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March 20th 1852: Uncle Tom’s Cabin published

On this day in 1852, American author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published. Previously published as a serial in the anti-slavery periodical the National Era, Uncle Tom’s Cabin tells the story of a black slave and recounts the harsh reality of his enslavement. Stowe was an ardent advocate of the abolition of slavery, and wrote the novel in response to the passage of the controversial 1850 Fugitive Slave Act which was part of the Compromise of 1850. The Act ordered Northern citizens to assist in the return of runaway slaves from the South, thus forcing the generally anti-slavery North to become complicit in the continuance of the ‘peculiar institution’. The popular discontent over the slavery issue helped make Uncle Tom’s Cabin the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century and saw its translation into sixty languages. The novel helped keep the flames of anti-slavery sentiment alive, and is therefore sometimes attributed with helping start the American Civil War. While still hailed as a great anti-slavery work of its day, the novel falls short of modern expectations with its stereotypical portrayal of African-Americans.

“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war”
- what, according to legend, Abraham Lincoln said upon meeting Stowe in 1862