In response to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe began writing a novel intended to reveal slavery as “the essence of all abuse.” The result was Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. The groundbreaking bestseller so altered attitudes toward slavery that it has been described as “one of the most successful feats of persuasion in American history.” First serialized in the National Era newspaper, Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in book form in 1852 and sold more than three hundred thousand copies during its first year in print. An international success, it contributed to the abolition of serfdom in Russia following publication there in 1857 and fueled Britain’s refusal to recognize the Confederacy during the Civil War.
In 1853, a Manhattan theater owner mounted a stage production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Capitalizing on public fascination with Stowe, he commissioned this portrait for display in his theater.