George Fitzhugh

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George Fitzhugh
George Fitzhugh, circa 1855.jpg
Fitzhugh in 1855
Born(1806-11-04)4 November 1806
Died30 July 1881(1881-07-30) (aged 74)
OccupationLawyer, social theorist
Known forPro-slavery sociological theory
Notable work
Sociology for the South, or, the Failure of Free Society, Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters
Spouse(s)Mary Metcalf Brockenbrough
ChildrenRobert Hunter Fitzhugh (1836-1919)
Twins Augusta Fitzhugh Woodall (1839-1908)/Mariella Foster (1839-1919)
Rev. George Stuart Fitzhugh (1844-1925)
RelativesGeorge 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"[1][2] who needs the economic and social protections of slavery. Fitzhugh’s worldview was fascist in its rejection of liberal values, defense of slavery, and perspectives toward race.[3] 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",[4] rendering free blacks "far outstripped or outwitted in the chase of free competition."[5] Slavery, he contended, ensured that blacks would be economically secure and morally civilized. Although most Northern whites at the time agreed with Fitzhugh that blacks were incapable of functioning in a free society, the necessity of free trade and the expansion of slavery to the Southern economy hurt Northern factory workers and Northern farmers, who wished to claim western land for small farms. Fitzhugh's claim that poor whites should be enslaved also infuriated Northern Whites, some of whom remembered that the British had occasionally enslaved white men during the Colonial Era. The British practice of enslaving men involved in rebellion against the British government in Scotland and Ireland on Barbados during the time of Oliver Cromwell and its subsequent practice of deporting convicts to the American Colonies had infuriated the Founding Fathers, this fact contributing to Thomas Jefferson's writing that "All Men Are Created Equal" in the Declaration of Independence. The combination of economic interests and the belief in the equal standing of white men before the law caused many Northerners to embrace abolitionism before the war, but not the concept of full equality between the races that Fitzhugh feared. The concept of full racial equality would not be completely accepted in American society until the 1990's.

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[6] 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.[7]

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."[8] 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 [sic] false, and arborescently fallacious.'"[9]


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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12][13]

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.[14]


Sociology for the South[edit]

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,[15] the foundational thinker of capitalism, but also John Locke,[16] Thomas Jefferson, and the entire liberal tradition. He argued that free labor and free markets enriched the strong while crushing the weak.[17] 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."[18] "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.[19]

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.[20] He also strongly opposed the racial doctrines of the time.[21]

Cannibals All![edit]

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.[22] 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."[23]

Cannibals All! was a sharp criticism of the system of "wage-slavery" found in the north.[24] 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.[25][26] His idea to rectify social inequality created by capitalism[27] 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."[28] 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.'[29]

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."[30] His ideas of reform could be seen in terms of a non-Marxist socialist ideology.[31] 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. Abraham 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.[32]





  • A Controversy on Slavery Between George Fitzhugh and A. Hogeboom, Printed at the "Oneida Sachem" Office, 1857.
  • Ante-bellum: Writings of George Fitzhugh and Hinton Rowan Helper on Slavery, Capricorn Books 1960.


