Re-Thinking Uncle Tom: The Political Philosophy of H.B. Stowe

William B. Allen, Michigan State University
January 24, 2009


Session 1
(83:46 minutes)
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Session 2
(90:40 minutes)
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Generally critics and interpreters of Uncle Tom have constructed a one-way view of Uncle Tom, albeit offering a few kind words for Uncle Tom along the way. Recovering Uncle Tom requires re-telling his story. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s oeuvre, in partnership with that of her husband Calvin, constitutes a demonstration of the permanent necessity of moral and prudential judgment in human affairs. Moreover, it identifies the political conditions that can best guarantee conditions of decency. Her two disciplines—philosophy and poetry—illuminate the founding principles of the American republic and remedy defects in their realization that were evident in mid-nineteenth century. While slavery is not the only defect, its persistence and expansion indicate the overall shortcomings. In four of her chief works (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands, Dred, and Oldtown Folks), Stowe teaches not only how to eliminate the defect of slavery, but also how to realize and maintain a regime founded on the basis of natural rights and Christianity. Further, she identifies the proper vehicle for educating citizens so they might reliably be ruled by decent public opinion.

William B. Allen, is Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, and 2008-09 Visiting Senior Scholar in the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University. He also served previously on the National Council for the Humanities and as Chairman and Member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He was recently the Ann & Herbert W. Vaughan Visiting Fellow in the James Madison Program on American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is an expert on liberal arts education, its history, importance and problems. He is also Chairman and co-founder of Toward A Fair Michigan, whose mission was to further understanding of the equal opportunity issues involved in guaranteeing civil rights for all citizens, and to provide a civic forum for a fair and open exchange of views on the question of affirmative action.

He has published extensively, most notably, George Washington: A Collection (Liberty Press). In 2008 appeared George Washington: America’s First Progressive (Peter Lang, Inc.), and The Personal and the Political: Three Fables by Montesquieu (UPA). In 2009 Re-Thinking Uncle Tom: The Political Philosophy of H. B. Stowe appeared. He previously published Habits of Mind: Fostering Access and Excellence in Higher Education (with Carol M. Allen; Transaction), The Essential Antifederalist (with Gordon Lloyd, Rowman & Littlefield) and The Federalist Papers: A Commentary (Peter Lang, Inc.). He served previously on the National Council for the Humanities and as Chairman and Member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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