Fighting Words


How did a novel help start a war?



Uncle Tom Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in 1811 in Connecticut to the famous evangelical preacher, Lyman Beecher. She had a wide-ranging education and eventually married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a man who was very committed to abolishing slavery. In fact, she and her husband took part in the Underground Railroad by helping move escaped slaves to freedom. This firsthand experience with slaves led Stowe to begin writing Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1851. Stowe's novel was successful on two fronts: She made the slave characters in her book so realistic that people unfamiliar with slaves were able to identify with them, and she also zeroed in on the barbaric cruelty and injustice they faced.

Uncle Tom's Cabin motivated Northerners to support the anti-slavery movement, but it infuriated many people in the South. Many, including President Abraham Lincoln, believed that Stowe's novel was a major contributor to the Civil War. Upon first meeting Stowe, President Lincoln is said to have greeted her with these words: "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war."






As you read these excerpts from Uncle Tom's Cabin, pay attention to how the author uses language to persuade her readers.

Tab 1

Appeals Using Characters


In the following excerpt from chapter 5 of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Mrs. Shelby has just learned that her husband has agreed to sell two of their slaves, including the adult Tom and a young boy. Mrs. Shelby begs him to reconsider.

Excerpt from pages 83-84

"Why not make a pecuniary sacrifice? I'm willing to bear my part of the inconvenience. O, Mr. Shelby, I have tried -- tried most faithfully, as a Christian woman should -- to do my duty to these poor, simple, dependent creatures. I have cared for them, instructed them, watched over them, and know all their little cares and joys, for years; and how can I ever hold up my head again among them, if, for the sake of a little paltry gain, we sell such a faithful, excellent, confiding creature as poor Tom, and tear from him in a moment all we have taught him to love and value? I have taught them the duties of the family, of parent and child, and husband and wife; and how can I bear to have this open acknowledgment that we care for no tie, no duty, no relation, however sacred, compared with money? I have talked with Eliza about her boy -- her duty to him as a Christian mother, to watch over him, pray for him, and bring him up in a Christian way; and now what can I say, if you tear him away, and sell him, soul and body, -84- to a profane, unprincipled man, just to save a little money? I have told her that one soul is worth more than all the money in the world; and how will she believe me when she sees us turn round and sell her child? -- sell him, perhaps, to certain ruin of body and soul!" "I'm sorry you feel so about it, -- indeed I am," said Mr. Shelby; "and I respect your feelings, too, though I don't pretend to share them to their full extent; but I tell you now, solemnly, it's of no use -- I can't help myself. I didn't mean to tell you this Emily; but, in plain words, there is no choice between selling these two and selling everything. Either they must go, or all must. Haley has come into possession of a mortgage, which, if I don't clear off with him directly, will take everything before it. I've raked, and scraped, and borrowed, and all but begged, -- and the price of these two was needed to make up the balance, and I had to give them up. Haley fancied the child; he agreed to settle the matter that way, and no other. I was in his power, and had to do it. If you feel so to have them sold, would it be any better to have all sold?"




Answer these questions about how Stowe uses ethical appeals (appeals to moral principles), logical appeals (appeals to reasoning), and emotional appeals to persuade. When you think you know the answer, click each question to see a response.

What emotion-charged phrases does Mrs. Shelby use to try to persuade her husband? "'. . . how can I bear to have this open acknowledgment that we care for no tie, no duty, no relation, however sacred, compared with money?'"
What arguments is Mrs. Shelby using to try to persuade her husband? She is using both emotional and ethical appeals by arguing that selling the slaves goes against everything she has been trying to teach them and that this hypocrisy is all for money.
How might Mrs. Shelby's argument affect readers? Most readers will probably agree that going back on what one has said and taught is a mark of bad character, as well as being disheartening to someone's mindset. Readers may also say that doing this for money is even worse.
How does Mr. Shelby counter his wife's argument? He appeals to logic by revealing to his wife that they will lose everything if they do not sell the two slaves.
How might readers react to Mr. Shelby's argument? Some readers might agree that the only option is to sell the slaves. However, others might argue that it is better to have nothing than to break your promises to people who have entrusted their lives to you.

Tab 2

Direct Appeals to Readers

At the end of the novel, Stowe makes an ethical and emotional appeal to her readers. She urges both Northern and Southern readers to uphold Christian and family values by recognizing their obligation to end slavery.

