Civil conflict draws nearer

At this moment, literary inspiration suddenly lighted up the division in the American household and arraigned with burning emotion and humanity the institution which was threatening the Union. Those who thought that the slavery question would comfortably solve itself reckoned only with politicians and editors. They could not foresee that a single novel would exert a far weightier influence than legislators or the daily press. The poets Whittier, Lowell, Bryant, Emerson, and Longfellow had already expressed their hatred of slavery with powerful effect. However, few people in 1851 thought that a popular work of fiction could be written on the subject. That year, however, a sketch describing the death of a slave named Uncle Tom appeared in National Era, a popular periodical. It aroused so much attention that Harriet Beecher Stowe set herself to furnish in weekly installments the story of Uncle Tom's Cabin which led up to and embodied this scene.

From several points of view the book was almost miraculous. That "Hattie" Beecher, daughter of the famous preacher, Lyman Beecher, possessed literary talent was known only to her husband, and when she sat down to pen Uncle Tom's Cabin, she was almost wholly untrained as a writer. Of moral preparation for her task she had more, and the passage of the fugitive slave bill awakened her to self - expression. The story of the book is one of the more astonishing episodes in the history of letters. When she began writing, she thought of it as a minor sketch, but long before it was finished, it had caused a sensation. It was published in 1852, sold more than 300,000 copies before the end of the year, and eight power presses ran night and day to keep pace with the demand.

Uncle Tom's Cabin did full justice to the many humane and generous slaveholders; the one brutal slave driver, Simon Legree, was of northern origin. But Mrs. Stowe showed how inseparable cruelty was from slavery and how fundamentally irreconcilable were free and slave societies. The rising generation of voters in the north was deeply stirred by it. The book accomplished its purpose not only in America, but in Britain, France, and other lands for it was translated into half the major languages of the world. Everywhere it inspired a mighty enthusiasm for the antislavery cause, appealing as it did to the basic human emotions - indignation and pity for the helpless individual exposed to ruthless cruelty.

From this time on, the slavery question was, in fact, irrepressible. The thin crust which the Compromise of 1850 had laid over the erupting lava was continually cracking. And in 1854, the old issue of slavery in the territories-in this case the vast expanse of Nebraska-was torn open again and the quarrel became more bitter. The radical southerners were determined to scrap the Missouri Compromise which had closed the whole upper Missouri Valley to slavery, but when steps were taken to achieve this, the north roused itself. The region which now comprises the fertile states of Kansas and Nebraska was already attracting settlers, and with a stable government instituted, it promised rapid development. Northerners believed that if the region were organized, settlers would flock in and a railroad could be built through it from Chicago to the Pacific. Under the Missouri Compromise, all this region was closed to slavery. However, dominant slaveholding elements in Missouri objected to letting Kansas, which adjoined her on the west, become a free territory. For Missouri would then have three free neighbors and, yielding to an already strong movement, would probably soon be forced to become a free state herself. For a time, Missourians in Congress, backed by southerners, blocked all efforts to organize the region.