Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Uncle Tom's Cabin Slavery Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"Alfred . . . stands, high and haughty, on that good old respectable ground, the right of the strongest; and he says, and I think quite sensibly, that the American planter is 'only doing, in another form, what the English aristocracy and capitalists are doing by the lower classes;' that is, I take it, appropriating them, body and bone, soul and spirit, to their use and convenience. He defends both, – and I think, at least, consistently. He says that there can be no high civilization without enslavement of the masses, either nominal or real. There must, he says, be a lower class, given up to physical toil and confined to an animal nature; and a higher one thereby acquires leisure and wealth for a more expanded intelligence and improvement, and becomes the directing soul of the lower. So he reasons, because, as I said, he is born an aristocrat; – so I don't believe, because I was born a democrat." (19.82)
St. Clare explains that the southern institution of slavery is similar to both aristocratic and capitalist hierarchies. These comparisons are meant to prick the conscience of the anti-aristocratic American reader. In a country founded on the principle of democratic equality, how can slavery stand? If Americans are beginning to reform working conditions for paid laborers, why won’t they reform working conditions for slaves? Throughout Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe suggests a troubling link between capitalism and slavery, though she never formulates a definite anti-capitalist statement.
"But, suppose we should rise up tomorrow and emancipate, who would educate these millions, and teach them how to use their freedom? They never would rise to do much among us. The fact is, we are too lazy and unpractical, ourselves, ever to give them much of an idea of that industry and energy which is necessary to form them into men. They will have to go north, where labor is the fashion, – the universal custom; and tell me, now, is there enough Christian philanthropy, among your northern states, to bear with the process of their education and elevation? You send thousands of dollars to foreign missions; but could you endure to have the heathen sent into your towns and villages, and give your time, and thoughts, and money, to raise them to the Christian standard? That's what I want to know. If we emancipate, are you willing to educate? How many families, in your town, would take a negro man and woman, teach them, bear with them, and seek to make them Christians? [. . .] You see, Cousin, I want justice done us. We are in a bad position. We are the more obvious oppressors of the negro; but the unchristian prejudice of the north is an oppressor almost equally severe." (28.114)
St. Clare points out that just setting slaves free is not a sufficient solution for the problems that slavery has created in America. The system has robbed an entire people of their dignity and has deliberately cultivated within them an inability to function as free men. To emancipate without making some provision for this would also be cruel. In the course of describing this problem, St. Clare reminds Ophelia of the prejudices of northerners, who are all for abolition, but may not actually want to help former slaves personally.
It is one of the bitterest apportionments of a lot of slavery, that the negro, sympathetic and assimilative, after acquiring, in a refined family, the tastes and feelings which form the atmosphere of such a place, is not the less liable to become the bond-slave of the coarsest and most brutal, – just as a chair or table, which once decorated the superb saloon, comes, at last, battered and defaced, to the barroom of some filthy tavern, or some low haunt of vulgar debauchery. The great difference is, that the table and chair cannot feel, and the man can; for even a legal enactment that he shall be "taken, reputed, adjudged in law, to be a chattel personal," cannot blot out his soul, with its own private little world of memories, hopes, loves, fears, and desires. (31.2)
One of the evils of slavery is the possibility that a slave can be completely detached from his or her family, home, and personal history on the death of his master. Slaves’ fates are completely detached from their own needs and actions. They can’t work their way up in the world or build homes and lives for themselves – because, if they do, it might all be taken away the next day. Note that, as usual, Stowe’s abolitionist sympathy for slaves still has a racist overtone – she stereotypes "the negro" as "sympathetic and assimilative."