Harriet Beecher Stowe threw a match into the volatile atmosphere of mid-nineteenth-century politics when she published Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852, two years after the Fugitive Slave Act. Stowe contrasted Eliza’s flight north into the haven of free Canada with Tom’s descent south into the hell of entrenched slavery. The story dramatized the human costs of the institution and the complicity of all Americans, Northerners and Southerners, in its continuance. Stowe’s emotional portrayal swayed public opinion where moral arguments had failed.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin went into multiple printings, becoming the bestseller of the century. In homes across the North, people signaled their sympathy with Eliza and Tom by displaying items imprinted with scenes from the story, material indications of a shift in national sentiment. However, the irony of using a handkerchief made of cotton grown in the South to advertise the novel escaped the notice of Stowe’s avid fans.
An extensive archive, Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture, is available online at: http://www.iath.virginia.edu/utc/
Portrait of Harriet Beecher Stowe, ca. 1865.
Gift of Ellen B. Stuart (MSS 6318-k)
Page from the first draft of the manuscript of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ca. 1851.
Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature (MSS 6318-c)
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Boston: John P. Jewett and Company; Cleveland: Jewett, Proctor & Worthington, 1852.
Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature (PS2954 .U5 1852b)
Game cards. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Salem, Massachusetts: W. & S. B. Ives, ca. 1852.
Gift of the Paul Mellon Estate (PS2954 .U6 M15 1852)
Illustrations from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with quotes from the text. [London]: Bauerrichter & Co., [ca. 1852-1859].
Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature (PS2954 .U6 B28 1852)
Printed cotton handkerchief. Words by John G. Whittier and music by Manuel Emilio. Little Eva Song. [Boston]: John P. Jewitt & Co., ca. 1852.
Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature (PS2954 .U6 E5 1852b)