On this day in 1852, the final installment of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in The National Era, a weekly abolitionist newspaper. One of the most influential American stories of the 19th century was finally complete, after 43 weeks of installments.
Born in Litchfield, Connecticut on June 14, 1811, Harriet Beecher Stowe was the daughter of influential minister Lyman Beecher. As a young woman, her family moved to Cincinnati in Ohio, and Beecher witnessed the horrors of slavery firsthand in the neighboring state of Kentucky. Like many Americans with anti-slavery leanings, Stowe was outraged after Congress passed the Compromise of 1850. Especially odious to Stowe was the controversial Fugitive Slave Act, a law that obliged all Americans, even those living in states where slavery was illegal, to be complicit in returning runaway slaves to their Southern owners. In response, Stowe began to write a story about the moral evils and inhumanity of American slavery.
After its inaugural run as a newspaper serial, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in book form in 1852, and proceeded to sell hundreds of thousands of copies in the United States over the next several months, catapulting the Connecticut-born Stowe to instant fame. The popularity of Stowe’s tale of the trials and tribulations of an enslaved family bolstered abolitionist and anti-slavery movements around the country, and added fuel to the fire of national political tensions of the 1850s. Over the course of the entire 19th century, the only book that outsold Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the United States in terms of the number of volumes sold was the Bible!
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.