Excerpt from page 623-629

And now, men and women of America, is this a thing to be trifled with, apologized for, and passed over in silence? Farmers of Massachusetts, of New Hampshire, of Vermont, of Connecticut, who read this book by the blaze of your winter-evening fire, -- stronghearted, generous sailors and ship-owners of Maine, -- is this a thing for you to countenance and encourage? Brave and generous men of New York, farmers of rich and joyous Ohio, and ye of the wide prairie states, -- answer, is this a thing for you to protect and countenance? And you, mothers of America, -- you who have learned, by the cradles of your own children, to love and feel for all mankind, -- by the sacred love you bear your child; by your joy in his beautiful, spotless infancy; by the motherly pity and tenderness with which you guide his growing years; by the anxieties of his education; by the prayers you breathe for his soul's eternal good; -- I beseech you, pity the mother who has all your affections, and not one legal right to protect, guide, or educate, the child of her bosom! By the sick hour of your child; by those dying eyes, which you can never forget; by those last cries, that wrung your heart when you could neither help nor save; by the desolation of that empty cradle, that silent nursery, -- I beseech you, pity those mothers that are constantly made -624- childless by the American slave-trade! And say, mothers of America, is this a thing to be defended, sympathized with, passed over in silence?

Do you say that the people of the free state have nothing to do with it, and can do nothing? Would to God this were true! But it is not true. The people of the free states have defended, encouraged, and participated; and are more guilty for it, before God, than the South, in that they have not the apology of education or custom.

If the mothers of the free states had all felt as they should, in times past, the sons of the free states would not have been the holders, and, proverbially, the hardest masters of slaves; the sons of the free states would not have connived at the extension of slavery, in our national body; the sons of the free states would not, as they do, trade the souls and bodies of men as an equivalent to money, in their mercantile dealings. There are multitudes of slaves temporarily owned, and sold again, by merchants in northern cities; and shall the whole guilt or obloquy of slavery fall only on the South? Northern men, northern mothers, northern Christians, have something more to do than denounce their brethren at the South; they have to look to the evil among themselves.

But, what can any individual do? Of that, every individual can judge. There is one thing that every individual can do, -- they can see to it that they feel right. An atmosphere of sympathetic influence encircles every human being; and the man or woman who feels strongly, healthily and justly, on the great interests of humanity, is a constant benefactor to the human race. See, then, to your sympathies in this matter! Are they in harmony with the sympathies of Christ? or are they swayed and perverted by the sophistries of worldly policy?

Christian men and women of the North! still further, -625- -- you have another power; you can pray! Do you believe in prayer? or has it become an indistinct apostolic tradition? You pray for the heathen abroad; pray also for the heathen at home. And pray for those distressed Christians whose whole chance of religious improvement is an accident of trade and sale; from whom any adherence to the morals of Christianity is, in many cases, an impossibility, unless they have given them, from above, the courage and grace of martyrdom.

But, still more. On the shores of our free states are emerging the poor, shattered, broken remnants of families, -- men and women, escaped, by miraculous providences from the surges of slavery, -- feeble in knowledge, and, in many cases, infirm in moral constitution, from a system which confounds and confuses every principle of Christianity and morality. They come to seek a refuge among you; they come to seek education, knowledge, Christianity.

What do you owe to these poor unfortunates, oh Christians? Does not every American Christian owe to the African race some effort at reparation for the wrongs that the American nation has brought upon them? Shall the doors of churches and schoolhouses be shut upon them? Shall states arise and shake them out? Shall the church of Christ hear in silence the taunt that is thrown at them, and shrink away from the helpless hand that they stretch out; and, by her silence, encourage the cruelty that would chase them from our borders? If it must be so, it will be a mournful spectacle. If it must be so, the country will have reason to tremble, when it remembers that the fate of nations is in the hands of One who is very pitiful, and of tender compassion. Do you say, "We don't want them here; let them go to Africa"?

That the providence of God has provided a refuge in Africa, is, indeed, a great and noticeable fact; but that -626- is no reason why the church of Christ should throw off that responsibility to this outcast race which her profession demands of her.

To fill up Liberia with an ignorant, inexperienced, half-barbarized race, just escaped from the chains of slavery, would be only to prolong, for ages, the period of struggle and conflict which attends the inception of new enterprises. Let the church of the north receive these poor sufferers in the spirit of Christ; receive them to the educating advantages of Christian republican society and schools, until they have attained to somewhat of a moral and intellectual maturity, and then assist them in their passage to those shores, where they may put in practice the lessons they have learned in America.

There is a body of men at the north, comparatively small, who have been doing this; and, as the result, this country has already seen examples of men, formerly slaves, who have rapidly acquired property, reputation, and education. Talent has been developed, which, considering the circumstances, is certainly remarkable; and, for moral traits of honesty, kindness, tenderness of feeling, -- for heroic efforts and self-denials, endured for the ransom of brethren and friends yet in slavery, -- they have been remarkable to a degree that, considering the influence under which they were born, is surprising.

