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Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Chapter XI: Home Again, 1853-1856.
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
After her return in the autumn of 1853 from her European tour, Mrs.
Stowe threw herself heart and soul into the great struggle with
slavery. Much of her time was occupied in distributing over a wide
area of country the English gold with which she had been intrusted for
the advancement of the cause. With this money she assisted in the
redemption of slaves whose cases were those of peculiar hardship, and
helped establish them as free men. She supported anti-slavery lectures
wherever they were most needed, aided in establishing and maintaining
anti-slavery publications, founded and assisted in supporting schools
in which colored people might be taught how to avail themselves of the
blessings of freedom. She arranged public meetings, and prepared many
of the addresses that should be delivered at them. She maintained such
an extensive correspondence with persons of all shades of opinion in
all parts of the world, that the letters received and answered by her
between 1853 and 1856 would fill volumes. With all these multifarious
interests, her children received a full share of her attention, nor
were her literary activities relaxed.
Immediately upon the completion of her European tour, her experiences
were published in the form of a journal, both in this country and
England, under the title of "Sunny Memories." She also revised and
elaborated the collection of sketches which had been published by the
Harpers in 1843, under title of "The Mayflower," and having purchased
the plates caused them to be republished in 1855 by Phillips &
Sampson, the successors of John P. Jewett & Co., in this country, and
by Sampson Low & Co. in London.
Soon after her return to America, feeling that she owed a debt of
gratitude to her friends in Scotland, which her feeble health had not
permitted her adequately to express while with them, Mrs. Stowe wrote
the following open letter:--
TO THE LADIES' ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY OF GLASGOW:
Dear Friends,--I have had many things in my mind to say to you,
which it was my hope to have said personally, but which I am now
obliged to say by letter.
I have had many fears that you must have thought our intercourse,
during the short time that I was in Glasgow, quite unsatisfactory.
At the time that I accepted your very kind invitation, I was in
tolerable health, and supposed that I should be in a situation to
enjoy society, and mingle as much in your social circles as you might
When the time came for me to fulfil my engagement with you, I was, as
you know, confined to my bed with a sickness brought on by the
exertion of getting the "Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin" through the press
during the winter.
In every part of the world the story of "Uncle Tom" had awakened
sympathy for the American slave, and consequently in every part of the
world the story of his wrongs had been denied; it had been asserted to
be a mere work of romance, and I was charged with being the slanderer
of the institutions of my own country. I knew that if I shrank from
supporting my position, the sympathy which the work had excited would
gradually die out, and the whole thing would be looked upon as a mere
romantic excitement of the passions.
When I came abroad, I had not the slightest idea of the kind of
reception which was to meet me in England and Scotland. I had thought
of something involving considerable warmth, perhaps, and a good deal
of cordiality and feeling on the part of friends; but of the general
extent of feeling through society, and of the degree to which it would
be publicly expressed, I had, I may say, no conception.
As through your society I was invited to your country, it may seem
proper that what communication I have to make to friends in England
and Scotland should be made through you.
In the first place, then, the question will probably arise in your
minds, Have the recent demonstrations in Great Britain done good to
the anti-slavery cause in America?
The first result of those demonstrations, as might have been expected,
was an intense reaction. Every kind of false, evil, and malignant
report has been circulated by malicious and partisan papers; and if
there is any blessing in having all manner of evil said against us
falsely, we have seemed to be in a fair way to come in possession of
The sanction which was given in this matter to the voice of the
people, by the nobility of England and Scotland, has been regarded and
treated with special rancor; and yet, in its place, it has been
particularly important. Without it great advantages would have been
taken to depreciate the value of the national testimony. The value of
this testimony in particular will appear from the fact that the anti-
slavery cause has been treated with especial contempt by the leaders
of society in this country, and every attempt made to brand it with
The effect of making a cause generally unfashionable is much greater
in this world than it ought to be. It operates very powerfully with
the young and impressible portion of the community; therefore Cassius
M. Clay very well said with regard to the demonstration at Stafford
House: "It will help our cause by rendering it fashionable."
