Uncle Tom’s Cabin: the Book that Ended Slavery in America


Article #381

by Bill Nugent

Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold more copies than any other book, except the Bible, in the 1800s. This novel had a powerful influence on the United States and many other nations. The author, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), was a profoundly devout Christian lady.

Harriet came from The prominent Beecher family. Her father, Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) was a very well-known and influential Calvinist Presbyterian minister. Her husband Calvin Ellis Stowe (1802-1886) was a seminary professor and pastor. She and her husband had seven children.

Harriet’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is a gripping, poignant story that captured the hearts of people with the brutal injustice of chattel slavery. It was written from a Bible-believing Christian perspective. The book is based on revelation contained in the Bible which declares that all human beings are created in the image of God and therefore all people are equal. “For in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6 NASB). Much of the novel reads like a sermon.

Harriet is Prepared for Scholarly Pursuits

Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield Connecticut, one of 13 children of Lyman Beecher. Her mother was Roxana Foote Beecher. Harriet received an excellent education at the Hartford Female Seminary which was run by her Her elder sister Catherine Beecher (1800-1878). This was during a time when women had few opportunities for education.

At 21 she moved to Cincinnati Ohio to join her father, Lyman Beecher, president of Lane Theological Seminary. In Cincinnati she became deeply involved in discussions of slavery versus abolition. She had seen riots in which blacks were targeted. She witnessed a slave auction.

Fugitive Slave Act Spurs Harriet to Action

The highly controversial Fugitive Slave Act became law in 1850. This outrageous piece of legislation stirred Harriet to write her famous book   She was living in Brunswick Maine at the time, while her husband was a professor at Bowdoin College.

Harriet was an abolitionist but she believed slavery would gradually fade away because of Christian love. In order to understand the brutality of slavery, she interviewed many escaped slaves as source material for her book.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in April of 1852. Within months, it sold over 300,000 copies. This was an extraordinarily large number of sales for any book at the time. It also sold hundreds of thousands of copies in Great Britain. As years went on, sales went into the millions of copies. There were many plays performed on the theme of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The War Between the States

The effect of the book was to sway public opinion against slavery in a radical way. Without this book, it’s possible that slavery would not have been abolished in the South. The U.S. Civil War was not just to “save the Union” it was a zealous moral crusade against the odious oppressive institution of slavery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin provided the zeal.

Harriet was invited to meet President Lincoln. Lincoln is alleged to have told her that her book caused the war.

The US Civil War was not a civil war in the strict sense. A civil war is a war in which two factions in a nation fight to take control of the whole nation. An example of a civil war is the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39. The US Civil War was actually a war for Southern independence. The South didn’t fight to rule all of the US. That’s why many of the old history textbooks refer to it as The War Between the States.

The Stowes Relocate to the South

Ironically, Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband Calvin moved to the South one year after the war. They bought acreage near Jacksonville Florida with a large orange grove. They promoted oranges as a crop to be grown in Florida. In an 1873 interview, Harriet said she never experienced even one uncivil act by a native Floridian. The Stowes were accepted there. They spent summers in Connecticut and winters in Florida.

The brutality of slavery, in which human beings are bought and sold and kept in bonds their entire lives, is profoundly unchristian. Europe was the first continent to abolish slavery. Europeans stopped enslaving other Europeans by the late medieval period of European history.

Unfortunately, in the mid 1400s Portuguese traders began trafficking in African slaves. They regarded Africans as primitive forest dwellers that were subhuman. God has a different opinion. Blacks are created in God’s image and they are fully human. Slavery of Africans would continue for 400 years.

Uncle Tom, a Devout Christian

Uncle Tom, the title character of the novel, is depicted as a very devout Christian man of strong character. He was not a weak servile man who cowardly capitulated to his oppressors. Tom stood up to his tormentors and refused to disclose the whereabouts of two escaped slaves. Tom was a strong man who was ultimately crushed by a beastly system and became a martyr for his Christian faith.

The plot of the novel follows the life of Uncle Tom and brings in other characters; some good and heroic; others brutal and oppressive.

The book opens with Tom serving as slave to a Kentucky farmer. The farmer is deep in debt and decides to sell Tom and another slave named Harry. He is reluctant to do this because he has genuine affection for Tom and Harry. This was paternalistic affection.

Tom is purchased by Augustine St Clare and taken to St Clare’s home in New Orleans. Augustine treats Tom well. Augustine has a cousin named Ophelia and they discuss and debate the question of slavery and abolition.

Tom Encounters Simon Legree

Augustine promises to free Tom. Before he carries out his pledge however, he dies suddenly after being stabbed outside a tavern. His widow decides to sell Tom and does so at a slave auction. Tom is sold to a vicious plantation owner named Simon Legree.

Legree forbids Tom to read his Bible. Legree punishes Tom when he refuses to whip another slave. Legree tries to get Tom to deny his faith in God. Apparently Legree senses that Tom’s fortitude and principled life is due to his faith in God and his belief in the Bible’s teachings.

In the final scenes of the book, Tom is whipped savagely by two white overseers. Before his death he forgives the two tormentors. Later on both of the tormentors repent and become Christians.

The theme of the book is Christian love. The Bible gives the revelation of the redeeming love of God which is found in Jesus Christ.

