The slave trade that ensued in the West elicited different feelingsin the society with a majority of the people believing that the Godcreated the world in an order whereby some were rulers and the othersslaves. Aristocrats who owned big plantations bought extra hands frommerchants and subjected them to hard work and inhuman treatmentwithout seeing them as equal human beings. The Negros, as the masterscalled them, spent their lives under the heavy hands of theirmasters.1The few who were lucky had little freedom but not comparable to thatof their masters. The numbers of slaves dying in the plantationsremained on as an estimation since their deaths only meant a loss ofproperty rather than the loss of life and, therefore, the masters didnot record them.2
When making deals with their partners, the whites would exchangetheir slaves to balance their payments, and most of the slaves mayhave served under different masters.3The account in Uncle Tom’s Cabin presents opposing views on theissue of slavery. In the story, religion plays an important role inpaving the way for justice ad human dignity. The argument made bythose who perceive slaves as equal to the whites in the eyes of Godborrow a lot from Christianity. Religion plays an important in pavinga way for antislavery because the Bible presents human being as equalbefore God as well as giving the slaves a reason to persevere likeJesus, who they heard about in Christianity.
Mrs. Shelby gives a push to the vehicle towards anti-slavery cause bygiving her slaves lessons on Christianity. She is a devoted Christianand teaches loves and values to Tom and others. She is against theidea of exchanging human beings with tangible property. When herhusband decides to give Tom to a new master as payment of a debt, sheis against the idea. She believes that Tom would consider her asironic to her teachings since her husband would not be practicingwhat she had always been teaching them.4Mr. Shelby had taught Tom’s mother about the duties of a Christianmother. That is, watching over and praying for her children.Separating her from her soon would make her Christian duties towardsher son impossible. According to her, “One soul is worth than allthe money in the world.”5Itshows the values she gives to human beings regardless of their statusin the society. Although Mr. Shelby does not believe in Christianityor yield to her wife’s request, the fire that Mrs. Shelby lit inTom turned out to be instrumental in changing the hearts of otherswho tormented slaves. The impact of religion in this situation doesnot have an immediate result, but it builds up in the slaves,particularly Tom who transforms his later master and slaves.
The new owners of Tom, as described in Uncle Tom’s Cabin seem tohave divided views on the position that slaves hold in the society.Marie, a member of the new Masters’ house, quotes a sermon she hadheard in church that inclined towards the natural order that Godintended for the universe. According to the sermon, God did not makeall people equal. Some had to be masters and others slaves. However,she seems to take a religious path that justifies her views andperception of slaves and the slave trade.6
St. Clare, a non-Christian but brought up by a religious mother usesreligion to show the reason slaves should be given a human treatmentby drawing his argument from Biblical teaching. According to St.Clare, his idea not to adopt Christianity unlike his mother was therealization that the whites could bend Christianity to suit theirpositions and justify their actions.7Regardless of his position, he uses it to counter the argument ofMarie in a lengthy talk that leaves them aghast.
He gives us a view of what slaves went through in the hands of thewhites. With money, the rich could procure slaves and use them fortheir convenience and at the same time bending religious rules totheir advantage. The slavery was a result of the inequality of powerand circumstances rather than the perceived difference in humandignity. The whites perceived the Negros as the immediate linkbetween human beings and animals. Interestingly, from his knowledgeof religion, he equates the situation to the famed situation in Sodomand Gomorrah that was full of exploitation and injustice. At thatjuncture, his perception of slavery began to plunge deep intoreligion, and this made him to have monopoly of speech while theothers contemplated over their perceived nature of the worldaccording to their religion.8
St. Clare juxtaposes aristocrats and democrats in the way they wouldtreat slaves. Aristocrats owned big pieces of land, and they broughtpeople to work on these plantations. They occupied America, Burma,and England.9Their contempt for Negroes made them incline to the idea thatanything righteous could only be white. They, therefore, did not careabout the injustices perpetrated towards the slaves. Those whofeigned consideration for their slaves made them spend long hours inthe field and offer them Sunday school teaching. They knew that theslaves could not easily comprehend the teachings. St. Clare considershimself a Democrat, who viewed everybody as equal. His father ownedslaves and according to him, if his father was democratic, he wouldhave realized that all human beings were mortal and equal beforeGod’s eyes. Marie becomes amazed by this revelation since herfather had many slaves and she had inherited the idea aboutinequality from his father. St. Clare tries to use religion to breakher stand and cultivate a perception of equality.. From his words,Miss. Ophelia changes her view of the slaves. Clare knowledge ofChristianity and founded arguments falls on a fertile ground, and onemaster reconsiders her position.