With regard to the present state of the anti-slavery cause in America,
I think, for many reasons, that it has never been more encouraging. It
is encouraging in this respect, that the subject is now fairly up for
inquiry before the public mind. And that systematic effort which has
been made for years to prevent its being discussed is proving wholly
The "Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin" has sold extensively at the South,
following in the wake of "Uncle Tom." Not one fact or statement in it
has been disproved as yet. I have yet to learn of even an
attempt to disprove.
The "North American Review," a periodical which has never been
favorable to the discussion of the slavery question, has come out with
a review of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," in which, while rating the book very
low as a work of art, they account for its great circulation and
success by the fact of its being a true picture of slavery. They go on
to say that the system is one so inherently abominable that, unless
slaveholders shall rouse themselves and abolish the principle of
chattel ownership, they can no longer sustain themselves under the
contempt and indignation of the whole civilized world. What are the
slaveholders to do when this is the best their friends and supporters
can say for them?
I regret to say that the movements of Christian denominations on this
subject are yet greatly behind what they should be. Some movements
have been made by religious bodies, of which I will not now speak; but
as a general thing the professed Christian church is pushed up to its
duty by the world, rather than the world urged on by the church.
The colored people in this country are rapidly rising in every
respect. I shall request Frederick Douglass to send you the printed
account of the recent colored convention. It would do credit to any
set of men whatever, and I hope you will get some notice taken of it
in the papers of the United Kingdom. It is time that the slanders
against this unhappy race should be refuted, and it should he seen
how, in spite of every social and political oppression, they are
rising in the scale of humanity. In my opinion they advance quite as
fast as any of the foreign races which have found an asylum among us.
May God so guide us in all things that our good he not evil spoken of,
and that we be left to defend nothing which is opposed to his glory
and the good of man!
Yours in all sympathy,
H. B. STOWE.
During the Kansas and Nebraska agitation (1853-54), Mrs. Stowe, in
common with the abolitionists of the North, was deeply impressed with
a solemn sense that it was a desperate crisis in the nation's history.
She was in constant correspondence with Charles Sumner and other
distinguished statesmen of the time, and kept herself informed as to
the minutest details of the struggle. At this time she wrote and
caused to be circulated broadcast the following appeal to the women of
"The Providence of God has brought our nation to a crisis of most
"A question is now pending in our national legislature which is most
vitally to affect the temporal and eternal interests, not only of
ourselves, but of our children and our children's children for ages
yet unborn. Through our nation it is to affect the interests of
liberty and Christianity throughout the world.
"Of the woes, the injustice, and the misery of slavery it is not
needful to speak. There is but one feeling and one opinion upon this
subject among us all. I do not think there is a mother who clasps her
child to her breast who would ever be made to feel it right that that
child should be a slave, not a mother among us who would not rather
lay that child in its grave.
"Nor can I believe that there is a woman so unchristian as to think it
right to inflict upon her neighbor's child what she would consider
worse than death were it inflicted upon her own. I do not believe
there is a wife who would think it right that her husband
should be sold to a trader to be worked all his life without wages or
a recognition of rights. I do not believe there is a husband who would
consider it right that his wife should be regarded by law the property
of another man. I do not believe there is a father or mother who would
consider it right were they forbidden by law to teach their children
to read. I do not believe there is a brother who would think it right
to have his sister held as property, with no legal defense for her
personal honor, by any man living.
"All this is inherent in slavery. It is not the abuse of slavery, but
its legal nature. And there is not a woman in the United States, where
the question is fairly put to her, who thinks these things are right.
"But though our hearts have bled over this wrong, there have been many
things tending to fetter our hands, to perplex our efforts, and to
silence our voice. We have been told that to speak of it was an
invasion of the rights of states. We have heard of promises and
compacts, and the natural expression of feeling has in many cases been
repressed by an appeal to those honorable sentiments which respect the
keeping of engagements.
