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Current time:0:00Total duration:7:35

Uncle Tom's Cabin - influence of the Fugitive Slave Act

AP.USH:
KC‑5.2.I.B (KC)
,
SOC (Theme)
,
Unit 5: Learning Objective F

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hey, Becca. - [Voiceover] Hi, Kim. - [Voiceover] Alright, so we're here to talk about Uncle Tom's Cabin, and I think this is such an interesting book because when Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he said to her, "So you're the little lady that started this great war." He said Uncle Tom's Cabin actually started the Civil War. So how does a book start a war? - [Voiceover] I think that's a really good question, Kim, and these next two videos are gonna help us understand a little bit more why Lincoln said that. How does a little book start a war? So this book was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, here she is, Stowe, and Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut to this kind of great abolitionist family. So what's abolitionism, Kim? - [Voiceover] Well abolitionism was the belief in mostly in the early 19th century that slavery should be ended immediately. So there were varieties of beliefs about the institution of slavery in early America. Some people obviously were very pro-slavery believe that it was a natural institution sanctioned by the Bible. Some people, like Abraham Lincoln, at least early in his political career, just wanted slavery to stay where it was, and those were what we would call free-soilers, or anti-slavery advocates. They said, "Alright, we can't get rid of slavery "in the South. "It's too entrenched there as an institution, "but we can make sure that it does not spread "to any of the Western territories "that we might settle in the future." But abolitionists were these strongest opponents of slavery. They said that slavery should be ended today everywhere in the United States and the world, and that it is an immoral, un-Christian institution. So these Western territories were a really big part of the increasing tension over the institution of slavery in the 1850s. So in 1848, the United States won the Mexican-American War and they got a whole bunch of new territory that had once been Mexico, and these will become the states of Texas, and Oklahoma, and many of the sort of Midwestern states we have today, but this now threatened the balance of power between those slave-holding states in US Congress and those that were free states, so now everyone is wondering is slavery going to spread to the West? Should slavery spread to the West? - [Voiceover] And this kind of anxiety about the Western expansion of slavery was more tense and became more sectionally divided after the Compromise of 1850. So the Compromise of 1850 happened right here in 1850, (laughter) and the Compromise of 1850, I like to think of it kind of like a band-aid over this sectional tension, so I'll draw you guys a little band-aid. - [Voiceover] This is like a gaping wound, right, and the Compromise of 1850 is just like this tiny, little band-aid that's kind of holding this dam together to mix my metaphors. - [Voiceover] The Compromise of 1850 actually admitted California as a free state, which was a really big win for the North, obviously. - [Voiceover] Right, lots of gold. - [Voiceover] But it also had a really strong Fugitive Slave Act, so this was a really kind of critical part of the Compromise of 1850, and this was a big win for the South. So why was it a big win? - [Voiceover] Well the Fugitive Slave Act said that if a marshal was in your town requesting your help in rounding up an escaped slave, you had to help that marshal or face charges yourself. So this meant that any time that someone who was enslaved in the South made a run for the North, a run for Canada as many of the enslaved people did, anyone in the North might be drafted to help return that person to the South. - [Voiceover] And if they didn't, they were oftentimes fined, and this really made all Northerners participatory in slavery, even if they weren't slaveholders themselves or living on a plantation in the South, Northerners were participating in the way that slavery was held together by disallowing runaway slaves from continuing their lives in free territories. - [Voiceover] So you could imagine how this might really galvanize a Northern audience into action about slavery because before, you might think, "Well, I don't like slavery, "but what does it have to do with me, right? "I'm just a grain miller living in Pennsylvania. "None of my business. "I don't like it, but I can't do anything about it, "and it's not my fault." Now all of a sudden, if an escaped slave comes past your house and a marshal follows him or her, now you've got to be a person to round that person up, and so that means you have to participate in slavery directly, and so you might find yourself thinking, "You know what, I refuse to do that, "and that means that I really do hate slavery." - [Voiceover] And this was definitely the sentiment that Stowe and her family had on the Underground Railroad. So Stowe lived on a stop in the Underground Railroad, and that was this passageway for Southern slaves to get to the North, and Stowe and her husband actually helped a lot of runaway slaves. - [Voiceover] So the Underground Railroad wasn't like a literal railroad, right? I mean that would be pretty sweet if there were a railroad that went under the ground all the way up to Canada, but it was more like a sort of an informal network of people who might help escaped slaves, direct them to food and shelter, and just kind of send them along to the next waypost on their trip, either to the North or to Canada. - [Voiceover] And so when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed with the Compromise of 1850, the band-aid, this really upset Harriet Beecher Stowe and really was one of the main catalysts for her writing this book. She also witnessed a slave auction, and this Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote about as just this terrible kind of scene of a family being just torn apart, and this was a really common practice within slavery, that the unit of the family was not respected as slaveholders wanted to sell their slaves to different plantations throughout the South, and the slave auction really became the basis for the plot of Uncle Tom's Cabin. - [Voiceover] Slave auctions were absolutely terrible. In fact, not long before the Civil War, the main slave auction site in Washington, D.C. was just around the corner from the White House, so imagine walking down the thoroughfare of this great democracy, seeing the president's house, the seat of government, and then turning a corner and seeing people being sold off the block. You know Abraham Lincoln saw a slave auction in New Orleans and he said it was one of the things that most influenced him to hate slavery, just witnessing these families being torn apart. And imagine either watching a mother being sold away from her infant children, or being that mother wondering what it would be like if you're ever going to see them again. - [Voiceover] I think that's a really important point just to show that this was something that was happening all around the United States and this was just abolitionist fervor was bubbling up, and then in 1852, when this book was published, it really set into motion this new wave of political rhetoric, and other novels, and just a lot of talk about these fundamental contradictions between Christianity and human bondage. - [Voiceover] And we'll get to that in the next video.