True freedom of thought is being able to observe, ponder, and draw one’s own conclusions unaffected from other situations, whether what one thinks is aligned with the law of the land or not. Such unrestrained thinking was especially hard to apply for people during the time of Harriet Beecher Stowe, when the slavery issue prevalent in America. Then there is freedom of action—the ability to act and do whatever one desires. These two elements of freedom are interconnected, as freedom of thought influences the how an individual uses his/her freedom of action, and also vice-versa, as one’s past experiences also help shape one’s thought. By looking at the character of Augustine St. Clare in Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, we will be able to see that even though restricted freedom of thought consequently leads to more confined actions, a drastic event can change both the freedom of thought and freedom of actions of a person.
Augustine St. Clare is an intelligent gentleman from a wealthy background, who is able to see the evils of slavery, but tries to ignore and block such thoughts. Such restrictions of his own freedom of thought was caused by St. Clare’s past experiences of his mother’s early death and his failed first romance, after which he started closing up emotionally and morally to some extent. Although Mr. St. Clare does not become a ruthless slave owner who beats slaves, he avoids thoughts on the slavery issue, so that he won’t feel compelled to support the abolitionists. Moreover, Mr. St. Clare chooses not to get involved in Christianity because he has an “instinctive view of the extent of the requirements of Christianity… from what he felt would be the exactions of his own conscience, if he once did resolve to assume them.” (Stowe, P. 347)
Deep down, St. Clare knows that Christianity holds compelling truths, which point at how slavery is wrong; however, he is afraid of what he will have to sacrifice if he took action against slavery, so he rationalizes against his free thoughts, constricting them, and does not free his slaves. Harriet Stowe used Mr. St. Clare to depict how freedom of thought and action influence each other in cycles, from past experiences to modified thoughts to following action. While St. Clare did have freedom of action to do whatever he pleased, his actions were limited to only what his restricted thinking and society would allow.
Thinking about the atrocities of slavery makes Augustine St. Clare uncomfortable and acting upon his true thoughts could lead to his whole family ‘s economic downfall, since the slaves accounted for the labor use. St. Clare is also very critical on the views on slavery. He doesn’t make his own opinion on slavery, but only points out the flaws of each side of the issue. St. Clare hides behind the excuse that the emancipated slaves would have their big obstacles to overcome, even after they were free, and ultimately chooses not to free his slaves. Things took turn for change, however, when St. Clare’s precious daughter Evangeline dies.
Right before Evangeline dies, Mr. St. Clare promises her that he will free Tom and try his best to free all the other slaves as well. The huge shock of his angelic daughter dying opened his eyes, and St. Clare finally starts to think for himself on slavery. We can see that a change in freedom of thought leads to changes in one’s use of freedom of action. St. Clare makes preparations to free his slaves, especially Tom, but dies before he actually frees his slaves. Through the timing of his death, right after his change of thinking, Stowe portrays people at the time could not have both moral freedom of thought and freedom of action at the same time; these kinds of people die in such a society where slavery is allowed.
St. Clare was able to have a short revolution after his thoughts became more open after getting rid of his own restrictions to his freedom of thought. Nevertheless, he wasn’t fully able to translate his new thoughts into actions because of his sudden death. Harriet Beecher Stowe uses the character of Mr. St. Clare to show that while freedom of thought and freedom of action can be obtained through changes in one’s freedom of thought, society under the federal law did not allow for individuals with both freedoms to live out their lives.