by Al Maxey

Issue #539 ------- July 13, 2012
The longest day must have its close; the gloomiest
night will wear on to a morning. An eternal,
inexorable lapse of moments is ever hurrying
the day of the evil to an eternal night, and
the night of the just to an eternal day.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" [chp. 40]

Life Among The Lowly
Harriet Beecher Stowe and her
Classic Novel: Uncle Tom's Cabin

On January 1, 1863, as a new year dawned in a very troubled nation, President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) issued The Emancipation Proclamation in which it was declared that "all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, shall be forever free." That proclamation was a long time coming, and not without a tremendous amount of suffering, heartache and bloodshed. Nor would the goal of emancipation be quickly realized, as a divided nation struggled with the concept of freedom for all. Even Lincoln himself struggled with the matter, indicating his primary concern was for saving the nation rather than saving slaves. In a letter to Horace Greeley dated August 22, 1862, Lincoln wrote, "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that." Nevertheless, he emphasized in that same letter, "I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free." The noted historian Dr. Samuel Eliot Morison (who was a professor at Harvard, and also a retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy) observed, "The freedmen were not really free in 1865, nor are most of their descendants really free in 1965. Slavery was but one aspect of a race and color problem that is still far from a solution here, or anywhere. In America particularly, the grapes of wrath have not yet yielded all their bitter vintage" [The Oxford History of the American People]. The harsh reality of history is that freedom, though cherished by all, is rarely achieved without great sacrifice, and is rarely achieved quickly. Tyrants never cease their tyranny without a fight, and that conflict may at times last for many generations. Yet, freedom is never won, either individually or for a people, unless a few brave souls are willing to stand boldly before the masses, at great personal risk, and call for change. One such heroine was a determined "little lady," standing not even five feet tall, who declared, "I must speak for the oppressed, who cannot speak for themselves." Her name was Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Harriet Elisabeth Beecher, known to her family and friends as "Hattie," was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut to a very powerful and religiously strict family. Her father was Lyman Beecher (1775-1863), a noted Congregationalist pastor who was a staunch Calvinist and a fiery and controversial preacher and religious activist. His remark at the birth of Harriet was, "Wisht it had been a boy!" He had plenty of sons, however. Harriet was the seventh of about a dozen children (seven of whom were sons -- and all became ministers, following in the footsteps of their father). Harriet's mother was Roxana Foote Beecher (1775-1816), who died shortly before Harriet turned five years old. She was named for her mother's sister, Harriet Foote, who had a great impact upon her upbringing and appreciation for culture. Her uncle, Samuel Foote (a retired sea captain), strongly encouraged her to read the great literary classics, thus implanting within her a love of literature. Harriet's older sister Catharine was one of the pioneers of women's education (and also took over helping raise the kids after her mother's death), and her younger step-sister Isabella was the founder of the National Women's Suffrage Association. These were all children who were raised to be socially conscious and to strive to make a difference in the world around them. Harriet's father would remarry a couple of years later: her name was Harriet Porter Beecher (1800-1835), although she also did not live a long life. The above mentioned Isabella was her daughter.

Young Harriet attended for five years at Ma'am Kilbourn's school, and then was enrolled in the Litchfield Academy. During her years there, while still a preteen, she won an award (for which her father highly praised her) for an essay titled "Can the Immortality of the Soul be Proved by the Light of Nature?" I know of graduate students who would have a difficult time with that topic!! It was becoming obvious very early that Harriet was a gifted writer as well as a deep thinker. Her sister Catharine founded a school for girls in Hartford, CT -- Hartford Female Seminary -- and Harriet was soon enrolled there. Here she learned several languages, as well as receiving advanced training in mathematics, logic, ethics, composition, and the sciences (courses normally reserved for males). Just a few years later, while still in her teens, in recognition of her great skills and abilities, she was put on as an assistant teacher at this school.

