March 20, 2015

John Robson's Moments in History: How 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' changed America forever

John RobsonResident Historian

Is the pen really mightier than the sword? Consider Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel published March 20th 1852 that had the largest single impact on the unhappy story of race relations in United States history.

March 20 is also the anniversary of the 1854 founding of the Republican Party, whose rise helped trigger the Civil War a Republican administration won, ending slavery though not discrimination.

But it was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s reaching the hearts and minds of Americans, especially northern women, that made the Republican party’s rise possible by arousing public opinion against legal protection of the odious “peculiar institution."

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commented 2015-04-03 00:22:26 -0400
As always, a very interesting and intelligent report from John Robson.
commented 2015-03-22 18:34:52 -0400
Actually the Civil War had more to do with unfair taxation policies than slavery per se. The people who fought the Yankees with the most passion and zeal did not own slaves. And Lincoln was only an abolitionist when it suited him.

But Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn did a lot to de-normalize the general acceptance of the practice.
commented 2015-03-21 17:19:30 -0400
Dane, remember that in 1850’s there were not a lot of books around and because of how they were produced, they were very expensive. Furthermore, in those days a book didn’t go home for a single reading. Because they were so valuable they were re-sold, shared and gifted far more often than they are now. People bought books, under those circumstances, because they wanted to know what they said, not just for decoration. So selling a large number of books in the 1850’s was quite an achievement and meant that their actual distribution far exceeded the number sold. And the people, ever frugal, bought them because they wanted to know what the author had to say. Probably because they already agreed with the author in a general way.
commented 2015-03-21 11:38:41 -0400
I can’t agree with John and the point he is making at all.

John supports none of his thesis with any real facts to show that Uncle Tom’s Cabin changed anyone’s mind. Just because it sold a lot of copies means nothing. I have purchased a number of books over my lifetime in which I disagree with the content, but am interested in the other point of view. Know your enemy, so to speak.

People have been writing books to persuade people for some time now, if it is real change people want, use the free market to our advantage and simply don’t purchase the products made by a company/person which has questionable labor practices.

Actions need to follow education. If we want culture to change, change it. It’s just a choice.
commented 2015-03-20 19:54:57 -0400
I’ll disagree with Mr. Robson in one minor way — whereas Uncle Tom’s Cabin made it clear slavery was a repulsive institution, it was the Dred Scot ruling, which basically legalized slavery in all states, that was the point of no return for civil war.
commented 2015-03-20 18:49:27 -0400
Joan Abernathy do not despair that your efforts are in vain. In a battle every round of returned fire counts. I too would like to make a bigger difference before I die.

My supporters say I have a way with words and that I have mastered rhetoric.

My father’s favourite advice to me was “Never underestimate the power of suggestion”….Antoine Mesmer

Once while I was in a dentist’s chair I overlooked a notation on my records in a section marked unusual behaviour the dentist wrote…“PATIENT SINGS WHEN HE IS IN PAIN

I wish I was a songsmith.
commented 2015-03-20 18:07:40 -0400
Your so right John and thank you for educating. Sometimes the pen is mightier than the sword.
commented 2015-03-20 17:56:55 -0400
You’re right, John. Politicians generally follow the culture, they don’t generally change it much. Great bit of history with a lesson for all of us. Please keep it coming, I’m really enjoying your history lessons.
commented 2015-03-20 17:32:15 -0400
John, I appreciate your historical perspective. Glad to see your Magna Carta project is going ahead.

Changing the political view of a society on any particular subject by an indirect means such through education, whether it be by a book or by direct intervention in the education system is something that “progressives” have been employing for some time now. It is something that as conservatives (small ‘c’) we should be doing as well. Question is, what mechanism and what message.
commented 2015-03-20 16:42:27 -0400
John, good point. If we want culture to change, write about it.

I spent my morning correcting factual errors in stories posted in my local community online publication about Harper, the anti-Daesh mission, and so on. Don’t suppose that has much effect on culture, though.

I’d like someone to write a song with simple lyrics and a heart-swelling tune to inspire love of freedom and democracy in our youth. With a really simple theme in English, French, Arabic maybe … to discourage youth from hating the west. With youtube video, of course.

Also, Canadian films to do the same. A Canadian, an Israeli and an Arab are recruited by the UN to go undercover to Daesh … a fantasy, right … with the goal of portaying Jews, Christians and Muslims as allies. Along the way, of course, they meet Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Atheists also devoted to defending freedom and democracy in the world.

Sigh. Who will to agree to publish and promote such heresy?
commented 2015-03-20 14:20:24 -0400
Good Job, I hope this becomes a regular feature.
commented 2015-03-20 13:01:31 -0400
Good work John. Food for thought…from an educator
commented 2015-03-20 12:31:14 -0400
Anna Leonowens, when she was working as the governess/nanny of the King of Siam’s children, gave the oldest son and heir to the throne a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to read. As an expression of his disapproval the king gave her young son a cigar to smoke……..:-)

The Prince did abolish slavery in Siam when he came to the throne.