On June 5, 1851, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly began to appear in serial form in The National Era — an abolitionist weekly. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery story was released in forty installments over the next ten months. Mrs. Stowe was paid $300 for the rights to publish the story.
In 1951 The National Era had a fairly limited circulation, but readership increased rapidly as reader after reader passed their copies along to friends and family. In 1852 a Boston publisher decided to issue Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a book and it became an instant best seller. Three hundred thousand copies were sold the first year. Folks all over America debated the book and discussed the most pressing issue of the day dramatized in its narrative and brought the debate over slavery into many new homes.
Because Uncle Tom’s Cabin so polarized the abolitionist and anti-abolitionist debate, some claim that it is one of the causes of the Civil War. Indeed, when President Lincoln received its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, at the White House in 1862, legend has it he exclaimed, “So this is the little lady who made this big war?”
The National Era can be found in our African American Newspapers Collection.
Copyright Secured by the Author for the National Era.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly by Mrs. H.B. Stowe
CHAPTER I. In which the Reader is introduced to a Man of Humanity
Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town of P—–, in Kentucky. There were no servants present, and the gentlemen, with chairs closely approaching, seemed to be discussing some subject with great earnestness.
For convenience sake, we have said, hitherto, two gentleman. One of the parties, however, when critically examined, did not seem, strictly speaking, to come under the species. He was a short, thick-set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which makes a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world. He was much over-dressed in a gaudy vest of many colors, a blue neckerchief, be dropped gaily with yellow spots, and arranged with a flaunting tie, quite in keeping with the general air of the man. His hands, large and coarse, were plentifully bedecked with rings, and he wore a heavy gold watch-chain with a bundle of seals of portentous size and a great variety of colors attached to it which, in the ardor of conversation, he was in the habit of flourishing and jingling with evident satisfaction. His conversation was in free and easy defiance of Murray’s grammar, and was garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions, which not even the desire to be graphic in our account shall induce us to transcribe.