"But a time has now come when the subject is arising under quite a
"The question is not now, shall the wrongs of slavery exist as they
have within their own territories, but shall we permit them to be
extended all over the free territories of the United States? Shall the
woes and the miseries of slavery be extended over a region of fair,
free, unoccupied territory nearly equal in extent to the whole of the
"Nor is this all! This is not the last thing that is expected or
intended. Should this movement be submitted to in silence, should the
North consent to this solemn breach of contract on the part of the
South, there yet remains one more step to be apprehended, namely, the
legalizing of slavery throughout the free States. By a decision of the
supreme court in the Lemmon case, it may be declared lawful for slave
property to be held in the Northern States. Should this come to pass,
it is no more improbable that there may be four years hence slave
depots in New York city than it was four years ago that the South
would propose a repeal of the Missouri Compromise.
"Women of the free States! the question is not shall we remonstrate
with slavery on its own soil, but are we willing to receive slavery
into the free States and Territories of this Union? Shall the whole
power of these United States go into the hands of slavery? Shall every
State in the Union be thrown open to slavery? This is the possible
result and issue of the question now pending. This is the fearful
crisis at which we stand.
"And now you ask, What can the women of a country do?
"O women of the free States! what did your brave mothers do in the
days of our Revolution? Did not liberty in those days feel the strong
impulse of woman's heart?
"There was never a great interest agitating a community where woman's
influence was not felt for good or for evil. At the time when the
abolition of the slave-trade was convulsing England, women contributed
more than any other laborers to that great triumph of humanity. The
women of England refused to receive into their houses the sugar raised
by slaves. Seventy thousand families thus refused the use of sugar in
testimony of their abhorrence of the manner in which it was produced.
At that time women were unwearied in going from house to house
distributing books and tracts upon the subject, and presenting it
clearly and forcibly to thousands of families who would otherwise have
"The women all over England were associated in corresponding circles
for prayer and labor. Petitions to the government were prepared and
signed by women of every station in all parts of the kingdom.
"Women of America! we do not know with what thrilling earnestness the
hopes and the eyes of the world are fastened upon our country, and how
intense is the desire that we should take a stand for universal
liberty. When I was in England, although I distinctly stated that the
raising of money was no part of my object there, it was actually
forced upon me by those who could not resist the impulse to do
something for this great cause. Nor did it come from the well-to-do
alone; but hundreds of most affecting letters were received from poor
working men and women, who inclosed small sums in postage-stamps to be
devoted to freeing slaves.
"Nor is this deep feeling confined to England alone. I found it in
France, Switzerland, and Germany. Why do foreign lands regard us with
this intensity of interest? Is it not because the whole world looks
hopefully toward America as a nation especially raised by God to
advance the cause of human liberty and religion?
"There has been a universal expectation that the next step taken by
America would surely be one that should have a tendency to right this
great wrong. Those who are struggling for civil and religious liberty
in Europe speak this word 'slavery' in sad whispers, as one names a
fault of a revered friend. They can scarce believe the advertisements
in American papers of slave sales of men, women, and children, traded
like cattle. Scarcely can they trust their eyes when they read the
laws of the slave States, and the decisions of their courts. The
advocates of despotism hold these things up to them and say: 'See what
comes of republican liberty!' Hitherto the answer has been, 'America
is more than half free, and she certainly will in time repudiate
"But what can they say now if, just as the great struggle for human
rights is commencing throughout Europe, America opens all her
Territories to the most unmitigated despotism?
"While all the nations of Europe are thus moved on the subject of
American slavery, shall we alone remain unmoved? Shall we, the wives,
mothers, and sisters of America, remain content with inaction in such
a crisis as this?
"The first duty of every American woman at this time is to thoroughly
understand the subject for herself, and to feel that she is bound to
use her influence for the right. Then they can obtain signatures to
petitions to our national legislature. They can spread information
upon this vital topic throughout their neighborhoods. They can employ
lecturers to lay the subject before the people. They can circulate the
speeches of their members of Congress that bear upon the subject, and
in many other ways they can secure to all a full understanding of the
present position of our country.
"Above all, it seems to be necessary and desirable that we should make
this subject a matter of earnest prayer. A conflict is now begun
between the forces of liberty and despotism throughout the whole
world. We who are Christians, and believe in the sure word of
prophecy, know that fearful convulsions and over-turnings are
predicted before the coming of Him who is to rule the earth in
righteousness. How important, then, in this crisis, that all who
believe in prayer should retreat beneath the shadow of the Almighty!
