June 12, 1851

Click on the image for a larger/readable version of the National Era

 Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT

Textual Transcription of Chapter 3:

Chapter III.—The Husband and Father.

Mrs. Shelby had gone on her visit, and Eliza stood in the verandah, rather dejectedly looking after the retreating carriage, when a hand was laid on her shoulder. She turned, and a bright smile lighted up her fine eyes.

“George! is it you? How you frightened me! Well, I’m so glad you’s come; missis is gone to spend the afternoon, so come into my little room, and we’ll have the time all to ourselves.”

Saying this, she drew him into a neat little apartment opening on the verandah, where she generally sat at her sewing, within call of her mistress.

“How glad I am! why don’t you smile? and look at Harry—how he grows.” The boy stood shyly regarding his father through his curls, holding close to the skirts of his mother’s dress. “Isn’t he beautiful?” said Eliza, lifting his long curls and kissing him.

“I wish he’d never been born,” said George, bitterly. “I wish I’d never been born myself!”

Surprised and frightened, Eliza sat down, leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder, and burst into tears.

“There now, Eliza, it’s too bad for me to make you feel so, poor girl,” said he, fondly, “it’s too bad. Oh, how I wish you never had seen me—you might have been happy!”

“George! George! how can you talk so—what dreadful thing has happened, or is going to happen? I’m sure we’ve been very happy till lately.”

“So we have, dear,” said George. Then drawing his child on his knee, he gazed intently on his glorious dark eyes, and passed his hands through his long curls.

“Just like you, Eliza, and you are the handsomest woman I ever saw, and the best one I ever wish to see; but oh, I wish I’d never seen you, nor you me!”

“Oh, George! how can you!”

“Yes, Eliza, it’s all misery! misery! misery! My life is bitter as wormwood—the very life is burning out of me. I’m a poor, miserable, forlorn drudge; I shall only drag you down with me, that’s all. What’s the use of our trying to do anything, trying to know anything, trying to be anything? What’s the use of living? I wish I was dead!”

“Oh, now, dear George, that is really wicked. I know how you feel about losing your place in the factory, and you have a hard master, but pray be patient, and perhaps something”——

“Patient!” said he, interrupting her, “haven’t I been patient? Did I say a word when he came and took me away, for no earthly reason, from the place where everybody was kind to me? I’d paid him truly every cent of my earnings—and they all say I worked well.”

“Well, it is dreadful,” said Eliza; “but, after all, he is your master, you know!”

“My master! and who made him my master? That’s what I think of—what right has he to me? I’m a man as much as he is—I’m a better man than he is—I know more about business than he does—I’m a better manager than he is—I can read better than he can—I can write a better hand, and I’ve learned it all myself, and no thanks to him—I’ve learned it in spite of him—and now what right has he to make a dray-horse of me—to take me from things I can do, and do better than he can, and put me to work that any horse can do? He tries to do it—he says he’ll bring me down and humble me—and he puts me to just the hardest, meanest, and dirtiest work, on purpose!”

“Oh, George! George! you frighten me! Why, I never heard you talk so—I’m afraid you’ll do something dreadful. I don’t wonder at your feelings at all; but oh, do be careful—do, do—for my sake, for Harry’s!”

[Continue reading the full text of Chapter 3 here]

Commentary by W.B. Allen

Professor of Political Philosophy at Michigan State University

To understand the chapter in which George Harris’s drama is shaped with reference to his character, one must set it against his initial introduction in chapter two, which presents the question of matriarchy. Appropriately, Stowe’s second chapter is entitled, “The Mother.” In this chapter we discover the ground and manner of the matriarchal pattern, but Stowe does not render her judgment of its capacity to mitigate the excesses of slavery until three chapters later. Shelby’s slaves had come to assume participation in a form of citizenship—let us call it partial citizenship—under Mrs. Shelby’s guidance.[1]  The purpose of the consideration of matriarchy is to judge how far the slaves can come to really enjoy citizenship. And it is further to reveal the consequences to the slaves themselves of accepting partial citizenship.[2]

