Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abolitionist
According to legend, when Harriet Beecher Stowe met with President Abraham Lincoln in Washington in 1862, he greeted her by saying, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!” While that may be something of an exaggeration, there is no doubt that her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, brought attention to the horrors of slavery in a more personal way than political speeches and newspapers could ever hope to accomplish, and thereby helped to galvanize the abolitionist cause. In its first year of publication (1852) alone, the book sold a million copies in England; a half million were sold in the United States in its first five years in print.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the product of two profound experiences in Harriet’s life; one private and one public. In 1849 her son, Samuel Charles -- called “Charley” -- less than two years old, succumbed to cholera in the great epidemic that swept the Stowe’s home town of Cincinnati, Ohio. In reflecting on his death, Harriet said, “It was at his dying bed, and his grave, that I learnt what a poor slave mother may feel when her child is torn away from her.” In 1850, the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act made it a crime for citizens of free states to give aid to runaway enslaved people. The intense anger and grief Harriet felt over the sudden loss of her dear Charley could now be unleashed on a cause in the name of a people she believed were too long the victims of cruelty.
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October 7, 2009