Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written during the crisis of the 1850’s, when the nation was divided over the question of slavery—an institution that had become so ingrained in the nation’s (particularly the South’s) economy that it would lead the country into civil war. The inhumanity of slavery had been legitimated in 1789 with the ratification of the Constitution and its “three-fifths” clause (Article I, section 2, paragraph 3), which gave slaveholding states disproportionate power within the federal government. The clause, later superseded by the Fourteenth Amendment, embodied an earlier compromise over the formula used for collecting taxes and apportioning representation in Congress. The passage of the Compromise of 1850 became a powerful weapon in the antislavery discourse of Christians and abolitionists because it gave slavery extraterritoriality and made slavery a national institution in states where slavery had been abolished. The “compromise” of the Fugitive Slave Act required Northern citizens to enforce the slave laws of the South as a constitutional obligation. Thus, Northern citizens were forced to choose between obeying the law, which required them to remand fugitive slaves, and transgressing it.
Stowe charges each scene of her novel with abolitionist and religious rhetoric that describes slavery as un-Christian and immoral. In chapter 45, Stowe, speaking of the Fugitive Slave Act, says that for many years she avoided the...
(The entire section is 568 words.)
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