Uncle Tom’s Cabin American History
1. Slavery in the nineteenth century was different than slavery during the colonial times because nineteenth century slaves were exactly that – slaves. In colonial times, black slaves were actually treated more like indentured servants.
Census records from 1651 indicate that Africans who completed their indentured servitude were set free as well as given their own land (McElrath, 2009). However, the practice of allowing indentured black slaves to be free increased the need for laborers and many landowners began requiring black people to become servants for life.
This was unsuccessful and white landowners began to consider slavery as an option (McElrath, 2009). This differed from other countries and their practice of slavery because America began to implement complex and demanding slave codes that dictated exactly how slaves were to live and exactly what was required of them. For example, in 1661, Virginia devised a statute that required that newly born children would have the same status as their mother. As a result, the slave population continued to increase as female slaves gave birth to children (McElrath, 2009).
Further, as time passed, America began to recognize slavery as a law, which also differed from other countries who relied on slavery. These laws required that all black people, even those that were already free, and their children would be considered slaves (McElrath, 2009). Therefore, Harry, the young son of Eliza was considered a slave because his mother was a slave (Stowe, Chapter 1, 2004). Finally, the nineteenth century practice of indentured servitude no longer applied to black people.
Slavery is similar to indentured servitude but when black people are slaves they have no hope for freedom as they did during the colonial times. When a black person became a slave, he became a slave for life whereas a black indentured servant could look forward to a future of freedom. 2. According to Marie St. Clare, slavery is an essential aspect of life. Marie is a selfish and self centered woman who only cares about herself. She is constantly dreaming up afflictions in order to gain attention. At the same time, she views slaves with disgust and impatience (Stowe, Chapter 15, 2004).
This may also be considered an argument against slavery as well. If Marie is so dissatisfied with her slaves then what is the point of having them in the first place? Marie’s husband, Augustine St. Clare denounces slavery and admits that it is evil. Augustine treats his slaves with compassion but also accepts slavery and continues to have slaves in his household (Stowe, Chapter 14, 2004). Although Augustine makes use of slaves in his own home, he does feel that slavery is morally wrong. This is in direct contrast to his brother Alfred, who strongly believes that the white race is the dominant race.
A good example of this conflict comes in chapter nineteen when Prue, a slave from down the street, visits the St. Clare home selling rolls and tells Uncle Tom the sad story about the selling of her children as well as the death of one of them. Very shortly after, word comes that Prue’s master had whipped her to death. Augustine quite obviously disagrees with this act but admits that while he does not agree he is not going to do anything to make such events stop. He states that he is simply going to stay out of the way (Stowe, Chapter 19, 2004).
Another example, tells of Augustine and his twin brother inheriting their father’s plantation and all the slaves. While Alfred embraced the notion of slavery and believed that dominating slaves was the rightful job a white man, Augustine had more compassion and “tamed” one specific slave and then gave him his freedom (Stowe, Chapter 19, 2004). Ultimately, the St. Clare family differed in their views on slavery but the fact remained that all three of these people relied on slavery every day. Marie was indifferent and Alfred wholeheartedly accepted slavery.
However, Augustine felt that the danger of slavery would continue to be the difference in moral lines that human beings would draw with regards to what freedom meant and who it was meant for (Stowe, Chapter 19, 2004). 3. The paternalistic view towards slaves that many defenders of slavery internalized allowed them a sort of denial because deep down many of knew that enslaving human beings was morally wrong (Harper, 2003). Many Northern slave owners adopted their slaves and treated them like members of the family (Harper, 2003).
However, kindness and compassion for slaves is never enough security for the slaves themselves. Uncle Tom had the good fortune to be sold to Augustine St. Clare and was treated respectably in his household (Stowe, Chapter 14, 2004). No amount of kindness could save Uncle Tom from the harsh reality of slavery after Augustine’s death. He is sold to Simon Legree, who is a cruel slave owner and treats his slaves in the worst possible ways (Stowe, Chapter 30, 2004). The Shelby’s own many slaves and they treat them kindly. However, Mr.
Shelby, no matter how kind he is, has to sell some slaves and resolve some debt. In the end his kindness did not protect Uncle Tom from being sold (Stowe, Chapter 1, 2004). Similarly, the St. Clare family is mostly compassionate towards their slaves until Eva and Augustine die. Simon Legree becomes Uncle Tom’s next slave owner, and he is a harsh and cruel man, illustrating once again that the kindness of Augustine did not protect Uncle Tom from the cruelty of Simon Legree (Stowe, Chapter 30, 2004). Mr. Haley is largely indifferent to the slaves and sells and buys them when it will benefit him monetarily.
His actions are not directly cruel but they do not ultimately protect the slaves either (Stowe, Chapter 1, 2004). Finally, George Harris tolerated slavery although his disbelief in Christianity prevented him from denouncing the moral problems associated with slavery. 4. The existence of a slave was a hard one. Many slaves ran away because they were tortured or beaten. Others ran away because the constant buying and selling of slaves tore apart families and many slaves escaped in an effort to reunite with their loved ones.
