Fitzhugh in 1855
|Died||30 July 1881 (aged 74)|
Huntsville, Texas, U.S.
|Occupation||lawyer, social theorist|
|Known for||pro-slavery sociological theory|
|Sociology for the South, or, the Failure of Free Society, Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters|
|Mary Metcalf Brockenbrough|
|Children||Robert Hunter Fitzhugh (1836-1919)|
Twins Augusta Fitzhugh Woodall (1839-1908)/Mariella Foster (1839-1919)
Rev. George Stuart Fitzhugh (1844-1925)
|Relatives||George Fitzhugh (father); Lucy Stuart Fitzhugh (mother)|
George Fitzhugh (November 4, 1806 - July 30, 1881) was an American social theorist who published racial and slavery-based sociological theories in the antebellum era. He argued that the negro "is but a grown up child" who needs the economic and social protections of slavery. Fitzhugh decried capitalism as practiced by the Northern United States and Great Britain as spawning "a war of the rich with the poor, and the poor with one another", rendering free blacks "far outstripped or outwitted in the chase of free competition." Slavery, he contended, ensured that blacks would be economically secure and morally civilized. Nonetheless, some historians consider Fitzhugh's worldview to be fascist in its rejection of liberal values, defense of slavery, and perspectives toward race.
Fitzhugh practiced law and was a painter for years, but attracted both fame and infamy when he published two sociological tracts for the South. He was a leading pro-slavery intellectual and spoke for many of the Southern plantation owners[who?]. Before printing books, Fitzhugh tried his hand at a pamphlet, "Slavery Justified" (1849). His first book, Sociology for the South (1854) was not as widely known as his second book, Cannibals All! (1857). Sociology for the South is the first known English-language book to include the term "sociology" in its title.
Fitzhugh differed from nearly all of his southern contemporaries by advocating a slavery that crossed racial boundaries. In 1860 Fitzhugh stated, "It is a libel on white men to say they are unfit for slavery" and suggested that if Yankees were caught young they could be trained, domesticated and civilized to make "faithful and valuable servants." In Sociology for the South, Fitzhugh proclaimed, "Men are not 'born entitled to equal rights!' It would be far nearer the truth to say, 'that some were born with saddles on their backs, and others booted and spurred to ride them,' - and the riding does them good."; and that the Declaration of Independence "deserves the tumid yet appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the writings of Mr. Jefferson, it is, 'exhuberantly false, and arborescently fallacious.'"
George Fitzhugh was born on November 4, 1806, to George Fitzhugh Sr. (a surgeon/physician) and Lucy (née Stuart) Fitzhugh. He was born in Prince William County, Virginia. His family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, when he was six. He attended public school though his career was built on self-education. He married Mary Metcalf Brockenbrough in 1829 and moved to Port Royal, Virginia. There he began his own law business. Fitzhugh took up residence in a "rickety old mansion" known for a vast collection of bats in its attic that he inherited through his wife's family. He was something of a recluse in this home for most of his life and rarely travelled away from it for extended periods of time, spending most of his days there engaged in unguided reading from a vast library of books and pamphlets.
Of the writers in his library, Fitzhugh's beliefs were most heavily influenced by Thomas Carlyle, whom he read frequently and referenced in many of his works. Atypical for a slavery advocate, Fitzhugh also subscribed to and regularly read abolitionist pamphlets such as The Liberator. He made only one major visit to other parts of the nation in the entire antebellum period - an 1855 journey to the north where he met and argued with abolitionists Gerrit Smith and Wendell Phillips.
Never politically active in his own right, Fitzhugh managed to find the company of well known political figures in his day. In addition to the two abolitionists, Fitzhugh was an acquaintance of several public officials. In 1857 Fitzhugh served as a law clerk in Washington, D.C. under Attorney General Jeremiah Sullivan Black. He gained fairly wide circulation in print, writing articles for several Virginia newspapers and for the widely circulated Southern magazine DeBow's Review.
After moving to Richmond, Virginia, in 1862 he began to work in the Treasury of the Confederacy. After the Civil War, Fitzhugh spent a short time judging for the Freedmen's Court and then retiring to Kentucky after his wife's death in 1877. He later moved to his daughter's residence in Huntsville, Texas, where he died on July 30, 1881. He is buried in a grave in Oakwood Cemetery, Huntsville, where his daughter, Mariella Fitzhugh Foster and her husband Capt. Marcellus Aurelius Foster are also buried.
Sociology for the South, or, the Failure of Free Society (1854) was George Fitzhugh's most powerful attack on the philosophical foundations of free society. In it, he took on not only Adam Smith, the foundational thinker of capitalism, but also John Locke,Thomas Jefferson, and the entire liberal tradition. He argued that free labor and free markets enriched the strong while crushing the weak. What society needed, he wrote, was slavery, not just for blacks, but for whites as well. "Slavery," he wrote, "is a form, and the very best form, of socialism." "Socialism," he continued:
Proposes to do away with free competition; to afford protection and support at all times to the laboring class; to bring about, at least, a qualified community of property, and to associate labor. All these purposes, slavery fully and perfectly attains. ... Socialism is already slavery in all save the master ... Our only quarrel with Socialism is, that it will not honestly admit that it owes its recent revival to the failure of universal liberty, and is seeking to bring about slavery again in some form.
Fitzhugh believed that slavery reduced the pressure on the poor and lower classes; in other words, he advocated slavery for poor whites as well as blacks. He also strongly opposed the racial doctrines of the time.
Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters (1857) was a critique further developing the themes that Fitzhugh had introduced in Sociology for the South. Both the book's title and its subtitle were phrases taken from the writing of Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish social critic and a great hero to Fitzhugh's generation of proslavery thinkers. The aim of his book, Fitzhugh claimed, was to show that "the unrestricted exploitation of so-called free society is more oppressive to the laborer than domestic slavery."
Cannibals All! was a sharp criticism of the system of "wage-slavery" found in the north. Fitzhugh's ideas were based on his view that the "negro slaves of the South" were considerably more free than those trapped by the oppression of capitalist exploitation. His idea to rectify social inequality created by capitalism was to institute a system of universal slavery, based on his belief that "nineteen out of every twenty individuals have ... a natural and inalienable right to be slaves." Under this same context, Fitzhugh asserted that society was obligated to protect the weak by controlling and subjugating them. Fitzhugh wrote:
'It is the duty of society to protect the weak;' but protection cannot be efficient without the power of control; therefore, 'It is the duty of society to enslave the weak.'
Fitzhugh's ideas in Cannibals All!, while often used in the defense of anti-abolition, have a more socially egalitarian undertone which attempted to remedy inequalities in "Property of man." His ideas of reform could be seen in terms of a non-Marxist socialist ideology. The extremes advocated by Fitzhugh's writing led even some of his allies to denounce his bold claims.
Cannibals All! garnered more attention in the Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper, than any other book. Lincoln is said to have been more angered by George Fitzhugh than by any other pro-slavery writer, yet he unconsciously paraphrased Cannibals All! in his House Divided speech.