Unapologetic progressive. Fearless activist. Plucky liberal.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published today in 1852. I read the book last year after owning it for a long time, and it was hard going because the treatment of the slaves was so brutal. Although the tale is fiction, Stowe based it on real accounts she read and people she met while living in Cincinnati, just across the river from the slave-holding state of Kentucky. The book is remarkable for several reasons: 1) it wasn’t common for any woman to be published; 2) the subject matter was highly controversial. Reports say the book had a hand in starting the Civil War, as it sold 10,000 copies in its first week in the United States and 300,000 its first year, and forced Americans to confront the ugly reality of slavery.

Stowe said of her motivation to write the book:

“I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity — because as a lover of my county, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.”

She also said, “…the enslaving of the African race is a clear violation of the great law which commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves.” Stowe was ahead of her time in advocating that message, and it’s one we would do well to remember even today.

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