Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Debate Between Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany

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Holt, Melissa

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East Carolina University


Martin Delany had different ideas about Uncle Tom's Cabin than did Frederick Douglass. Delany wrote his concerns in a series of letters that were published in Douglass' newspaper. Delany stated that Harriet Beecher Stowe borrowed from Josiah Henson's life. Henson wrote The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, in 1849. Henson felt it was his Christian duty to keep his promise and take the master's slaves to Kentucky by himself. Henson's Christian values were the reason Stowe based Uncle Tom on him. Delany felt that Stowe exhibited racist views and was a colonizationist. Douglass refuted these claims in his paper supporting Stowe. Delany and Douglass differed politically, as well. This is highlighted in their works The Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass, in 1845 and The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, in 1852. In addition, Douglass was an assimilationist while Delany was an emigrationist. Delany used his protagonist Blake as an inspiring figure to represent a fictitious version of himself. Delany in some respects was influenced by Stowe. He used poems by Stowe before each section of his book in the same fashion as she did in Uncle Tom's Cabin. In addition, he used epigraphs of her's before each section of his book and the book is organized the same way, as well. For instance, his protagonist Henry is far from passive like Uncle Tom but the outcome of Blake became more savage. Despite the fact that they clash in many ways, they both have influenced American culture.