Slaves were not allowed to get an education and were only provided the bare essentials for survival (Hayden, 2008). George Harris and his wife, Eliza are both slaves. George had the good fortune to work in a factory where he invented a machine that would clean hemp more efficiently. However, the owner of the factory believed he had invented the machine because he was lazy and removed him from the factory. As a result, George saw very little of his family. After some time passes, George decides to escape because he can no longer tolerate his existence as a slave.
Further, George was being pressured by his master to take a new wife. George informs Eliza that he plans to escape to Canada and will try to secure her and Harry’s freedom once he gets there (Stowe, Chapter 1, 2004). George escaped slavery for the same reason that many other slaves escaped – he was tired of being treated so badly. Eliza also escapes when she learns that her young son, Harry had been sold. She had already suffered the loss of two children and did not want to lose her only remaining child. Eliza visited Uncle Tom’s cabin and he encouraged her to escape before being sold.
Eliza tells them of her intention to follow after George and slips away before she can change her mind (Stowe, Chapter 1, 2004). While Eliza did not suffer direct abuse at the hands of the Shelby’s she did feel a compelling need to escape in order to protect her only remaining child. She obviously did not want to be separated from him, but she also did not want a wicked slave owner to get his hands on her son either. She felt her only option was to run. Ultimately, this husband and wife are both able to escape, but for very different reasons.
George is tired of being treated badly and Eliza fears for the safety of her son. These two illustrations show the human nature of slaves and show their strong desires to be treated equally, remain close to their loved ones and protect their children. 5. The primary reason why slaves did not attempt to escape even when they outnumbered the white people is because they were afraid of being caught and returned to their rightful owners subject to even harsher treatment than before as punishment for trying to get away. This was the main obstacle slaves faced.
If they were successful at escaping they really did not have any place to go because they lived in fear of being returned to their masters if caught. The main difference with the Federal 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was that it was ultimately created to keep the nation united. It was so controversial because it fueled the flames of the anti slavery versus slavery debated that continue to rage across the country. This Federal act allowed for a compromise. Texas gave up land in return for ten million dollars while the new states would not mention slavery and the issue would be left up to the individual states.
Further, the act required that citizens participate in returning escaped slaves. Therefore, people helping slaves to freedom could face trial if they were caught aiding and abetting escaped slaves (PBS. org, 2009). Other things impeded slave action as well. For example, the slaves who belonged to Augustine St. Clare opposed action because they may have felt that life would not get any better than it already was. The slaves were treated with compassion and generally treated well when compared to other slave owners.
At the same time, slaves belonging to Simon Legree may have been afraid to revolt because they feared for their lives if they were caught and returned to such a wicked slave owner. However, the interests of all slaves remained the notion of freedom but this freedom was not acted upon for fear of not finding anything better or fear of being caught and returned to an even worse life of slavery. Finally, many slaves may have felt that they were receiving everything they needed and allowed themselves to be dominated by the white people simply because they were afraid that nothing better would come along.
They allowed the racial divides to continue because they were certain that black people would never be equal to white people and therefore, escape was futile (Stowe, 2004). 6. Slave rebellions were an extreme form of resistance by slaves against their white masters. Since the Haitian uprising in 1792, white landowners lived in fear of their African American slaves (Hooker, 1996). This slave rebellion proved that African Americans did not accept their status as slaves and there came a breaking point when they just needed to assert their independence and fight for their freedom.
The Haitian slaves began an uprising that would leave thousands of people dead. Denmark Vesey was able to purchase his freedom but he was still very angry about the slave situation. Quoting scripture, Vesey motivated slaves to revolt and the result was countless white deaths. The slaves would post themselves at the doors of white landowners and start fires. When the whites came to the door they would be killed and then everyone else in the home would be killed also. Similar to the Haitian revolt, this revolt struck fear in the hearts of white slave owners. Nat Turner succeeded far more with his revolt.
He and a slave named Will began the revolt by killing Will’s masters and then methodically killing all white slave owners they could and taking their slaves as part of their cause. Turner went into hiding and during this time the white slave owners were extremely afraid of his return (Hooker, 1996). The Underground Railroad was another form of slave resistance although it was a much more peaceful one. The Underground Railroad was made up of mostly black people, most famously Harriet Tubman, and some white people who helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom.
This organization enabled many black slaves to find their freedom (PBS. org, 2009). However, many black slaves quietly resisted their white masters without escaping or revolting. For example, after Uncle Tom is bought by Simon Legree he befriends another slave by the name of Cassy. One afternoon he and Casey help each other in the fields and when Legree finds out he orders Uncle Tom to whip her. Uncle Tom refuses, which is a form of resistance, and he is beaten almost to death.
However, he shows further resistance by accepting the beating in order to prevent the injury of a fellow slave (Stowe, Chapter 33, 2004). 7. Abolitionists such as Harriet Stowe called for an immediate end to slavery. In contrast the Anti-Slavery Movement of the 1800s was more of a gradual resistance to the continued use of slavery in the United States. Abolitionists wanted the entire slave trade to come to an end while the Anti-Slavery Movement was more concerned with stopping the spread of slavery into the colonies of the United States.