"It is a melancholy but unavoidable result of such great encounters of
principle that they tend to degenerate into sectional and personal
bitterness. It is this liability that forms one of the most solemn and
affecting features of the crisis now presented. We are on the eve of a
conflict which will try men's souls, and strain to the utmost the
bonds of brotherly union that bind this nation together.
"Let us, then, pray that in the agitation of this question between the
North and the South the war of principle may not become a mere
sectional conflict, degenerating into the encounter of physical force.
Let us raise our hearts to Him who has the power to restrain the wrath
of men, that He will avert the consequences that our sins as a nation
so justly deserve.
"There are many noble minds in the South who do not participate in the
machinations of their political leaders, and whose sense of honor and
justice is outraged by this proposition equally with our own. While,
then, we seek to sustain the cause of freedom unwaveringly, let us
also hold it to be our office as true women to moderate the acrimony
of political contest, remembering that the slaveholder and the slave
are alike our brethren, whom the law of God commands us to love as
"For the sake, then, of our dear children, for the sake of our common
country, for the sake of outraged and struggling liberty throughout
the world, let every woman of America now do her duty."
At this same time Mrs. Stowe found herself engaged in an active
correspondence with William Lloyd Garrison, much of which appeared in
the columns of his paper, the "Liberator." Late in 1853 she writes to
"In regard to you, your paper, and in some measure your party, I am in
an honest embarrassment. I sympathize with you fully in many of your
positions. Others I consider erroneous, hurtful to liberty and the
progress of humanity. Nevertheless, I believe you and those who
support them to be honest and conscientious in your course and
opinions. What I fear is that your paper will take from poor Uncle Tom
his Bible, and give him nothing in its place."
To this Mr. Garrison answers: "I do not understand why the imputation
is thrown upon the 'Liberator' as tending to rob Uncle Tom of his
Bible. I know of no writer in its pages who wishes to deprive him of
it, or of any comfort he may derive from it. It is for him to place
whatever estimate he can upon it, and for you and me to do the same;
but for neither of us to accept any more of it than we sincerely
believe to be in accordance with reason, truth, and eternal right. How
much of it is true and obligatory, each one can determine only for
himself; for on Protestant ground there is no room for papal
infallibility. All Christendom professes to believe in the inspiration
of the volume, and at the same time all Christendom is by the ears as
to its real teachings. Surely you would not have me disloyal to my
conscience. How do you prove that you are not trammeled by educational
or traditional notions as to the entire sanctity of the book? Indeed,
it seems to me very evident that you are not free in spirit, in view
of the apprehension and sorrow you feel because you find your
conceptions of the Bible controverted in the 'Liberator,' else why
such disquietude of mind? 'Thrice is he armed who hath his quarrel
In answer to this Mrs. Stowe writes:--
I did not reply to your letter immediately, because I did not wish to
speak on so important a subject unadvisedly, or without proper thought
and reflection. The greater the interest involved in a truth the more
careful, self-distrustful, and patient should be the inquiry.
I would not attack the faith of a heathen without being sure I had a
better one to put in its place, because, such as it is, it is better
than nothing. I notice in Mr. Parker's sermons a very eloquent passage
on the uses and influences of the Bible. He considers it to embody
absolute and perfect religion, and that no better mode for securing
present and eternal happiness can be found than in the obedience to
certain religious precepts therein recorded. He would have it read and
circulated, and considers it, as I infer, a Christian duty to send it
to the heathen, the slave, etc. I presume you agree with him.
These things being supposed about the Bible would certainly make it
appear that, if any man deems it his duty to lessen its standing in
the eyes of the community, he ought at least to do so in a cautious
and reverential spirit, with humility and prayer.
