Uncle Tom’s Cabin

What was the effect of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, on the North and the South of the United States? How was the book received in the two regions where sectionalism was already gaining ground. This lesson will compare and contrast the scope of the impact on the two regions.

Historical Background

For many years, the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been presented as one of the many causes of the Civil War. But it seems that many historians and the Virginia SOL’s put the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on a long list of those things the students should know, without explaining why.

To put it simply - it was the right book at the right time. Up to this point, the issue of slavery had been avoided by compromise. Many in the North ignored slavery because of the economic benefit received from the sale of cotton. Others remained ignorant of the practice as it was not an institution located in their immediate back yard.

Stowe’s book, though fictional, displayed the effects of slavery and helped readers empathize with the characters. In her book, issues such as the Fugitive Slave law, the future of an enslaved people and general racism were freely discussed.

Lesson Objective

a) Evaluating the multiple causes of the Civil War, including the role of the institution of slavery as a principal cause of the conflict.

b) In what way was the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin a major cause of the Civil War? What was the impact of the book on Northern and Southern audiences?



  1. Hook/Preview The following selection will be posted on the Promethean Board. Students will respond on a small sheet of paper and in discussion. Read the following information to your students and discuss the questions that follow:
  2. Harriet Beecher Stowe explains in the last chapter why she wrote the book (she calls herself “the author”). “For many years of her life, the author avoided all reading upon or allusion to the subject of slavery, considering it as too painful to be inquired into, and one which advancing light and civilization would certainly live down. But, since the legislative act of 1850, when she heard, with perfect surprise and consternation, Christian and humane people actually recommending the remanding escaped fugitives into slavery, as a duty binding on good citizens,–when she heard, on all hands, from kind, compassionate and estimable people, in the free states of the North, deliberations and discussions as to what Christian duty could be on this head,–she could only think, These men and Christians cannot know what slavery is; if they did, such a question could never be open for discussion. And from this arose a desire to exhibit it in a living dramatic reality.”
  3. Follow up with the following question: Why does Stowe say she wrote the book? What was she trying to accomplish? Why did she choose to write a novel instead of publishing newspaper articles, making speeches, or performing some other action?
  4. After presentation of the hook and the follow up discussion questions, review past material, asking and discussing other causes of the Civil War. List these on the white board, and then explain why Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a major work in discussing the outbreak of the Civil War. Present the documents that will be used in the primary source activity, establish their use for gauging how Northerners as well as Southerns reacted to the book.
  5. Each student will be responsible for closely analyzing one of the four documents. They will use the document analysis handout to answer questions about the source. After students finish the reading analysis activity, we will discuss and share their summary statements


Students will merge with another group and will come up with 4 talking points they walked away with from our discussion and their work with the primary resources. After listing their talking points on the back of poster paper-they will then create a poster that demonstrates the impact of the book on either the South/or the North. This will count as a formative assignment.
Specific question about the author of the book, why it was written and the various impacts of the book will appear on a test of the causes of the civil war.


For the primary source(s) that you have chosen, write a one-page analysis of each source using the historical reading skills. You must include specific details that you observe as guided by the historical reading skill of sourcing and contextualization and corroboration.


1. Garrison, William Lloyd. The Liberator. “Review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Boston: W. I. Garrison I.Knapp. March 26, 1852. http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/reviews/rere02at.html

2. Unsigned (Gamaliel Bailey?) The National Era. “Review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Washington, D.C: Gamaliel Bailey. April 22, 1852.

3. Bartlett, John (A Carolinian). ” Slavery in the Southern States.” Cambridge, 1852. http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/proslav/presacat.html

4. Eastman, Mary. “Aunt Phillis’s Cabin; or Southern Life as It Is. Philadelphia.” Lippincott, Grambo & Co. 1852. http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/proslav/prfimhea2t.html

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