The Slave Trade In Uncle Toms Cabin Essay

This essay has a total of 2986 words and 12 pages.

The Slave Trade In Uncle Toms Cabin

The slave trade in Uncle Tom's Cabin


Few books can truly be said to have altered the course of history, and even fewer can be
said to have started an entire war. Uncle Tom's Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe,
was one novel to do both. Abraham Lincoln said to Harriet Beecher Stowe upon meeting her,
"So this is the little lady who made this big war.". Uncle Tom's Cabin had a tremendous
effect on early 19th century thoughts of slavery; stirring abolitionist support in the
north. The novel is a realistic, although fictional view of slavery with the images of
brutal beatings and unfair slave practices. After reading Uncle Tom's Cabin thousand of
northerners became impassioned for the anti-slavery cause. Uncle Tom's Cabin helped
eventually to turn the tide of public opinion against slavery in the 19th century( Taylor
1).

This controversial novel was initially written to question slavery, convince people of its
immorality and to promote the abolitionist cause. The novel's rendering of the slave
holding south is not entirely an accurate interpretation of what it was like though.
Beecher over exaggerated and overlooked several facts in novel, especially pertaining to
the practice of slave trading. To have her readers empathize more with the slaves, Beecher
put the worst stories in and the cruelest practices of the slave trade depicted by run
away slaves. Although most of Uncle Tom's Cabin is very close to the reality of slavery,
many aspects of the slave trade were portrayed inaccurately.

One of the first miscalculated aspects of the slave trade is the reason for southern
states involvement in the interstate slave trade. Stowe depicted Kentucky's involvement in
the slave trade due to the poor soil of the region and economic ties with the practice.
She implied in the beginning half of the Novel that many Kentuckians resorted to being
bondmen in the slave trade due to the infertile land of the Bluegrass Region. In Stowe's
Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, (a book designed to muffle the critics of Uncle Tom's Cabin) she
stated that "Slavery's subsequent lack of economic viability… [and] prevailing
agricultural impoverishment are to blame for Kentucky's involvement in the notorious
traffic…" (Stowe 254). On the contrary, Kentucky where the bulk of the slave trade was
supposedly concentrated has long been blessed with great fertility. The high phosphorus
content and the goodly depth of soil results in land favorable for cultivation (Levy 67).
Stowe's explanation for why Kentucky became involved in the slave trade was misguided.

She also inaccurately displayed the importance of the slave trade in the southern economy.
She makes it out to be a big business and in common place among many traders. In the novel
Stowe starts chapter ten with Tom about to be sold off to the slave trader Haley, his
whole family knows that Tom has been traded and is devastated about the situation. Stowe
comments on the hardships of slave life and the fear of being sold at a moments notice
when she states in her narrative voice that, "…many of the fugitives confessed
themselves to have escaped from comparatively kind masters, and that they were induced to
brave the perils of escape, in almost every case, by the desperate horror with which they
regarded being sold south,--a doom which was hanging either over themselves or their
husbands, their wives or children" (106). She goes on to say that there is a lot of money
to be made by the industry. In a later section she depicts a slave warehouse, again she
reiterates the fact that the slaves are horrified to be sold, she goes on to further imply
that many slaves are sold many times in their lives for whatever reason. "Briskness,
alertness, and cheerfulness of appearance, especially before observers, are constantly
enforced upon them, both by the hope of thereby getting a good master, and the fear of all
that the driver may bring upon them if they prove unsalable." (351). True, many
southerners relied on slaves for their livelihood and at the time the biggest business in
the south was agriculture. But the actual amount of people that made money off of slaves
less than Stowe depicts. Out of the $61 million invested on slave property in 1840's
Virginia, the state brought in less than 3% profit on the investment capital ( Levy 67).
The truth of the matter was that slaves were not a good investment. An estimated 75% of
the slave trade in the upper south was "superannuated, sick, women in unfit condition for
labor, and infants unable to work." ( Taylor 1) . Bondmen weren't that important, and in
fact their numbers were seeing decrease at the time Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin. The
total percentage of bondmen in Kentucky population had stood at 24 percent of white males
in 1830, but by 160 it saw it's decrease to 19.5 percent( Harrison 1). The south didn't
rely on slavery for profit and the few that did didn't make that much money at it.