My objection to the mode in which these things are handled in the
"Liberator" is that the general tone and spirit seem to me the reverse
of this. If your paper circulated only among those of disciplined and
cultivated minds, skilled to separate truth from falsehood, knowing
where to go for evidence and how to satisfy the doubts you raise, I
should feel less regret. But your name and benevolent labors have
given your paper a circulation among the poor and lowly. They have no
means of investigating, no habits of reasoning. The Bible, as they at
present understand it, is doing them great good, and is a blessing to
them and their families. The whole tendency of your mode of proceeding
is to lessen their respect and reverence for the Bible, without giving
them anything in its place.
I have no fear of discussion as to its final results on the Bible; my
only regrets are for those human beings whose present and immortal
interests I think compromised by this manner of discussion. Discussion
of the evidence of the authenticity and inspiration of the Bible and
of all theology will come more and more, and I rejoice that they will.
But I think they must come, as all successful inquiries into truth
must, in a calm, thoughtful, and humble spirit; not with bold
assertions, hasty generalizations, or passionate appeals.
I appreciate your good qualities none the less though you differ with
me on this point. I believe you to be honest and sincere. In Mr.
Parker's works I have found much to increase my respect and esteem for
him as a man. He comes to results, it is true, to which it would be
death and utter despair for me to arrive at. Did I believe as he does
about the Bible and Jesus, I were of all creatures most miserable,
because I could not love God. I could find no God to love. I would far
rather never have been born.
As to you, my dear friend, you must own that my frankness to you is
the best expression of my confidence in your honor and nobleness. Did
I not believe that "an excellent spirit" is in you, I would not take
the trouble to write all this. If in any points in this note I appear
to have misapprehended or done you injustice, I hope you will candidly
let me know where and how.
Truly your friend,
H. B. STOWE.
In addition to these letters the following extracts from a subsequent
letter to Mr. Garrison are given to show in what respect their fields
of labor differed, and to present an idea of what Mrs. Stowe was doing
for the cause of freedom besides writing against slavery:--
ANDOVER, MASS., February 18,1854.
DEAR FRIEND,--I see and sincerely rejoice in the result of your
lecture in New York. I am increasingly anxious that all who hate
slavery be united, if not in form, at least in fact,--a unity in
difference. Our field lies in the church, and as yet I differ
from you as to what may be done and hoped there. Brother Edward
(Beecher) has written a sermon that goes to the very root of the
decline of moral feeling in the church. As soon as it can be got ready
for the press I shall have it printed, and shall send a copy to every
minister in the country.
Our lectures have been somewhat embarrassed by a pressure of new
business brought upon us by the urgency of the Kansas-Nebraska
question. Since we began, however, brother Edward has devoted his
whole time to visiting, consultation, and efforts the result of which
will shortly be given to the public. We are trying to secure a
universal arousing of the pulpit.
Dr. Bacon's letter is noble. You must think so. It has been sent to
every member of Congress. Dr. Kirk's sermon is an advance, and his
congregation warmly seconded it. Now, my good friend, be willing to
see that the church is better than you have thought it. Be not
unwilling to see some good symptoms, and hope that even those who see
not at all at first will gain as they go on. I am acting on the
conviction that you love the cause better than self. If anything can
be done now advantageously by the aid of money, let me know. God has
given me some power in this way, though I am too feeble to do much
Yours for the cause,
H. B. STOWE.
Although the demand was very great upon Mrs. Stowe for magazine and
newspaper articles, many of which she managed to write in 1854-55, she
had in her mind at this time a new book which should be in many
respects the complement of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." In preparing her Key
to the latter work, she had collected much new material. In 1855,
therefore, and during the spring of 1856, she found time to weave
these hitherto unused facts into the story of "Dred." In her preface
to the English edition of this book she writes:--
"The author's object in this book is to show the general effect of
slavery on society; the various social disadvantages which it brings,
even to its most favored advocates; the shiftlessness and misery and
backward tendency of all the economical arrangements of slave States;
the retrograding of good families into poverty; the deterioration of
land; the worse demoralization of all classes, from the aristocratic,
tyrannical planter to the oppressed and poor white, which is the
result of the introduction of slave labor.
