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The Key To Uncle Tom's Cabin, White Trash and Joe Wilson

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A scourge stalks this land. It has been with us since our infancy. It is wretched, horrible and terrifying. It doesn't feel pity, pain or remorse. It will not disappear if we ignore it; it will grow stronger. Unlike Voldemort, naming it does not give it strength. Quite the opposite. Harriet Beecher Stowe knew that.

Armed with her faith in the goodness of Man she looked the American Medusa in the face and lived to tell the tale. When Uncle Tom's Cabin was savagely attacked, her detractors called her depiction of slavery a lie. To rebut these charges, she wrote a second book The Key To Uncle Tom's Cabin. This book examined each of her major characters and documented real life examples for all of them.

The title of Part III, Chapter X popularized a term she did not invent. The title of that chapter is "Poor White Trash" and its as politically relevant today as it was when Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote it in 1854.

Ever charitable, ever striving for the best among us, Stowe wanted to believe we could aim higher and be that shining city on the hill Washington imagined before her and Reagan invoked after her.

WHEN the public sentiment of Europe speaks in tones of indignation of the system of American slavery... The apologists of slavery have pointed England to her own poor...It is a poor defence for America to say to older countries, "We are no worse than you are." She ought to be infinitely better.

But she also had the courage and compassion to see things as they were and admit we had done considerably worse. Any doctor worth their salt knows you can't cure what you can't name. In her quest to cure this nation of a malady that had plagued it since infancy and threatened to kill it outright, Stowe knew she had to name the beast so we could see its true face. There was nothing pleasant in this task, but she found the courage to look evil in the face and strip it bare of all artifice so she could apply the balm of Gilead. Stripping away the mask and forcing us to see it in all its nakedness was the only way to address it. How did this pestilence take root?

The way that it is done can be made apparent in a few words.
1. The distribution of the land into large plantations, and the consequent sparseness of settlement, make any system of common school education impracticable.
2. The same cause operates with regard to the preaching of the Gospel.
3. The degradation of the idea of labor, which results inevitably from enslaving the working class, operates to a great extent in preventing respectable working men of the middling classes from settling or remaining in slave States.

Ever compassionate, Stowe knows men are not born wicked and cruel. Who among us has ever looked at a baby and called it wicked, mean or cruel? Those traits come later. Sometimes they are the only way to survive when you are thrown into desperate straits. Her description of contemporary conditions sounds familiar even today, and for good reason. Slavery is gone, but the oppression continues under color of authority with full support of the law. The anecdotes she relates are heart rending. And now comes the truly terrible part. What makes the next passage so terrible is its familiarity. You don't need to go back to 1854 to see it. You don't need to back to 1954 to see it. You only need to back to August and you will recognize it immediately.

This miserable class of whites form, in all the Southern States, a material for the most horrible and ferocious of mobs. Utterly ignorant, and inconceivably brutal, they are like some blind, savage monster, which, when aroused, tramples heedlessly over everything in its way.

Singular as it may appear, though slavery is the cause of the misery and degradation of this class, yet they are the most vehement and ferocious advocates of slavery.

The reason is this: They feel the scorn of the upper classes, and their only means of consolation is in having a class below them, whom they may scorn in turn. To set the negro at liberty would deprive them of this last comfort; and accordingly no class of men advocate slavery with such frantic and unreasoning violence, or hate abolitionists with such demoniac hatred.


These are the teabaggers, the deathers, the tenthers, the birthers, and the toters of today. They are the people who compare the president and his family to monkeys and apes. These are the people who attack their children with vile spiteful language designed only to hurt them. These are the people who scream "I want my country back!"

We know these faces. We see them on FOX all the time. And that is no accident. That is not a surprise. These misguided and terrified mobs are merely pawns. They are just the foot soldiers for much more dangerous men, enemies of democracy, freedom and decency. Men with money and power and all the trappings of social grace. Men who do the dirtiest of work without damaging their manicured hands.

The leaders of the community, those men who play on other men with as little care for them as a harper plays on a harp, keep this blind furious monster of the MOB, very much as an overseer keeps plantation-dogs, as creatures to be set on to any man or thing whom they may choose to have put down.

That strategy has not changed one bit. Only now the mobs enter your house through your television set. As I wrote earlier in the week, Van Jones was just the latest victim of this mob mentality. His crime? Like Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird, this black man had the temerity to feel sorry for the children people spit on, the kids dismissed as "white trash." That was unforgivable.

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For starters, I am not the Henry Porter who writes for the Observer in Britain. I'm a native New Yorker living in Maryland. I used to believe knowledge was power. Now I know knowledge translated into action is power.
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Though I was prepared to trash your article after ... by Walter Barton on Monday, Sep 14, 2009 at 7:09:35 PM
I believe it is impossible to confront this uglin... by Henry Porter on Monday, Sep 14, 2009 at 7:32:28 PM
The random cries of racism are getting completely ... by Gallaher on Monday, Sep 14, 2009 at 10:40:18 PM
Bill O'Reilly: "I don't want to go on a lynching p... by Henry Porter on Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009 at 3:09:05 AM
Joe Bageant defines "Left-necks" as " Gun-owning p... by sesquiculus on Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009 at 12:20:02 PM
The American historian, Roger Lane, used to explai... by Henry Porter on Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 at 12:41:07 AM
My point is that alleged dumb east Texas "Whitetra... by sesquiculus on Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 at 2:53:13 PM
1. The Republicans were able to repeal glass-seagl... by sesquiculus on Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 at 4:02:28 PM
Anytime someone disagrees with Obama, out comes th... by monster khaos on Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009 at 4:31:20 PM
Yes, Whitman did have a tumor. But that did not ... by Henry Porter on Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 at 12:55:49 AM
Whitman's murderous spree happened during Texas de... by sesquiculus on Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 at 2:11:31 PM
HE APOLIGIZED AND HE DIDN'T HAVE TO BECAUSE OBAMA ... by Knicknack on Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009 at 9:41:17 PM
There are things this president does that I disagr... by Henry Porter on Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 at 1:23:59 AM
To say that Congressman Wilson apologized to the P... by Walter Barton on Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 at 6:48:29 AM
At this point, the only honorable thing left for W... by Henry Porter on Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 at 10:52:42 AM
Honor is not one of the Republican strong points. ... by Walter Barton on Thursday, Sep 17, 2009 at 4:01:30 PM
falsely there are people with in ACORN that are co... by Hillbilly on Friday, Sep 18, 2009 at 11:19:28 AM
I submit that we should all come out whenever the ... by Pulladigm on Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009 at 10:09:11 PM
to their shenanigans, but to be effective I think ... by Henry Porter on Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 at 1:27:29 AM