One of the incorrect stereotypes in Uncle Tom's Cabin was the depiction of what the public
thought of slave traders. One description of a trader in chapter 12 was "O, but nobody
thinks anything of these traders! They are universally despised, --never received into any
decent society." (145). Stowe's generalization of them is mostly true. The general public
did not approve the slave trading business or, for that matter a majority of the prominent
slave holders. One slave owner in Kentucky stated that, " to be called such a lowly
creature as a ‘negro trader' was the last word of opprobrium to be slung at a
man."(Smith 1). Stowe makes the readers think that Slave traders are the scum of the earth
and that everyone hates them. Later in the riverboat scene in chapter 13 Stowe portrays a
chilling picture of what type of men the traders are. She really tries to drive it home
that the slave trade is evil and the traders are evil more evil than the institution. A
woman slave has just jumped the boat in an attempt to drown herself rather than be a slave
any longer, the trader has a rather nonchalant reaction to her extreme measures,

… He was used to a great many things that you are not used to. Even the awful presence
of Death struck no solemn chill upon him. He had seen Death many times, --met him in the
way of trade, and got acquainted with him, --and he only thought of him as a hard
customer, that embarrassed his property operations very unfairly; and so he only swore
that the gal was a baggage, and that he was devilish unlucky, and that, if things went on
in this way, he should not make a cent on the trip. In short, he seemed to consider
himself an ill-used man, decidedly; but there was no help for it, as the woman had escaped
into a state which never will give up a fugitive, --not even at the demand of the whole
glorious Union. The trader, therefore, sat discontentedly down, with his little
account-book, and put down the missing body and soul under the head of losses! - 160


Stowe again is driving home the fact that these traders are horrible men, involved in the
evils of a horrible institution. Yet despite Stowe's vivid depiction of the slave traders
as social rejects and shunned people because of their profession many salesmen to the
cotton kingdom managed to thrive despite the generally negative reception by the mass
public. Edward Stone was one such trader. He was one of the first traders to bring slaves
from the middle south to New Orleans. He started his business after being a successful
planter and Bourbon County local official. He wasn't a public outcast, or seen as evil.
Surprisingly, there were many more traders weren't the horrible men Stowe depicted them to
be; they were just trying to make a living. Major traders came along after the rising
cotton prices of the mid 19th century. Many slave traders conducted their business
quietly, and slave-trading firms sprung up to make the process go smoother like Lewis
Robbards of South Carolina. If the public were so anti slave traders then it wouldn't have
been possible for firms like Robbards to survive the way they did. The government even
passed laws in favor of the traders that supposedly everyone hated to their cores. The
South Carolinian legislature revoked a law they set up in 1833 called the non-importation
statute. The law was originally set up to not allow interstate slave trade. Later in 1849
they revoked the law, allowing bondmen, or traders the opportunity to purchase a profit on
likely negros from other states. They made it easier for them to do their job (McDougle
1). The public saw the traders as a necessary evil in most cases, but the fact remains
that there were some honest traders out there, not all of them were the varying degrees of
evil as depicted in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Not only did Harriet Beecher Stowe have inaccuracies in the public perception of traders,
but also she also over exaggerated the evil in traders. For example, she has made Haley,
the one trader that we have substantial contact with in the play a very bad trader. He as
well as the auctioneers in the last part of the book, are both seen as the absolute bottom
of the industry. Haley is a man close to the worst type of negro-trader in real life, but
in the book there are implications that there are others who were even worse than he. In
one description of Haley in the book Stowe says that, "The trader had arrived at that
stage of Christianity and political perfection which has been recommended by some
preachers and politicians of the north, lately in which he had completely overcome every
humane weakness and prejudice...The wild look of anguish and utter despair that the woman
cast on him might have disturbed one less practiced; but he was used to it. He had seen
the same look hundreds of times...So the trader only regarded the mortal anguish...as
necessary incidents of the trade..." (239). By picking the worst case scenario of what a
trader can be like Stowe makes it seem common practice. Haley regularly takes children
that do tricks, or light skinned pretty girls for male owners. She makes Haley out to be
one of the most inhumane characters in the book. Stowe also depicts an inhumane and
‘worst-case scenario' auctioneer later in the book when Tom is to be sold to the
southern plantation. Tom was just sent to the slave warehouse after St. Clare's death.
Once there he meets Emmeline and her mother Susan. Emmeline has gorgeous curly hair, but
Continues for 6 more pages >>




  • What were the impacts of Harriet Beecher Stowes no
    What were the impacts of Harriet Beecher Stowes novel Uncle Toms Cabin between 18521862 The novel Uncle Toms Cabin as written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in the United States in 1852. The novel depicted slavery as a moral evil and was the cause of much controversy at the time & long after. Uncle Toms Cabin had impact on various groups & publics. It caused outrage in the South and received praise in the North. It is in opinions and historical movements that the impact of this novel