Uncle Tom's Cabin Appeared in Serial Form
5, 1851 - Have
you read the book Uncle Tom's Cabin? Besides being a good read,
this influential book is often included in lists of "causes of
the Civil War" (1861-65). It has been translated into at least
23 languages, and has been presented on stage and in film.
Harriet Beecher Stowe's story first appeared on June 5, 1851, in
serial form, a chapter at a time, in a weekly publication called
the National Era. It went on to become one of the nation's
Harriet Beecher Stowe cared deeply
about human rights. Her family was active in the Underground
Railroad, helping slaves escape to freedom in the North. (The
Underground Railroad was a system formed by a group of people
who were against slavery. These people helped escaped slaves
secretly reach the North.) For 18 years she observed a
slave-holding community in Kentucky just across the Ohio River
from where she lived in Cincinnati. She didn't like what she
Stowe decided to write a fictional story about
slavery and sent it to the editor of an anti-slavery weekly. He
paid her $300 for the right to publish her story, and on June 5,
1851, the first chapter appeared in print. Over the next 10
months, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly, was
published in 40 installments. People started to discuss Uncle
Tom's Cabin and pass around the story. In 1852, a Boston
publisher issued Uncle Tom's Cabin as a book. It became an
instant bestseller. Three hundred thousand copies were sold the
first year, and about two million copies were sold by 1857.
Before long it seemed that everyone had read it, including the
president of the United States!
invited Harriet Beecher Stowe to the White House in 1862. According to legend, he is said to have exclaimed, "So this is
the little lady who made this big war?" Because the book divided
people into those who wished to abolish slavery (abolitionists)
and those who wished to maintain slavery (anti-abolitionists),
it is often listed as one of the causes of the Civil War. Would
you say that the pen is mightier than the sword?
Uncle Tom's Cabin was often produced as a play, so that many people
who did not read the book saw it as a powerful stage drama. Although, especially at first, white actors usually played the
African American parts in blackface, some productions starred
African-American actors and singers. At least seven silent-film
versions of Uncle Tom's Cabin had been made by 1927. The 1970
film version stars African-American actress Eartha Kitt.
The book, with its memorable characters, remains powerful
today. Pick up a copy and read Uncle Tom's Cabin for yourself.