In 1832, her father, Lyman Beecher, was chosen to become the president of Lane Theological Seminary, so the entire family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Catharine and Harriet wasted no time in establishing a new school for girls -- the Western Female Institute. Harriet became one of the teachers, and she and her sister co-wrote the geography textbook for the school. In 1834 she won a writing contest in Western Monthly Magazine and soon became a regular contributor to this publication, which, in effect, launched her literary career. Around this time she became interested in the slavery issue, and made trips into neighboring Kentucky (which was a slave state) to visit plantations and witness firsthand the conditions of the slaves. She also was able to find and interview a number of escaped slaves in Ohio, and was becoming increasingly involved with some of the anti-slavery activists and organizations in her area.

While in Cincinnati, Harriet became friends with the wife (Eliza Stowe) of one of the professors (Calvin Ellis Stowe) at her father's seminary. Sadly, Eliza died, and in the course of time Harriet and Calvin, a professor of biblical theology, developed a relationship with one another. They were married in 1836. Harriet described this man as "rich in Greek and Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, but, alas!, rich in nothing else." They weren't rich, but they had each other. The next year, 1837, Harriet gave birth to twin daughters. In the next 15 years, she and Calvin would have six more children together. In 1850, Calvin Stowe was offered a position as a professor at Bowdoin College, so they moved to Brunswick, Maine. That same year, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law which basically made it a crime to render any aid to runaway slaves, and also placed a bounty on such slaves (which provided an incentive for people to begin rounding up and turning in blacks, whether they were runaways or not). It was a horrendous law that led to unconscionable abuse, and it struck a raw nerve in Harriet Stowe. In 1851, their 18-month-old son, Samuel Charles Stowe, died of cholera. Harriet would later credit this loss as one of the motivating events behind the writing of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," stating that it helped her to perceive some of the pain that the slaves must have felt when their children were taken from them suddenly and sold off. About that same time, during a Communion service at the college, she had a vision in which she saw the abuse and ultimate death of a male slave. All of this brought Harriet's rage against slavery to a head, and she even chose to disobey her nation's new law by hiding runaway slaves in her house as they sought to make it to Canada and freedom. At one point she shared her fury and frustration with Isabella, who said, "If I could use a pen as you can, Hattie, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is." She swore that if God allowed her to live, she would do just that! And she did! This fearless little lady would later write, "Perhaps it is impossible for a person who does no good to do no harm." By doing nothing, she was convinced that she would be aiding the very evil she deplored. Thus, she did what she could with the abilities God gave her. She wrote!!

On March 9, 1850, in anger over the direction her country was taking with respect to slavery and the plight of those in bondage, she wrote a letter to Gamaliel Bailey, who was the editor of the weekly antislavery publication "National Era," stating that she planned to write a series of stories about the evils of slavery. In that letter she said, "I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak. I hope every woman who can write will not be silent." On June 5, 1851 the "National Era" began publishing these stories as a weekly series, which ran through April 1, 1852. The response to them was so overwhelming that they were collected and worked into a book, which was published on March 20, 1852 in a two-volume set known as "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (with a subtitle of "Life Among The Lowly"). It sold 10,000 copies in the first week alone, and 325,000 that first year! This book caused a furor across the nation, with the largest uproar coming from the South. The papers in several states attacked Harriet without mercy, stating she had grossly misrepresented the condition of those held in slavery. They accused her of lying. The critics were so numerous that in 1853 she published "A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin" in which she sought to document the various assertions in her novel, showing the basis in fact of the various events she related in her stories of slaves and their owners. The fame of this small-statured lady and her powerful work went international. She came to the attention of such persons as George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Dickens, Lord Byron and Lady Byron, all of whom she became close friends with. She also met with Queen Victoria in a trip to England in 1856. Even Leo Tolstoy praised her work and used it in his own work against oppression in czarist Russia. Harriet's second work on this topic was "Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp," which was published in 1856, and which told the story of an attempt at rebellion by the slaves. This too created an uproar throughout the states, especially in the South.

