Perhaps one of the significant contributors to the Civil War was Uncle Tom's Cabin. The next section is an excerpt. The entire text of this book is on the web site (courtesy of Project Gutenburg again). Ms. Stowe really told it like it was.
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, 1852
This novel, under its full title, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly, was first published serially in the National Era beginning on May 8, 1851. Ms. Stowe wrote with the most intense personal involvement; the installment dealing with the death of Little Eva put her in bed for forty-eight hours. Like Theodore Weld, whose work had much influence on her, she thought her book would be taken more seriously if it were proved to be based on fact, and published in 1853 A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, in which she documented all her characters and ideas. Uncle Tom's Cabin was an instantaneous success. Brought out in book form in March 1852, it sold astonishingly in England and America, and was translated into several languages within the year. Frank Luther Mott, in his study of American best-sellers, estimates that it has sold almost 3,000,000 copies. A drama based on it opened in 1852, and from that year until 1931 it was never off the American stage. The impact of the book upon its contemporaries can hardly be overestimated. Family legend, based upon the recollection of Mrs. Stowe's son Charles, has It that during the Civil War when she called on Lincoln he said: "So this is the little lady who made this big war?" In the chapter excerpted here, Uncle Tom defies the cruel slaveowner, Simon Legree.
Slowly the weary, dispirited creatures wound their way into the room, and with crouching reluctance, presented their baskets to be weighed. Legree noted on a slate, on the side of which was pasted a list of names, the amount. Tom's basket was weighed and approved; and he looked, with an anxious glance, for the success of the woman he had befriended. Tottering with weakness, she came forward, and delivered her basket. It was of full weight, as Legree well perceived; but, affecting anger, he said, "What, you lazy beast! short again! stand aside, you'll catch it, pretty soon!" The woman gave a groan of utter despair, and sat down on a board. The person who had been called Misse Cassy now came forward, and, with a haughty, negligent air, delivered her basket. As she delivered it, Legree looked in her eyes with a sneering yet inquiring glance. She fixed her black eyes steadily on him, her lips moved slightly, and she said something in French. What it was, no one knew but Legree's face became perfectly demoniacal in its expression, as she spoke; he half raised his hand, as if to strike, a gesture which she regarded with fierce disdain, as she turned and walked away. "And now," said Legree, "come here, you Tom. You see, I telled ye I didn't buy ye jest for the common work; I mean to promote ye, and make a driver of ye; and to night ye may jest as well begin to get yer hand in. Now, ye jest take this yer gal and flog her; ye've seen enough on't to know how." "I beg Mas'r's pardon," said Tom; "hopes Mas'r won't set me at that. It's what I an't used to, never did, and can't do, no way possible." "Ye'll lam a pretty smart chance of things ye never did know, before I've done with ye!" said Legree, taking up a cow-hide, and striking Tom a heavy blow across the cheek, and following up the infliction by a shower of blows. "There!" he said, as he stopped to rest; "now, will ye tell me ye can't do it?" "Yes, Mas'r," said Tom, putting up his hand, to wipe the blood that trickled down his face. "I'm willin' to work night and day, and work while there's life and breath in me; but this yer thing I can't feel it right to do; and, Mas'r, I never shall do it, never!"
Tom had a remarkably smooth, soft voice, and a habitually respectful manner, that had given Legree an idea that he would be cowardly, and easily subdued. When he spoke these last words, a thrill of amazement went through every one; the poor woman clasped her hands, and said, "O Lord!" and every one involuntarily looked at each other and drew in their breath, as if to prepare for the storm that was about to burst. Legree looked stupefied and confounded; but at last burst forth, "What! ye blasted black beast! tell me ye don't think it right to do what I tell ye! What have any of you cussed cattle to do with thinking what's right? I'll put a stop to it! Why, what do ye think ye are? May be ye think ye'r a gentleman, master Tom, to be a telling your master what's right, and what an't! So you pretend it's wrong to flog the gal!" "I think so, Mas'r," said Tom; "the poor crittur's sick and feeble; 'twould be downright cruel, and it's what I never will do, nor begin to. Mas'r, if you mean to kill me, kill me; but, as to my raising my hand agin any one here, I never shall, l'll die first!"
Tom spoke in a mild voice, but with a decision that could not be mistaken. Legree shook with anger; his greenish eyes glared fiercely, and his very whiskers seemed to curl with passion; but, like some ferocious beast, that plays with its victim before he devours it, he kept back his strong impulse to proceed to immediate violence, and broke out into bitter raillery.
"Well, here's a pious dog, at last, let down among us sinners! a saint, a gentleman, and no less, to talk to us sinners about our sins! Powerful holy crittur, he must be! Here, you rascal, you make believe to be so pious, didn't you never hear, out of yer Bible, "Servants, obey yer masters"? An't I yer master? Didn't I pay down twelve hundred dollars cash, for all there is inside yer old cussed black shell? An't yer mine, now, body and soul?" he said, giving Tom a violent kick with his heavy boot; "tell me!" In the very depth of physical suffering, bowed by brutal oppression, this question shot a gleam of joy and triumph through Tom's soul. He suddenly stretched him self up, and, looking earnestly to heaven, while the tears and blood that flowed down his face mingled, he ex claimed, "No! no! no! my soul an't yours, Mas'r! You haven't bought it, ye can't buy it! It's been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it; no matter, no matter, you can't harm me!" "I can't!" said Legree, with a sneer; "we'll see, wc'll see! Here, Sambo, Quimbo, give this dog such a breakin' in as he won't get over, this month!" The two gigantic Negroes that now laid hold of Tom, with fiendish exultation in their faces, might have formed no unapt personification of the powers of darkness. The poor woman screamed with apprehension, and all rose, as by a general impulse, while they dragged him unresisting from the place.
_______ Now, I ask you, had you read this 1852, would you have thought kindly of the "Peculiar Institution?" This excerpt is from Hofstadter, 1958.
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