Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe ★★★
This book is said by many to have been one of the most influential books in all of American history. I don’t doubt that. It is actually an assembly of articles that Stowe wrote for a magazine, eventually assembled into book format. It is written like a true story, though it is a fiction supposedly assembled from examples of how slaves were treated in the antebellum south. Unfortunately, I would not call it great literature and is definitely written with a strong political slant to it.  The book has two main stories to it, the first being a slave lady with her child that escapes to safety. Then, there is Tom, the good boy who always does what he is told, who ends up being sold to a tyrannical slavemaster, leading to his death.
The book is written in an inflammatory manner designed to show that while slaves may have kind and loving owners, the entire system of slavery was rotten to the core. Uncle Tom had some kind owners, yet the picture is always lurking that he is essentially nothing but somebody else’s property and that only pure luck gave him sympathetic owners. Stowe uses religion heavily during the narrative, emphasizing that Tom was a very religious man. This seemed to be directed at southern theologians who vociferously contended for the religious propriety of slavery as an institution.
What do we make in this book 150 years later? We know the outcomes now, and so are somewhat prejudiced in our reading of this book. Needless to say, when Union armies came close to slave lands, at least 1/6 of the slaves would run to the union front. There are simple reasons to explain why it wasn’t 100% of slaves, as confederate lost cause writers try to impress on us that most slaves were loyal to their masters and would have stayed with them out of contentment for their situation. The fact is that the south did not take careful measures to protect against abuses in slavery (if slavery itself is not itself considered a serious abuse). There is a large movement today to resurrect the thinking of the lost cause writers, and strangely, this is found most prominent among libertarians, who are the most vociferous about individual rights. Arguments in these camps abound about how the civil war wasn’t about slavery but instead, state rights, taxes, or Lord only knows what. They love to make Abe Lincoln look worse than the devil himself. It would have been best if America did not have to go through the bloodiest war in its history with the civil war. Thomas Fleming in his book A Disease in the Public Mind (reviewed recently by me) identifies the real cause of the war as mass public insanity regarding the issue of slavery, both in the south and the north, that led to this war. This book about Uncle Tom flamed the insanity in the north, and southern entrenched arrogance inflamed the insanity of the south. Needless to say, I do NOT have southern sympathies, while contending with the issue of slavery without the inflammatory nature of this book would have been a better way to go about it.