About the time the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin" came out, Calvin Stowe was offered a position at Andover Theological Seminary (from which he had graduated in 1829), and so the entire family moved to Massachusetts. Over the next decade her work continued to stir the hearts and minds of the nation. Many were infuriated with her, but many also began to realize that slavery was truly an evil with which the nation at some point must deal responsibly and firmly. Some have even credited her work with being one of the many factors that ultimately led to the War Between the States (the so-called "Civil War"). In fact, shortly after the war began, Harriet made a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Abraham Lincoln. When they met at the White House on November 25, 1862, it is reported that Lincoln said to her, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war." In a letter she wrote to her husband afterward, she said, "I had a real funny interview with the President."

Harriet Beecher Stowe never had any intention of helping to start a war, but she did intend to wage war against the heartlessness of a nation that was turning a blind eye to the evils of slavery, and she waged that war effectively. Slavery was a SIN, she declared, not only against God, but against our fellow human beings. The nation should be ashamed of itself, and she intended to hold that shame before their faces until they felt it, and blushed from it, and repented of it. It was her conviction that this book came more from God than herself. She once stated, "I could not control the story, the Lord Himself wrote it. I was but an instrument in His hands, and to Him should be given all the praise." In the Introduction to the 1879 edition, Harriet wrote, "I did not write it. God wrote it. I merely did His dictation." In a letter to Lord Denman dated January 20, 1853, she wrote, "I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, and because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity, and because as a lover of my country I trembled at the coming day of wrath." Her son Charles Stowe, in the biography of his mother which came out in 1889, wrote, "'Uncle Tom's Cabin' came from the heart rather than the head. It was an outburst of deep feeling, a cry in the darkness. The writer no more thought of style or literary excellence than the mother who rushes into the street and cries for help to save her children from a burning house thinks of the teachings of the rhetorician or the elocutionist" [The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe]. Harriet was often criticized for the "sentimentality and religiosity of her story." They ridiculed her book as more of a sermon than a serious literary effort. Her intent was never to write a literary masterpiece, however, but to call a nation to repentance for its sins! The fact that it helped accomplish the latter made it a masterpiece!

When Calvin Stowe retired from his work as a professor in the year 1863, the family decided to move to Hartford, Connecticut. While here, she helped found the Hartford Art School (Harriet was also a painter), which later would become a part of the University of Hartford. Harriet continued with her writing, and produced a good many books, none of which, however, came close to the power and influence of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." It has been translated into scores of languages and has impacted people throughout the world. Although she accomplished a great many other things in her life, she will be remembered most for this epic novel of "Life Among the Lowly." In 1881, her 70th birthday was honored nationally by a reunited nation who was finally beginning to realize the depth of her contribution to the exposure of the nation's sin of slavery (although they were still far from the healing she sought). As they grew older, the Stowes chose to spend their winters in Florida, where they had a large home and a cotton plantation. Her son Frederick managed the place for them, and they employed freed slaves as the workers, paying them a good wage so they could begin a good life as free men and women. She also helped her son Charles write her biography, which was published in 1889, although her health began to fail during this time. Calvin Stowe died in 1886, and Harriet became bedridden not too many years later, remaining in that condition for a number of years. She passed from this life on July 1, 1896 in Hartford, Connecticut and is buried in the cemetery at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. May she rest in peace until that day she is called home at the return of our Redeemer.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Georgia:

Al, I am amazed at your ability to respond so quickly to my emails. I am sure that you probably treat others the same way. With all that you do, it is truly impressive and appreciated. Carl Ketcherside would always respond via "snail mail" just a few days after receiving my letters. He would always send a neat little typed note. As a young preacher it was more than enough to encourage me. God bless you!

From an Elder in Texas:

I really enjoy reading your Reflections each week! I share your passion for moving from a legalistic/judgmental environment to a grace-oriented, loving-outreach congregation. I'm also glad to be one of your friends on Facebook. May God bless your ministry!

From a Minister in Oklahoma:

I have been writing a series of posts on my blog site -- Spiritual (Re)Formation -- about how the conservatives in our tradition feel the need to "Silence the Voice of Dissent." Since you have been on the front end of that stick for a long time (as they seek to silence you), I thought you might find these posts interesting. Thank you for your work in helping our tribe to think more deeply (and hopefully more clearly) about who God wants us to become as disciples and as a movement.

