Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 9. The Fugitive Slave Law; Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXI. Political Writing Since 1850

§ 9. The Fugitive Slave Law; Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Three factors, however, kept alive and stimulated the moral interest in human bondage. One of these was the Federal Fugitive Slave Law, a part of the Great Compromise. There was considerable violence in resisting its enforcement, but its greatest contribution was to inspire a novel—Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), a book which the author declared to be “a collection and arrangement of real incidents, of actions really performed, of words and expressions really uttered, grouped together with reference to a general result, in the manner that a mosaic artist groups his fragments of various stones into one general picture.” The political significance of the book was that it made the people of the North and the West ponder questions which the Great Compromise, it was generally said, had settled. Very significant was its influence on the rising generation. Says James Ford Rhodes:

  • The mothers’ opinion was a potent factor in politics between 1852 and 1860, and boys in their teens in the one year were voters in the other. It is often remarked that previous to the war the Republican party attracted the great majority of schoolboys, and that the first voters were an important factor in the final success … the youth of America whose first ideas on slavery were formed by reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, were ready to vote with the party whose existence was based on opposition to the extension of the great evil.
  • Abroad, the book made a deep impression. It was translated into twenty-three languages, and over a million copies were sold in the British Empire.