The little woman who starts the big war

American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe is known primarily as the author of the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin". However, few people know that the modest daughter of a provincial pastor provoked the beginning of the struggle for the abolition of slavery in America. US President Abraham Lincoln called her "the little woman who started the big war."

Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in 1811, the daughter of a pastor, and from childhood she was raised with compassion, sensitivity to other people's pain, and other traditional Christian values. Therefore, she could not remain indifferent to the problem of slavery, especially since her father had repeatedly hidden runaway slaves in his house, and she knew about their troubles firsthand.

At the age of 36, having written a collection of short stories and a geography textbook, Harriet Beecher Stowe became the heroine of the book "The Lives of Outstanding Women". But the real popularity came to her in 1852, after the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin". In 1850, the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, prohibiting assistance to fugitives. Outraged by this innovation, in March of that year, Harriet wrote to the editor of the National Era magazine that she planned to publish a story about the problems of slavery. The story grew into a novel: for 9 months, the magazine published one chapter weekly.

As Harriet admitted, the idea for a novel about the horrors of slavery came to her in church after a trip to the southern states. For this work, the writer received a fee of $ 300, but the true value of the novel was not measured in money. The publisher accompanied the publication of the last chapter with the following comment: "Mrs. Stowe has finished her great work. We do not remember that any work of an American writer would have aroused such universal, deep interest as her story." The novel has been published in millions of copies and has been translated into 20 languages.

However, readers were divided: many accused Harriet of unreliability of the facts and that she exaggerated the cruelty and arbitrariness of the planters of the South. In response to the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin", writers from the southern States of America published several books that refute Beecher Stowe's version of the abuse of slaves. This literary movement was called the "Anti-Tom". In these works, slave owners were portrayed as human, decent people, without whose supervision and care the slaves would not have survived.

In the decade between the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin and the outbreak of the American Civil War, about 30 Anti-Tom novels were published, written primarily by the wives of southern slave owners. To prove her point and convince them that her work is based on real facts, Beecher Stowe wrote "The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin", where she gave a lot of evidence in favor of the authenticity of her novel. The prototype of the main character was Josiah Henson, who was born into a family of slaves in 1789. His master promised to release him, but he did not keep his word – just as it happens in the novel.

This discussion reflected the growing social conflict between the adherents and opponents of slavery. 10 years after the publication of the first chapter of the novel, the American Civil War began, ending with the abolition of slavery.

Of course, Beecher Stowe's work cannot be called the cause of these events, but it was their forerunner. Many believed that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" became a powerful propaganda weapon and encouraged people to fight for the rights of the oppressed. Therefore, when meeting with the writer, Abraham Lincoln shook her hand with the words: "So you are the little lady who started such a big war!" A. Tolstoy wrote: "The abolition of slavery was preceded by the famous book of a woman, Mrs. Beecher Stowe."


Nazira Artykbayeva, librarian of the International Book Department