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Al, would you please send me the following: an autographed copy of your new book Immersed By One Spirit, your 2010 and 2011 Reflections CDs, your 2010 and 2011 MP3 Audio Sermons CDs, and the accompanying PowerPoint Sermons CDs for each year, and lastly your two CD set containing your MP3 audio classes on 1st and 2nd Peter: Encouragement for the End Times. Please find enclosed a check to cover the cost of all these items. Al, thank you for all your good work and great studies! I praise God for your reasoning capacity. I am a long time subscriber to your Reflections and an avid reader of your work. I will not stop if you won't!!

From a Reader in Michigan:

"Judaism's Three Dead Patriarchs" (Reflections #538) was a great article, and one sure to make some people very uncomfortable. I have long believed in conditional immortality and "soul sleep" since first reading Edward Fudge's The Fire That Consumes back in the late 1980's.

From a Reader in Texas:

Something of great importance in the verses that record Jesus' answer to those who challenged Him is often overlooked, and thus a very important point is missed. Notice this part of His response to the Sadducees, "But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection" (Luke 20:35-36, NIV). IF someone is NOT considered worthy to take part in the age to come, then they are nowhere to be found. You and I both know that they have been destroyed, zapped out of existence -- whether by few stripes or many based on their degree of wickedness in this life. Have a blessed week, brother.

From an Elder in Florida:

Al, I wanted to send a brief (and belated) response to the elder in Oklahoma who is interested in knowing how other elders anoint with oil. First, the shepherds at the Church of Christ in -------, Florida pray over and anoint them if they desire, but we don't actively solicit them to allow us to do so. That, in our opinion, is a very personal decision. We pray over and anoint a brother or sister probably three or four times a year, usually when someone has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease. We have prayed and anointed between or after services, during home groups, or at another time. If there are others present, we extend them an invitation to gather around and support their brother or sister. It usually turns out to be a very emotional and intimate setting. There is a reading of Scripture (Philp. 4:4-7 and James 5 are two I like) followed by a few comments. Then the prayer and anointing. We simply use olive oil and each shepherd will rub the oil on the forehead or cheek, and then each of the shepherds will pray.

To be honest, I had never given much thought to this practice until I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2006. A friend who was serving as a shepherd at the time told me the shepherds would pray over and anoint me with oil if I desired. I considered the offer and accepted. I was prayed over and anointed the night before I began chemo and radiation treatments. That was probably one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Almost as humbling, if not more so, is being asked to pray over and anoint someone else. I know the extreme emotional turmoil that is almost certainly being experienced. That I can be part of something so serious and perhaps consequential is very sobering. As significant as the role of the elder is the role of the one who is being prayed over and anointed. It is something that is not participated in lightly. It is also, I believe, both an admission and display of deep faith that this person is placing their situation and the outcome in the hands of God and those He will use to effect the outcome. The chatter and chaff are removed and the focus is totally on God and His power to heal. It is a very stark moment in the life of one of God's children. Bro. Al, I appreciate your Reflections tremendously! God bless you in your work!

Special Appeal From China -- One of my Facebook friends, and also a longtime subscriber to my Reflections, is an American living in China (he and his wife have been there several years). He is not there as a missionary, but they are instead engaged in secular work among the Chinese people. They are building close relationships with the Chinese, however, and using this as a way to share their Christian faith (something frowned upon by the Chinese government, thus the need to protect their identity in this appeal). This couple is very grace-centered and Christ-focused. They came from a rather conservative Church of Christ background, "but we have moved doctrinally away from legalism!" They have been partially supported in their work in China by a few very conservative congregations, but that support may now be in jeopardy because of their rejection of legalistic patternism, and their determination to share God's grace and promote freedom in Christ to their friends in China. If any of you, either individuals or congregations, might be interested in helping out this young couple, even with just a small amount, it would certainly help them. Just let me know, and I will put you in contact with them so you can discuss this with them personally and learn more about their work.

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