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From the Archives: Re-Thinking Uncle Tom: The Political Philosophy of H.B. Stowe

 

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The first of two sessions from Professor Bill Allen, about the political philosophy of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This was recorded at the Ashbrook Center with a live audience of teachers on 24 January, 2009. This 74-minute program consisted of remarks by Dr. Allen and a question and answer session with teachers.

Generally critics and interpreters of Uncle Tom have constructed a one-way view of Uncle Tom, albeit offering a few kind words for Uncle Tom along the way. Recovering Uncle Tom requires re-telling his story. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s oeuvre, in partnership with that of her husband Calvin, constitutes a demonstration of the permanent necessity of moral and prudential judgment in human affairs. Moreover, it identifies the political conditions that can best guarantee conditions of decency. Her two disciplines—philosophy and poetry—illuminate the founding principles of the American republic and remedy defects in their realization that were evident in mid-nineteenth century. While slavery is not the only defect, its persistence and expansion indicate the overall shortcomings. In four of her chief works (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands, Dred, and Oldtown Folks), Stowe teaches not only how to eliminate the defect of slavery, but also how to realize and maintain a regime founded on the basis of natural rights and Christianity. Further, she identifies the proper vehicle for educating citizens so they might reliably be ruled by decent public opinion.

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