Mar. 20 – Uncle Tom’s Cabin

GabeAmerican History(BR), Bell Ringers

On Mar. 20, 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe’s abolitionist novel galvanized abolitionist sentiment in many northern states by portraying the way in which the system of slavery dehumanized individuals and destroyed families. The novel sold 300,000 copies in its first year alone.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was based on the story of Josiah Henson and chronicles the horrific conditions and arbitrary fates experienced by slaves and the slave system. Its publication radicalized the North, and helped to push along events leading eventually to the Civil War.

One of the triggering events for Stowe was the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act. In 1843, in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court ruled that Free States were not obligated to return escaped slaves. As a result, a steady stream of slaves, especially in Border States, escaped to their freedom. As part of the Compromise of 1850, Southern states insisted that this change. The Fugitive Slave Act made northerners comply in the enforcement of slavery, hastening their desire to end the institution entirely.

  1. Why do you think it required the personalization of slavery, through the novel, to activate the North?
  2. What are some other examples of civil rights being propelled by stories (true or fictional)?
  3. When is it okay to refuse to obey a law? Who should get to decide? Why?

Image Citation:

13, Mar. 2018, Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 [Digital image].  Retrieved from <>.