The Real Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been in the news a bit lately, largely thanks to David S. Reynold’s new book. I’m a huge fan of Reynolds, and am looking forward to reading it. Anyways, I found this exchange during my research and thought it was interesting. It takes place at a “Convention of the Colored Citizens of Massachusetts” in 1858. The Dred Scott decision forms the background to the debate, which partly explains the militancy and radicalness of the language. Father Josiah Henson is the real person who Harriet Beecher Stowe based Uncle Tom off.
Mr. Remond moved that a committee of five be appointed to prepare an address suggesting to the slaves at the South to create an insurrection. He said he knew his resolution was in one sense revolutionary, and in another, treasonable, but so he meant it. He doubted whether it would be carried. But he didn’t want to see people shake their heads, as he did see them on the platform, and turn pale, but to rise and talk. He wanted to see the half-way fellows take themselves away, and leave the field to men who would encourage their brethren at the South to rise with bowie-knife and revolver and musket.
Father Henson doubted whether the time had come for the people of Massachusetts to take any such step. As for turning pale, he never turned pale in his life. [Father Henson is a very black man] He didn’t want to fight any more than he believed Remond did. He believed that if the shooting time came, Remond would be found out of the question. As he didn’t want to see three or four thousand men hung before their time, he should oppose any such action, head, neck and shoulder. If such a proposition were carried out, everything would be lost. Remond might talk, and then run away, but what would become of the poor fellows that must stand?…
Mr. Remond expressed himself as quite indifferent whether his motion was carried or not. He was in collusion with no one and he cared nothing if no one supported him. It had been intimated that he would skulk in the time of danger. The men who said so, judged of him by themselves… If he had one hundred relatives at the South, he would rather see them die to-day than to live in bondage. He would rather stand over their graves, than feel that any pale-faced scoundrel might violate his mother or sister in pleasure. He only regretted that he had not a spear with which he could transfix all the slaveholders at once. To the devil with the slaveholders! Give him liberty, or give him death. The insurrection could be accomplished, as quick as thought, and the glorious result would be instantaneously attained.
A vote was taken, and the motion lost. This was by far the most spirited discussion of the Convention
From the Liberator, August 13 1858