"It is also an object to display the corruption of Christianity which
arises from the same source; a corruption that has gradually lowered
the standard of the church, North and South, and been productive of
more infidelity than the works of all the encyclopaedists put
The story of "Dred" was suggested by the famous negro insurrection,
led by Nat Turner, in Eastern Virginia in 1831. In this affair one of
the principal participators was named "Dred." An interesting incident
connected with the writing of "Dred" is vividly remembered by Mrs.
One sultry summer night there arose a terrific thunder-storm, with
continuous flashes of lightning and incessant rumbling and muttering
of thunder, every now and then breaking out into sharp, crashing
reports followed by torrents of rain.
The two young girls, trembling with fear, groped their way down-stairs
to their mother's room, and on entering found her lying quietly in bed
awake, and calmly watching the storm from the windows, the shades
being up. She expressed no surprise on seeing them, but said that she
had not been herself in the least frightened, though intensely
interested in watching the storm. "I have been writing a description
of a thunder-storm for my book, and I am watching to see if I need to
correct it in any particular." Our readers will be interested to know
that she had so well described a storm from memory that even this
vivid object-lesson brought with it no new suggestions. This scene is
to be found in the twenty-fourth chapter of "Dred,"--"Life in the
"The day had been sultry and it was now an hour or two past midnight,
when a thunder-storm, which had long been gathering and muttering in
the distant sky, began to develop its forces. A low, shivering sigh
crept through the woods, and swayed in weird whistlings the tops of
the pines; and sharp arrows of lightning came glittering down among
the branches, as if sent from the bow of some warlike angel. An army
of heavy clouds swept in a moment across the moon; then came a broad,
dazzling, blinding sheet of flame."
What particularly impressed Mrs. Stowe's daughters at the time was
their mother's perfect calmness, and the minute study of the storm.
She was on the alert to detect anything which might lead her to
correct her description.
Of this new story Charles Summer wrote from the senate chamber:--
MY DEAR MRS. STOWE,--I am rejoiced to learn, from your excellent
sister here, that you are occupied with another tale exposing slavery.
I feel that it will act directly upon pending questions, and help us
in our struggle for Kansas, and also to overthrow the slave-oligarchy
in the coming Presidential election. We need your help at once in our
Ever sincerely yours,
Having finished this second great story of slavery, in the early
summer of 1856 Mrs. Stowe decided to visit Europe again, in search of
a much-needed rest. She also found it necessary to do so in order to
secure the English right to her book, which she had failed to do on
"Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Just before sailing she received the following touching letter from
her life-long friend, Georgiana May. It is the last one of a series
that extended without interruption over a period of thirty years, and
as such has been carefully cherished:--
OCEAN HOUSE, GROTON POINT, July 26, 1856.
DEAR HATTIE,--Very likely it is too late for me to come with my modest
knock to your study door, and ask to be taken in for a moment, but I
do so want to bless you before you go, and I have not been well
enough to write until to-day. It seems just as if I could not
let you go till I have seen once more your face in the flesh, for
great uncertainties hang over my future. One thing, however, is
certain: whichever of us two gets first to the farther shore of the
great ocean between us and the unseen will be pretty sure to be at
hand to welcome the other. It is not poetry, but solemn verity between
us that we shall meet again.
But there is nothing morbid or morbific going into these
few lines. I have made "Old Tiff's" acquaintance. He is a
verity,--will stand up with Uncle Tom and Topsy, pieces of negro
property you will be guilty of holding after you are dead. Very likely
your children may be selling them.
Hattie, I rejoice over this completed work. Another work for God and
your generation. I am glad that you have come out of it alive, that
you have pleasure in prospect, that you "walk at liberty" and have
done with "fits of languishing." Perhaps some day I shall be set free,
but the prospect does not look promising, except as I have full faith
that "the Good Man above is looking on, and will bring it all round
right." Still "heart and flesh" both "fail me." He will be the
"strength of my heart," and I never seem to doubt "my portion
If I never speak to you again, this is the farewell utterance.
Mrs. Stowe was accompanied on this second trip to Europe by her
husband, her two eldest daughters, her son Henry, and her sister Mary
(Mrs. Perkins). It was a pleasant summer voyage, and was safely
accomplished without special incident.