Many abolitionists were Christian people who felt that slavery was against moral rules. However, abolitionism ended up being a gradual process as it took a great deal of time, energy and people to effectively gather the strength necessary to truly make changes that moved towards the freedom of black people. The Anti-Slavery Movement was able to make immediate changes with such passages of law as the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (Vernon-Jones, 2009). The Missouri Compromise determined which states would allow slavery and which states would not allow slavery.
The compromise allowed the balance of power in Congress to be equal among slave and anti slave states (Vernon-Jones, 2009). Therefore, the Anti-Slavery Movement was able to immediately make some states free states and some states slave states. So while the Anti-Slavery Movement did not abolish slavery all at once as the abolitionists were trying to do, it did have more success making immediate and lasting changes than the abolitionists were able to do. Further, the primary way that abolitionists were able to gain support was through persuasion.
Human persuasion is an extremely difficult task that takes a great deal of time. The Anti-Slavery Movement was more dependent upon actual laws and policy changes which made it more successful in the short term. However, neither movement was without violence as was evident in the Anti-Slavery activities at Harpers Ferry led by a famous anti slavery advocate, John Brown (Vernon-Jones, 2009). 8. All Northern whites were not committed to ending slavery. Many of them felt, as Augustine St. Clare felt, that slavery was wrong but they were not going to do anything about ending it because it certainly benefited their way of life.
The senators included in the story held this opinion. For example, Senator Bird votes in favor of the Compromise of 1850 under the guise that slavery does not have anything to do with personal feelings but is more a matter of what the entire country wants instead. In other words, he defended his actions by agreeing that slavery was wrong but also realizing the importance that slavery had come to have in America. An example of this attitude is when Eliza and Harry come to his home looking for help and he helps them escape (Stowe, Chapter 37, 2004). Ophelia holds similar opinions.
She does not agree with the idea of slavery while also believing that black slaves were inferior to white people. For example, she does not want Topsy, a slave friend of Eva’s, to touch her (Stowe, Chapter 25, 2004). However, after Eva’s death, Ophelia begins to realize that if a child could have such love towards the slaves, then she could to. She petitions to have Topsy given to her so she can reform her and then take her North and set her free. She finally begins to realize why she believes slavery is immoral through her relationship with a human slave (Stowe, Chapter 28. 004). While many people from the Northern states held similar opinions that slavery was bad many also disassociated themselves with the whole issue. Free black people and former slaves were not treated as cruelly as they were as slaves but they still did not gain equal status either. They were treated as human beings, but as inferior human beings. 9. The Christian churches and Northern economic interests helped contribute to the continuation of slavery because they also saw the economic value of slavery.
The plantation owners in the North realized the benefit of slavery just as the Southern plantation owners did, even if they did not agree with the idea of slavery. This passive attitude allowed slavery to exist in America far longer than it should have. In this way, the North was every bit as responsible for the continuation of slavery as the South was. Many Northerners were unwilling to take a stand to help abolish slavery because it would hurt them economically, socially and in matters of convenience. This attitude helped contribute to what Stowe felt as the worst part of slavery – the separation of families.
The book discusses the separation of parents and children often over the course of the story. Stowe repeatedly discusses the fear that parents will become separated from their children (Stowe, 2004). Further, Stowe felt that slavery as a whole corrupted everyone’s ideas because it allowed white people to view black people as inferior to themselves. Even non slave owners did not entirely embrace the idea that white people and black people were equal. The fundamental principle of slavery is an important component of American history and it was hard to let go of even when slaves earned their freedom.
Stowe staunchly advocated for the abolishment of slavery but also for the equal treatment of black people. She believed that black people had equal rights to justice and freedom as those enjoyed by white people. She firmly believed in a society where colonization would be a reality even though equality was a long way off. However, when the white people agreed to colonize with the black people they would be taking one step towards helping justify the hurts caused by slavery (Stowe, Chapter 45, 2004).
Harper, Douglas. (2003). Slavery in the North. Retrieved on April 4, 2009 from http://www.slavenorth.com/index.html.
Hayden, Scott. (2008). The underground railroad. Retrieved on April 4, 2009 from http://americanhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_underground_railway.
Hooker, Richard. (1996). Slave rebellions. Retrieved on April 4, 2009 from http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/DIASPORA/REBEL.HTM.
McElrath, Jessica. (2009). Slavery in Colonial Times. Retrieved on April 4, 2009 from http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/slavery/a/colonialslavery_2.htm.
PBS.org. (2009). The compromise of 1850 and fugitive slave act. Retrieved on April 4, 2009 from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2951.html.
PBS.org. (2009). The underground railroad. Retrieved on April 4, 2009 from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2944.html.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. (2004). Uncle Tom’s Cabin. New York: Barnes and Noble.
Vernon-Jones, Russ. (2009). John Brown. Retrieved on April 4, 2009 from http://www.arps.org/aro/john_brown.htm.