Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, became the single most important piece of antislavery literature in American history. The story first appeared as a series of short articles in National Era magazine in 1851. It proved to be extremely popular with Northern readers, and was published in book form in 1852. Uncle Tom's Cabin follows the lives of several black slaves who work for a cruel man named Simon Legree in the South. Through the experiences of Uncle Tom, Eliza, and others, the novel painted a powerful picture of the evils of slavery. It also gave readers a more realistic understanding of slaves. It was one of the first books to portray black characters as human beings with the same desires, dreams, and weaknesses as white people. Uncle Tom's Cabin turned out to be a perfect expression of people's guilt, anger, and disgust at seeing slaves being hunted down in the North under the Fugitive Slave Act.
Readers all across the North were captivated by Uncle Tom's Cabin. The novel sold three hundred thousand copies in the first year following its publication, and went on to sell over two million copies in the next ten years. Stowe's work was so popular that it became the best-selling book ever. More importantly, Uncle Tom's Cabin raised people's awareness of the terrible injustice of slavery. It convinced countless Northerners to join the abolitionist movement. Some historians claim that, by making people in the North less willing to compromise on the issue of slavery, it helped cause the Civil War. In fact, President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865; see entry) once called Stowe "the little lady who wrote the book that made this big war."
Of course, reaction in the Southern states was not so positive. Most people in the South were highly critical of the book. They claimed that Stowe distorted the facts of slavery and exaggerated the punishments that blacks received. "There never before was anything so detestable or so monstrous among women as this," wrote a reviewer for the New Orleans Crescent. Many states tried to ban the book, but Southerners still wanted to read it. In fact, copies sold so fast that bookstores in Charleston, South Carolina, could not keep up with demand. Still, Stowe was extremely unpopular
in the South. She received many obscene or threatening letters, including one that contained a black person's ear.
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