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Dangerous Sentiments: Sympathy, Rights, and Revolution in Stowe's Antislavery Novels

Gregg D. Crane
Nineteenth-Century Literature
Vol. 51, No. 2 (Sep., 1996), pp. 176-204
DOI: 10.2307/2933960
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2933960
Page Count: 29
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Dangerous Sentiments: Sympathy, Rights, and Revolution in Stowe's Antislavery Novels
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Abstract

Uncle Tom's Cabin and Dred do not offer sentiment as a nonlegal or antilegal alternative to the law of slavery. Instead, drawing upon the natural rights tradition of Locke, the Scottish Common Sense philosophers, and the founders of the American republic, Stowe's antislavery fiction argues that moral sentiment functions as a necessary barometer of legal legitimacy. In portraying and evoking natural rights sentiments of benevolent sympathy and revolutionary outrage. Stowe attempts to invoke a moral foundation for American law that is immune to factional self-interest and emotionally powerful enough to move Americans to eradicate the legal tyranny of slavery. However, the pluralistic promise of Stowe's notion of sentiment is contained by her inability to fully imagine natural rights as the moral consensus and fundamental entitlement of a racially diverse community, and it is undermined by an unresolved tension in her notion of natural rights sentiment between expiatory sympathy and revolutionary anger.

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