“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; and I hope I shall have a chance, I do! Things have got to a pretty pass, if a woman can’t give a warm supper and a bed to poor, starving creatures, just because they are slaves, and have been abused and oppressed all their lives, poor things!” “But, Mary, just listen to me. Your feelings are all quite right, dear . . . but, then, dear, we mustn’t suffer our feelings to run away with our judgment; you must consider it’s not a matter of private feeling,—there are great public interests involved,—there is a state of public agitation rising, that we must put aside our private feelings.” “Now, John, I don’t know anything about politics, but I can read my Bible; and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate; and that Bible I mean to follow.”

This exchange occurs in Chapter IX, between Senator Bird and his wife, just before Eliza arrives at their doorstep. The quote crystallizes some of the main themes of the novel, condemning slavery as contrary to Christianity and portraying a woman as more morally trustworthy than her male counterpart. More specifically, this passage bears witness to Stowe’s attack on a common claim of her time—that slavery, and laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act, should be tolerated in the interest of greater public interest or civic order. Arguing against a law that basically paraphrases the historical Fugitive Slave Act, Mrs. Bird routs Senator Bird by insisting that she will follow her conscience and her Bible rather than an immoral law. She thus asserts that inner conscience should take precedence over law as a guide to virtue. This idea receives reiteration throughout Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In Chapter XLV, Stowe writes, “There is only one thing that every individual can do—they can see to it that they feel right.”