Freedom is a central and complex concept in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Slaves wish to be free, and abolitionists in the novel wish also to free the slaves. But, as St. Clare points out, what is to be done after the abolition of slavery? Is it enough simply to release the slaves, to let them do as they wish?
George Harris argues for the colonization of Liberia by freed slaves. Many thought this a viable option before and after the Civil War. George Shelby eventually frees his father's slaves but allows them to live and work on the family estate for a wage, with the ability to choose to leave. This is an improvement over slavery, but it looks quite a bit like slavery or serfdom, as was the case with sharecropping in the South after the Civil War. Beecher Stowe also asks whether freedom might be possible while still under the yoke of slavery.
Some despairing slaves, like Cassy, believe at first that slavery has taken their souls, their humanity. But Uncle Tom declares that his soul will always remain free, that Legree can do nothing to destroy it. In this sense, Tom remains the master of himself. Conversely, the author implies that slavery can make slaves of its masters. St. Clare believes slavery degrades everyone though he is mostly powerless to stop it; his wife claims her slaves are a plague, even as she thinks she cannot live without them.
To Beecher Stowe, freedom is a spectrum, not an on-off switch between Free and Enslaved. The goal of society is human betterment—the creation of a more Christian country—and in achieving such a country, Beecher Stowe believes, more people will gain the ability to direct their own lives, to live with charity and goodness, to work according to their inclination, and to raise their own families. This deepens freedom for all. But these improvements are possible only in a country itself freed from the scourge of slavery.
Freedom Quotes in Uncle Tom's Cabin
O yes!—a machine for saving work, is it? He’d invent that, I’ll be bound; let a nigger alone for that, any time.
You ought to be ashamed, John! Poor, homeless, houseless creatures! It’s a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I’ll break it, for one, the first time I get a chance . . . .
Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it . . . . But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us.
But you haven’t got us. We don’t own your laws; we don’t own your country; we stand here as free, under God’s sky, as you are; and, by the great God that made us, we’ll fight for our liberty till we die.
On this abstract question of slavery there can, as I think, be but one opinion. Planters, who have money to make by it—clergymen, who have planters to please—politicians, who want to rule by it—may warp and bend language . . . they can press nature and the Bible . . . into their service; but, after all, neither they nor the world believe in it one particle the more.
But, of course, I didn’t want you to confess things you didn’t do . . . that’s telling a lie, just as much as the other.
Now, I’m principled against emancipating, in any case. Keep a Negro under the care of a master, and he does well enough . . . but set them free, and they get lazy, and won’t work, and take to drinking . . . .
Utmost agony, woe, degradation, want, and loss of all things, shall only hasten on the process by which he [the slave] shall be made a king and a priest unto God!
I trust that the development of Africa is to be essentially a Christian one. If not a dominant and commanding race, they are, at least, an affectionate, magnanimous, and forgiving one.
A day of grace is yet held out to us. Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian church has a heavy account to answer . . . .For, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!