Harriet Beecher Stowe was appalled by slavery, and she took one of the few options open to nineteenth-century women who wanted to affect public opinion: she wrote a novel, a huge, enthralling narrative that claimed the heart, soul, and politics of pre-Civil War Americans. An overtly moralistic work of unabashed propaganda, it is an attempt to make whites–North and South–see slaves as mothers, fathers, and children–as human beings. Her basic question remains penetrating even today: “Is man ever a creature to be trusted with wholly irresponsible power?” Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an American classic that every American should read.
Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well–furnished dining parlor, in the town of P——, in Kentucky. There were no servants present, and the gentlemen, with chairs closely approaching, seemed to be discussing some subject with great earnestness.
For convenience sake, we have said, hitherto, two gentlemen. One of the parties, however, when critically examined, did not seem, strictly speaking, to come under the species. He was a short, thick–set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which marks a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world. He was much over–dressed, in a gaudy vest of many colors, a blue neckerchief, bedropped gayly with yellow spots, and arranged with a flaunting tie, quite in keeping with the general air of the man. His hands, large and coarse, were plentifully bedecked with rings; and he wore a heavy gold watch–chain, with a bundle of seals of portentous size, and a great variety of colors, attached to it,—which, in the ardor of conversation, he was in the habit of flourishing and jingling with evident satisfaction. His conversation was in free and easy defiance of Murray’s Grammar,
English Grammar (1795), by Lindley Murray (1745-1826), the most authoritative American grammarian of his day. and was garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions, which not even the desire to be graphic in our account shall induce us to transcribe.
His companion, Mr. Shelby, had the appearance of a gentleman; and the arrrangements of the house, and the general air of the housekeeping, indicated easy, and even opulent circumstances. As we before stated, the two were in the midst of an earnest conversation.