The writer has lived, for many years, on the frontier-line of slave states, and has had great opportunities of observation among those who formerly were slaves. They have been in her family as servants; and, in default of any other school to receive them, she has, in many cases, had them instructed in a family school, with her own children. She has also the testimony of missionaries, among the fugitives in Canada, in coincidence with her own experience; and her de uctions, with regard to the capabilities of the race, are encouraging in the highest degree. -627-

The first desire of the emancipated slave, generally, is for education. There is nothing that they are not willing to give or do to have their children instructed, and, so far as the writer has observed herself, or taken the testimony of teachers among them, they are remarkably intelligent and quick to learn. The results of schools, founded for them by benevolent individuals in Cincinnati, fully establish this.

The author gives the following statement of facts, on the authority of Professor C. E. Stowe, then of Lane Seminary, Ohio, with regard to emancipated slaves, now resident in Cincinnati; given to show the capability of the race, even without any very particular assistance or encouragement.

The initial letters alone are given. They are all residents of Cincinnati.

"B -- -. Furniture maker; twenty years in the city; worth ten thousand dollars, all his own earnings; a Baptist.

"C -- -. Full black; stolen from Africa; sold in New Orleans; been free fifteen years; paid for himself six hundred dollars; a farmer; owns several farms in Indiana; Presbyterian; probably worth fifteen or twenty thousand dollars, all earned by himself

"K -- -. Full black; dealer in real estate; worth thirty thousand dollars; about forty years old; free six years; paid eighteen hundred dollars for his family; member of the Baptist church; received a legacy from his master, which he has taken good care of, and increased.

"G -- -. Full black; coal dealer; about thirty years old; worth eighteen thousand dollars; paid for himself twice, being once defrauded to the amount of sixteen hundred dollars; made all his money by his own efforts -- much of it while a slave, hiring his time of his master, and doing business for himself; a fine, gentlemanly fellow.

"W -- -. Three-fourths black; barber and waiter; -628- from Kentucky; nineteen years free; paid for self and family over three thousand dollars; deacon in the Baptist church.

"G. D -- -. Three-fourths black; white-washer; from Kentucky; nine years free; paid fifteen hundred dollars for self and family; recently died, aged sixty; worth six thousand dollars."

Professor Stowe says, "With all these, except G -- -, I have been, for some years, personally acquainted, and make my statements from my own knowledge."

The writer well remembers an aged colored woman, who was employed as a washerwoman in her father's family. The daughter of this woman married a slave. She was a remarkably active and capable young woman, and, by her industry and thrift, and the most persevering self-denial, raised nine hundred dollars for her husband's freedom, which she paid, as she raised it, into the hands of his master. She yet wanted a hundred dollars of the price, when he died. She never recovered any of the money.

These are but few facts, among multitudes which might be adduced, to show the selfdenial, energy, patience, and honesty, which the slave has exhibited in a state of freedom.

And let it be remembered that these individuals have thus bravely succeeded in conquering for themselves comparative wealth and social position, in the face of every disadvantage and discouragement. The colored man, by the law of Ohio, cannot be a voter, and, till within a few years, was even denied the right of testimony in legal suits with the white. Nor are these instances confined to the State of Ohio. In all states of the Union we see men, but yesterday burst from the shackles of slavery, who, by a selfeducating force, which cannot be too much admired, have risen to highly respectable stations in society. Pennington, among clergymen, Douglas and Ward, among editors, are well known instances. -629-

If this persecuted race, with every discouragement and disadvantage, have done thus much, how much more they might do if the Christian church would act towards them in the spirit of her Lord!

This is an age of the world when nations are trembling and convulsed. A mighty influence is abroad, surging and heaving the world, as with an earthquake. And is America safe? Every nation that carries in its bosom great and unredressed injustice has in it the elements of this last convulsion.

For what is this mighty influence thus rousing in all nations and languages those groanings that cannot be uttered, for man's freedom and equality?

O, Church of Christ, read the signs of the times! Is not this power the spirit of Him whose kingdom is yet to come, and whose will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? But who may abide the day of his appearing? "for that day shall burn as an oven: and he shall appear as a swift witness against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger in his right: and he shall break in pieces the oppressor."

Are not these dread words for a nation bearing in her bosom so mighty an injustice? Christians! every time that you pray that the kingdom of Christ may come, can you forget that prophecy associates, in dread fellowship, the day of vengeance with the year of his redeemed?

A day of grace is yet held out to us. Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian church has a heavy account to answer. Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved, -- but by repentance, justice and mercy; for, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!

How does Stowe appeal to large groups of people? She lists several states, occupations, and regions of the country.
How does Stowe appeal to men in particular? She calls them "strong-hearted," "brave" and "generous" men, and then she asks them if slavery is really something they can protect and support. This is an appeal to their ethics.
How does Stowe appeal to women? She points out their "sacred love" for their children, their kindheartedness, and nurturing tendencies. Then she calls on them to have pity on slave mothers who are forced to give up their children due to slavery. This is an emotional appeal.