Sunday, May 21, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Harriet Beecher Stowe
 
The published writing of Harriet Beecher Stowe, in particular “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” in 1852, did more to galvanize the general population of the North against slave owners than all the words of the abolitionists together.  Yet they had built the stage upon which the social drama of the next decade would be performed.
 
Harriet Beecher was the daughter of a Connecticut clergyman.  She lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, eighteen years were her father presided over a seminary school.  In 1836 she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, one of the professors.  Separated from a slave community by the Ohio River, she had contact with fugitives and learned about life in the South from them, from friends, and from her own visits.  In 1850 she and her husband moved to Brunswick, Maine, he having received a professorship at Bowdoin College.  Following the serial publication of her novel in the National Era, an anti-slavery newspaper in Washington, D. C., “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published as a book and was eventually translated into twenty-three languages.  In 1852 she and her husband moved to Andover, Massachusetts, where he was now a professor in the Theological Seminary.  The following year she wrote “A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a large number of documents and testimonies against slavery in defense of the accuracy of the contents o her novel.
 
Frederick Douglass’s first conversation with her occurred in 1853, after he had received an invitation from her to visit her in Andover.  Following a warm greeting she explained the purpose of the invitation.
 
“… I wish to confer with you as to what can be done for the free colored people of the country.  I am going to England and expect to have a considerable sum of money placed in my hands, and I intend to use it in some way for the permanent improvement of the free colored people, and especially for that class which has become free by their own exertions.  … In any event I desire to have some monument rise after Uncle Tom’s Cabin which will show that it produced more than a transient influence.”
 
… The author went on to mention ideas that had been suggested to her, including the establishment of a school (Bontemps 202).
 
Douglass suggested instead a series of workshops in which colored people could learn handicrafts, iron, wood and leather work, while acquiring a simple English education.  “Poverty keeps them ignorant and their ignorance kept them degraded.  We need more to learn how to make a good living than to learn Latin and Greek.”  Mrs. Stowe agreed to propose the idea to friends in England.
 
Douglass sponsored the idea of founding a “work college” for free blacks at the Rochester Colored People’s convention that year and encountered surprising opposition.  Some thought that a system of apprenticeships would be better.  Other said that the venture would be too costly to consider.  Douglass discovered in the months afterward that white abolitionists in general did not support the plan either.  Mrs. Stowe in England received little encouragement.  She gathered a trifle more than five hundred dollars, abandoned the plan, and gave the money eventually to Douglass to use as he saw it to benefit his own people.
 
Mrs. Stowe also made an attempt to stem the malicious gossip about Douglass and Julia Griffiths that the Garrisonian abolitionists in particular had circulated.  She had invited Douglass to her home also to judge the man.  Afterward, in a letter to Garrison, she reported,
 
“I am satisfied that his change of sentiment [his support of political action in attacking slavery] was not a mere political one but a genuine growth of his own conviction.”    Then she continued, warming to the real point, “where is this work of excommunication to end?  Is there but one true anti-slavery church and all others infidels?” … she made no bones about the need for Garrison to stop the gossip about Douglass’s “family concerns” and other allusions “more unjustifiable still.”  She was “utterly surprised” by Garrison’s indulgence in such talk.  … She sternly advised that he make no further contributions to the “controversial literature,” the swirl of malicious letters sailing through the antislavery mail slots: “Silence in this case will be eminently—golden.”  … “What Douglass is really, time will show” (McFeely 178).
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.