St. Clare likens the end of slavery to the coming of Christ whenthere would be a revolution. Marie and others in the household couldnot visualize a country free of slavery. However, St. Clare recountsthe words of her mother that she drew from the Holy Bible that a timewould come when man will be free and happy again.10Like the dry bones that were stirring ready to return to life in theBible, the world will regain justice. However, he feared that mostpeople would not stand it.
The seed of religion that Mrs. Shelby sowed in Tom works Miraculouswhen Tom faces affliction at the hands of his new master, SimonLegree. He chooses to die rather than betray his friends. He likenshimself to Jesus, who gave himself freely into the hand of histormentors. He feels ready to meet his death and drew his couragefrom the knowledge that his tormentors can only kill his body and nothis soul. Just like Jesus, Tom commits his spirit to the Lord whenhis tormentors come for him.11His master threatens to kill him if he does not give the whereaboutsof his friends, but the young man’s outright assertion that hewould not give the information even if it meant his death amazes him.When he threatens to drain every drop of blood in him, Tom oratesthat he would save his master with his blood were he in danger. Itwas a show of love and non-vengeance probably borrowed from Mrs.Shelby’s teachings.
Against the expectation of his master that he would writhe in painabout being smitten, Tom is very calm, and this amazes Simon Legree.He changes his mind about killing him and his two helpers seek toknow from whence he derives his strength. It was then that he tellsthem about Jesus.
Conclusively, the events Uncle Tom’s Cabin revolves around twoschools of thought. One believes that slavery was meant to be whilethe others oppose the inhuman and unjust treatment rendered to theslaves. Christianity is instrumental in changing the hearts ofradical aristocrats who believed that nothing could be done aboutslavery. St. Clare open criticism of the religion adopted by thewhites by making it work for them changes the views Marie and MissOphelia. Tom’s knowledge about Christianity transforms his master.These transformations were milestones that influence how peopleviewed appropriateness of slave trade in the society.
Garraty, John andMark Carnes. The American Nation: A history of the Unite States. NewYork: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999).
Anstey, Rodger. Are-interpretation of the abolition of the British slave trade,1806-1807. English Historical Review, 1972, p. 304-332.
Hedrick Joan,“Harriet Beecher Stowe,” in American National Biography, ed.John
Bonnell, Philips. American Negro slavery: a survey of the supply,employment and control of Negro labor as determined by the plantationregime. New York: D. Appleton, 1918.
Stowe, HarrietBeecher. Uncle Tom`s Cabin: 1852. Leizpig: Tauchnitz, 1852.
Hugh, Thomas. TheSlave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870.New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
1 Thomas Hugh. The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), p.15
2 Rodger Anstey. A re-interpretation of the abolition of the British slave trade, 1806-1807. (English Historical Review, 1972) p.305
3 Phillips Bonnell. American negro slavery: a survey of the supply, employment and control of negro labor as determined by the plantation regime (New York: D. Appleton, 1918), p.21
4 Joan Hedrick.“Harriet Beecher Stowe,” in American National Biography, ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), p.2
5 Hedrick, p. 3
6 Hedrick, p. 3
7 Hedrick, p. 5
8 Hedrick, p. 5
9 Harriet Stowe. Uncle Tom`s Cabin: 1852 (Leizpig: Tauchnitz, 1852), p.37.
10 Hedrick, p. 9
11 Hedrick, p. 11