Uncle Tom's Cabin
How we cite our quotes:
"It's done!" said Mr. Shelby, in a musing tone; and, fetching a long breath, he repeated, "It's done!"
"Yer don't seem to feel much pleased with it, 'pears to me," said the trader.
"Haley," said Mr. Shelby, "I hope you'll remember that you promised, on your honor, you wouldn't sell Tom, without knowing what sort of hands he's going into."
"Why, you've just done it sir," said the trader.
"Circumstances, you well know, obliged me," said Shelby, haughtily.
"Wal, you know, they may 'blige me, too," said the trader. (4.87-92)
Mr. Shelby is reluctant to recognize the similarities between himself and the slave trader, Haley, but the reader sees them very clearly. Although Mr. Shelby tries to elicit a promise from Tom’s new owner that Tom will be treated well, he fails to ensure this himself, and so he doesn’t have much moral high ground to stand on.
Mrs. Shelby stood like one stricken. Finally, turning to her toilet, she rested her face in her hands, and gave a sort of groan.
"This is God's curse on slavery! – a bitter, bitter, most accursed thing! – a curse to the master and a curse to the slave! I was a fool to think I could make anything good out of such a deadly evil. It is a sin to hold a slave under laws like ours, – I always felt it was, – I always thought so when I was a girl, – I thought so still more after I joined the church; but I thought I could gild it over, – I thought, by kindness, and care, and instruction, I could make the condition of mine better than freedom – fool that I was!"
"Why, wife, you are getting to be an abolitionist, quite."
"Abolitionist! if they knew all I know about slavery, they might talk! We don't need them to tell us; you know I never thought that slavery was right – never felt willing to own slaves."
"Well, therein you differ from many wise and pious men," said Mr. Shelby. "You remember Mr. B.'s sermon, the other Sunday?"
"I don't want to hear such sermons; I never wish to hear Mr. B. in our church again. Ministers can't help the evil, perhaps, – can't cure it, any more than we can, – but defend it! – it always went against my common sense. And I think you didn't think much of that sermon, either." (5.26-31)
Mrs. Shelby knows that slavery is a curse that affects all who play a part in it – it undermines every Christian principle in which she believes. Even being as good a mistress as possible is no remedy when you’re operating within a system that fails at every level to be humane. When Mr. Shelby reminds her that some southern ministers preach the virtues of slavery, Mrs. Shelby dismisses their behavior as obviously immoral. It’s not even necessary for her to engage the substance of their arguments directly, because they’re so obviously inhumane and un-Christian.
"I've got a gang of boys, sir," said the long man, resuming his attack on the fire-irons, "and I jest tells 'em – 'Boys,' says I, – 'run now! dig! put! jest when ye want to! I never shall come to look after you!' That's the way I keep mine. Let 'em know they are free to run any time, and it jest breaks up their wanting to. More 'n all, I've got free papers for 'em all recorded, in case I gets keeled up any o' these times, and they know it; and I tell ye, stranger, there an't a fellow in our parts gets more out of his niggers than I do. Why, my boys have been to Cincinnati, with five hundred dollars' worth of colts, and brought me back the money, all straight, time and agin. It stands to reason they should. Treat 'em like dogs, and you'll have dogs' works and dogs' actions. Treat 'em like men, and you'll have men's works." And the honest drover, in his warmth, endorsed this moral sentiment by firing a perfect feu de joie at the fireplace. (11.26)
Once again, the novel shows us that morality and economics are actually on the same side when it comes to slavery. It’s not only humane to treat blacks like human beings – it’s also more profitable. Stowe herself saw abolition as a moral issue and a Christian duty, but she was savvy enough to realize that she’d have to engage the issue of profit in order to convince some 19th century readers who believed slave labor was necessary to the economic structure of the South.