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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
America in 1850
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: America 1850
Text 1. John C. Calhoun
Text 2. Daniel Webster
Text 3. William Henry Seward
Text 4. Henry Clay
Text 5. Henry David Thoreau
Text 6. Harriet Beecher Stowe
» Reading Guide
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Text 7. Frederick Douglass

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
6.  Harriet Beecher Stowe, "The Two Altars, or Two Pictures in One," 1851

This story appeared just as Uncle Tom's Cabin was beginning its serialization. As she did in the novel, Stowe puts flesh on the abstractions of the statesmen's debate and infuses them with emotion. Written in response to the Fugitive Slave Law, the story—simple, obvious, and sentimental—consists of two parallel parts, "The Altar of Liberty, or 1776" and "The Altar of _______, or 1850." In both officials of the state interrupt a family's snug domestic routine on a chilly night. In the contrast between the two intrusions Stowe suggests the distance the country has traveled from 1776 to 1850. In a sense this story dramatizes all the readings of this Topic. Could also be included in a discussion on the culture of domesticity. Could be used with students. 22 pages (wide margins).

Discussion questions
  ·  Who is Stowe criticizing in this story?
  ·  How do you account for the ambiguity of the setting of the slave auction scene?
  ·  Is the story good propaganda? If so, why?
  ·  What is Stowe suggesting with the blank in the title of the story's second part?
  ·  How does she use children in the story?
  ·  How do home and family function in the story?
  ·  In the second part, why did Stowe make Henry's wife a mulatto?
  ·  How are women portrayed?
  ·  How would this story affect Northern readers, Southern readers?
  ·  In what sense is this story a dramatization of all the readings in this Topic?

Reading highlights
  ·  Note the careful accumulation of detail with which Stowe infuses each setting with meaning.
  ·  Note how Stowe alludes to America's Puritan past in the first part of the story.

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Topic Framing Questions
From the perspective of an American in 1850, either Northern or Southern (remember, you don't know what's going to happen over the next 15 years):
  ·  How volatile is America in 1850?
  ·  What holds the nation together? What is pulling it apart?
  ·  How serious is the Southern threat to leave the Union?
  ·  Is the Compromise of 1850 a triumph of nationalism or sectionalism?
  ·  Will the Union survive?

Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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Revised: January 2002