Abolition of Slavery Was One of Many Christian Reforms

Western Civilization dealt with the question of slavery in the 1800s. The United States outlawed the slave trade in 1808, Britain outlawed it in 1833. Slavery, however, continued for decades because cotton plantations required an extraordinarily large amount of labor. I believe the Civil War was God’s judgment on slavery in America.

The 1800s saw the Bible applied to economics and race relations. The war could have been avoided altogether if people had simply acted in Christian love and acknowledged that all people are created equal. Laws could have been passed that would have peacefully abolished slavery.

However, the slave owners were the elite of the South. They had the money and they had the influence. The top 1% ruled the people. The wealthy rigged the system in their own favor.

The abolition of slavery in the 1800s was just one of many social reforms which were made based on biblical revelation. Every generation of Christians confronts the institutionalized sin of the times in which they live.

The early church confronted the sin of gladiator battles and had them abolished in ancient Rome.

In the 1500s the Protestant Reformation brought the Bible into the hands of millions of people. The Bible was no longer a forbidden book. It was translated into the languages of the people. The people became biblically literate throughout the whole continent of Europe. This brought on an avalanche of reforms.

In the 1500s theology was reformed. The Bible teaches that we are a kingdom of priests. We are a royal priesthood . “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9). No longer was there to be a limited priesthood. The Catholic church had a limited priesthood. Luther proclaimed the priesthood of all Christian believers.

The Bible Gives the Rational Foundation for Modern Science

The 1600s saw the Bible applied to nature. God is a God of moral order and God gives moral laws. God also created laws to govern nature. The God of the Bible created an orderly natural world. Men of God did experiments to discover and apply God’s physical laws. Pagans believed nature is disorderly and chaotic. Pagan cultures did not give rise to modern experimental science.

Francis Bacon developed the scientific method. Robert Boyle, a devout Christian man, changed alchemy into modern chemistry. He revolutionized chemistry.  Sir Isaac Newton revolutionized physics. The biblical worldview gave the foundational mental framework for the rise of modern science.

In the 1700s there was a revolution in philosophy called the Enlightenment. Actually there were two Enlightenments, a secular Enlightenment led by Diderot, Voltaire and Rousseau. There was a Christian Enlightenment led by Locke, Montesquieu and Burke..

In the 1800s, the biblically educated and devout Christian people of the United States demanded that the Bible be applied to economics and race relations. This, as we have seen, resulted in the abolition of slavery and gave the beginnings of racial equality under the law.

In the 1900s we have seen the great secular pushback. The elite of Europe and the US embraced atheistic evolution. They believed people were simply the descendants of apes and have no souls. Bible believers were in the minority in Europe. Secularism and atheism caused a rise of totalitarian governments. Government became the new god. Tens of millions of people were killed by fascist and communist governments. Fascism is national socialism. Communism is international socialism.

Postmodern Moral Relativism

In the 2000s, the century in which you and I live, we see the postmodern era in which biblical revelation is suppressed and persecuted and driven to the margins. Even modern philosophy, with its rationalism, is decried by postmodern anti-intellectualism.

Postmodernism is moral relativism in which every every person makes up his or her own morals. Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes.

Postmodernism denies the existence of absolute truth. Absolute truth is a moral code or moral law that applies to all people in all nations at all times. Postmodernists say there is no truth, only preferences.

At this time, as the world is deceived by postmodernism and moral relativism, people are beginning to wake up. They’re seeing the vacuousness and futility of the postmodern way.

Many people are turning to Christ. They see the wisdom of the Bible’s revelation of absolute truth and the equality of all people and personal freedom and personal responsibility. People see the miracles that occur in answer to Christian prayer.

Jesus Fulfilled Many Prophecies

Jesus Christ fulfilled more than 300 Messianic prophecies that were written in in the Old Testament centuries before He was born. That’s quite a miracle! Here is one prophecy from Isaiah, chapter fifty-three: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him [Christ] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 circa 700 BC). This is a prophecy of Christ dying for our sins. This is substitutionary atonement.

Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead in order to obtain forgiveness of sins for us. Christ offers us salvation if we will repent of our sins and turn to Him to receive forgiveness of sins. I invite you to turn to Christ today to receive forgiveness of sins.

Steps to salvation:

Jesus said “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).

  • 1) Believe that God created you and loves you and sent the Messiah (Messiah is Hebrew for Christ) to redeem you.
  • 2) Believe that Jesus Christ came in fulfillment of over 300 Bible prophecies to die for you, to take upon Himself the penalty of your sins (Isaiah 53:5-6, John 6:29, Romans 4:5, First Peter 3:18).
  • 3) Turn from sin and call on the name of Jesus to receive forgiveness of sins (Romans 10:13).
  • 4) Receive Jesus as Savior and experience the new birth (John 1:12, Acts 2:38).
  • 5) Follow Jesus Christ as Lord (John 14:21).

Prayer to receive salvation:

“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

To receive the salvation that Jesus purchased for us at the terrible cost of His suffering and death on our behalf I invite you to pray this simple prayer:

“Dear heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Jesus, the promised Messiah, to die for my sins. I admit that I am a sinner. I repent of my sins and I ask for your forgiveness on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit to empower me to serve you under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

If you prayed this prayer in the humble sincerity of your heart then you have received everlasting life, which includes power to live right in this life and entrance into heaven in the afterlife!

(C) 2016 William P. Nugent, permission granted to email or republish for Christian outreach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *