley, taking the sleeping child up, and handing him to the stranger. "Don't wake him up, and set him to crying, now; it would make a devil of a fuss with the gal." The man took the bundle carefully, and was soon lost in the crowd that went up the wharf.
When the boat, creaking, and groaning, and puffing, had loosed from the wharf, and was beginning slowly to strain herself along, the woman returned to her old seat. The trader was sitting there,—the child was gone!
"Why, why,—where?" she began, in bewildered surprise.
"Lucy," said the trader, "your child's gone; you may as well know it first as last. You see, I know'd you couldn't take him down south; and I got a chance to sell him to a first-rate family, that'll raise him better than you can."
The trader had arrived at that stage of Christian and political perfection which has been recommended by some preachers and politicians of the north, lately, in which he had completely overcome every humane weakness and prejudice. His heart was exactly where yours, sir, and mine could be brought, with proper effort and cultivation. The wild look of anguish and utter despair that the woman cast on him might have disturbed one less practised; but he was used to it. He had seen that same look hundreds of times. You can get used to such things, too, my friend; and it is the great object of recent efforts to make our whole northern community used to them, for the glory of the Union. So the trader only regarded the mortal anguish which he saw working in those dark features, those clenched hands, and suffocating breathings, as necessary incidents of the trade, and merely calculated whether she was going to scream, and get up a commotion on the boat; for, like other supporters of our peculiar institution, he decidedly disliked agitation.
But the woman did not scream. The shot had passed too straight and direct through the heart, for cry or tear.
…Tom had watched the whole transaction from first to last, and had a perfect understanding of its results. To him, it looked like something unutterably horrible and cruel, because, poor, ignorant black soul! he had not learned to generalize, and to take enlarged views. If he had only been instructed by certain ministers of Christianity, he might have thought better of it, and seen in it an every-day incident of a lawful trade; a trade which is the vital support of an institution which an American divine* tells us has "no evils but such as are inseparable from any other relations in social and domestic life." But Tom, as we see, being a poor, ignorant fellow, whose reading had been confined entirely to the New Testament, could not comfort and solace himself with views like these. His very soul bled within him for what seemed to him the wrongs of the poor suffering thing that lay like a crushed reed on the boxes; the feeling, living, bleeding, yet immortal thing, which American state law coolly classes with the bundles, and bales, and boxes, among which she is lying.
Tom drew near, and tried to say something; but she only groaned. Honestly, and with tears running down his own cheeks, he spoke of a heart of love in the skies, of a pitying Jesus, and an eternal home; but the ear was deaf with anguish, and the palsied heart could not feel.
…At midnight, Tom waked, with a sudden start. Something black passed quickly by him to the side of the boat, and he heard a splash in the water. No one else saw or heard anything. He raised his head,—the woman's place was vacant! He got up, and sought about him in vain. The poor bleeding heart was still, at last, and the river rippled and dimpled just as brightly as if it had not closed above it.
The cruel results of slavery was explored while not casting the entire institution in a dark light. Stowe explored the kind slave owners and their situation of tied hands against the larger voice of the institution that cried out for harsh treatment and laws that kept the slave bound in a state of darkness. Her novel exploded on the American scene in 1852 and became one of the most talked about piece of fiction works. Abolitionists embraced the story and used it as their flag to show the cruelty slavery inflicted on people who had minds, hearts, and souls.
Through the written word, slavery was fought. Though fought on the battlefield where blood was spilled, it was also fought through the mighty pen. Politicians wrote out powerful speeches that were spoken from platforms such as the corner in a small town all the way to the stage in Congress. Ministers wrote sermons that reverberated throughout the nation supporting both sides of the conflict. Every day people wrote essays discussing the religious and scientific support for their side. The voices of the fugitive slaves were heard through their own accounts giving life to the debate that was darker than most realized. Even fiction had the power to move the common man as it dramatized the life of a slave to a point where even the reader of the works was pulled in and felt emotion at every point of the story. Political pamphlets, sermons, and fictional works helped to propel the nation to a conflict that would forever change the nation and end a peculiar tradition that had become unique to America.