We saw in chapter one that Shelby’s highest praise for his slaves was based on the influence of Mrs. Shelby’s moral guidance. Mrs. Shelby raised her slaves as if they were her own children—at least Eliza. And this included the effort to bring them to “maturity” unharmed by the ordinary dangers and temptations of human life. In chapter three Eliza reveals that Mrs. Shelby’s method in part relied on the inculcation of Christian precept and her determination to “make the condition of mine [slaves] better than freedom.”[3]  She regards the selling of Tom as “tearing him from all we have taught him to love and value.” These virtues include the “duties of the family, of parent and child, and husband and wife.” The very attempt to induce moral sensibility creates reciprocally binding moral ties. This is at least problematic in the case of Tom, who was already eight years old at the time Mr. Shelby was born and perhaps as old as twenty-eight by the time Emily became Mrs. Shelby.[4] It is important, therefore, to consider the characters and circumstances of the slaves independently of her account.

In listing the moral characteristics she sought to induce, Emily notably omitted any reference to political duties (although she does call Tom a “noble-hearted soul”). This is perhaps consistent with the Christian perspective from which she speaks. It is also consistent with the conception of partial citizenship. And when we learn from the slaves themselves what is the tendency of their morality, it is clear that the “condition better than freedom” is one from which the onerous burdens of civic duties have been lifted.

[1] Stowe included extensive direct application of Tocqueville’s discussion of this theme in the chapter, “Domestic Manners,” of her last work, American Women’s Home, co-authored with her sister, Catharine Beecher Stowe.

[2] Stowe’s belief in the vital role women played in educating the young is widely acknowledged in the literature. See for example Loebel (“…the source of national and social repair is to be found in the nature of women. Women’s ability to love, and their role as the educators of the family in the home, can convert male brutality and lift the fallen.”) and Sawaya (“In Stowe’s and [Catharine] Beecher’s eyes, women have extraordinary power to control the fate of the nation because of their ability to control the home environment of the child.”) Loebel, “Legal Fictions,” p. 367. Frances Josephine Sawaya, “The Home Front: Domestic Nationalism and Regional Women’s Writing” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1992), p. 19. I also discuss this role for women in my article, “The Manners of Liberalism” (“The question [for Stowe] was not whether women would be the subordinate enforcers of traditional manners; it was rather whether the decisive form or content of the manners of liberalism would be the responsibility of women as, in other ages, it had been the care of aristocracy.” William B. Allen, “The Manners of Liberalism: A Question of Limits,” Improving College and University Teaching 30, no. 4 (1982): 167. Kimball echoes this comment: “Women replaced the influence of aristocracy…” Kimball, The Religious Ideas of Harriet Beecher Stowe, p. 77.

[3] Brown accurately perceives the limits of a slavery grounded in matriarchy; however, she somehow overlooks Stowe’s firm dismissal of this alternative. “Stowe replaces the master-slave relationship with the benign proprietorship of mother-child, transferring ownership of slaves to the mothers of America… In Stowe’s matriarchal society, slaves are synonymous with children because they lack title to themselves and need abolitionist guardianship… Uncle Tom wants not emancipation but this protective ownership: ‘the Lord’s bought me and is going to take me home… Heaven is better than Kintuck.’ By imitating God’s parental economy, mothers approximate heaven in their home.” Brown, Domestic Individualism, p. 32. Saunders likewise misses Stowe’s dramatic commentary on the vision articulated by Mrs. Shelby: “…Stowe places the argument that the slaves are unable to conduct their lives independently of their masters… in the mouth of a sympathetic southern character [Mrs. Shelby], then lets it pass without comment.” Saunders, “Houses Divided,” p. 418.

[4] In a dissertation that, overall, distorts Stowe’s message about patriarchal and matriarchal aspects of slavery, Saunders, nonetheless, accurately notes that “Even in his spiritual life, [Tom] is surprisingly independent of Mrs. Shelby’s ministrations.” Saunders, “Houses Divided,” p. 5.

[Continue reading the full text of W.B. Allen’s commentary here.]


How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1851, here!

3 responses to “June 12, 1851

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