  1. ^ Fitzhugh, George (1854). "Negro Slavery", Sociology for the South, Chap. V, A. Morris Publisher, p. 83.
  2. ^ "George Fitzhugh Advocates Slavery", The Black American: A Documentary History, Foresman and Company, Illinois, 1976, 1970.
  3. ^ Roel Reyes, Stefan (2019-12-17). "Antebellum Palingenetic Ultranationalism: The Case for including the United States in Comparative Fascist Studies". Fascism. 8 (2): 307–330. doi:10.1163/22116257-00802005. ISSN 2211-6257.
  4. ^ Fitzhugh (1854), p. 22.
  5. ^ Fitzhugh (1854), p. 84.
  6. ^ Gilpin, Drew Faust (1977). A Sacred Circle: The Dilemma of the Intellectual in the Old South, 1840–1860, Johns Hopkins University Press.
  7. ^ Oakwood Cemetery, Walker County Historical Society website; accessed August 27, 2017.
  8. ^ George Fitzhugh. Horace Greeley and his Lost Book, Southern Literary Messenger Volume 31, Issue 3, 1860.
  9. ^ Sociology for the South, or, the Failure of Free Society, pp. 179, 182.
  10. ^ Straka, Gerald M. (1957). "The Spirit of Carlyle in the Old South," The Historian 20 (1), pp. 39–57.
  11. ^ Hartz, Louis (1955). The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought Since the Revolution. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
  12. ^ Leland, Charles G. (1862). "A Southern Review," The Continental Monthly 2 (4), pp. 466–469.
  13. ^ Skipper, Ottis Clark (1958). J.D.B. De Bow: Magazinist of the old South. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press.
  14. ^ George Fitzhugh (1806–1881) Encyclopedia of Virginia website. Contributed by Calvin Schermerhorn and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography
  15. ^ Dodd, William E. (1920). The Cotton Kingdom: A Chronicle of the Old South, Yale University Press, p. 64.
  16. ^ Loewenberg, Robert (1985). "John Locke and the Antebellum Defense of Slavery," Political Theory 13 (2), pp. 266–291.
  17. ^ Fitzhugh (1854), p. 179.
  18. ^ Fitzhugh (1854), pp. 27–28.
  19. ^ Fitzhugh (1854), pp. 48, 70.
  20. ^ Craven, Avery (1944). "Southern Attitudes Toward Abrahan Lincoln," Papers in Illinois History and Transactions for the year 1942, The Illinois State Historical Society, p. 17.
  21. ^ "We abhor the doctrine of the "Types of Mankind;" first, because it is at war with scripture, which teaches us that the whole human race is descended from a common parentage; and, secondly, because it encourages and incites brutal masters to treat negroes, not as weak, ignorant and dependent brethren, but as wicked beasts, without the pale of humanity. The Southerner is the negro's friend, his only friend. Let no intermeddling abolitionist, no refined philosophy, dissolve this friendship." — Fitzhugh (1854), p. 95.
  22. ^ Dodd, William E. (1918). "The Social Philosophy of the Old South," American Journal of Sociology 23 (6), pp. 735–746.
  23. ^ Fitzhugh (1857), Preface, p. ix.
  24. ^ Persky, Joseph (1992). "Unequal Exchange and Dependency Theory in George Fitzhugh," History of Political Economy 24 (1), pp. 117–128.
  25. ^ Woodward, C. Vann (1964). "A Southern War Against Capitalism." In: American Counterpoint: Slavery and racism in the North-South Dialogue. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, pp. 107–139.
  26. ^ Wiener, Jonathan M. (1979). "Coming to Terms with Capitalism: The Postwar Thought of George Fitzhugh," The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 87 (4), pp. 438–447.
  27. ^ Dowling, David (2009). "'Other and More Terrible Evils': Anticapitalist Rhetoric in Harriet Wilson's 'Our Nig' and Proslavery Propaganda," College Literature 36 (3), pp. 116–136.
  28. ^ Fitzhugh (1857), p. 102.
  29. ^ George Fitzhugh (1857), Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters, Richmond: VA: A. Morris Publishers, p. 278.
  30. ^ Sklansky, Jeffrey P. (2002). The Soul's Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820–1920, University of North Carolina Press.
  31. ^ Frazier, Mark C. (1974). "Slavery and Socialism: Our Brothers' Keepers," Reason 5 (10), pp. 24–27.
  32. ^ Phillips, Michael (2007). "George Fitzhugh (1806-1881)." In: Junius P. Rodriguez (ed.), Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. I, ABC-CLIO, p. 285.
  33. ^ De Bow, J. D. B. (1857). "Cannibals All; or, Slaves without Masters," Debow's Review 22 (5), May 1857, pp. 543–549.

Further reading[edit]

  • Adler, Mortimer J. (1969). The Negro in American History, Encyclopædia Britannica Educational Corp.
  • Ambrose, Douglas (1980). Henry Hughes and Proslavery Thought in the Old South, Louisiana State University Press.
  • Cayton, Andrew; Elisabeth Israels Perry, Linda Reed & Allan M. Winkler (2002). America: Pathways To The Present. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  • Donald, David (1971). "The Proslavery Argument Reconsidered," The Journal of Southern History 37 (1), pp. 3–18.
  • Eaton, Clement (1940). The Freedom-of-Thought Struggle in the Old South. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Franklin, John Hope (2002). The Militant South, 1800–1861, University of Illinois Press.
  • Genovese, Eugene D. (1967). The Political Economy of Slavery, Vintage Books.
  • Genovese, Eugene D. (1969). The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation, Pantheon Books [Wesleyan University Press, 1988].
  • Genovese, Eugene D. (1995). The Southern Front: History and Politics in the Cultural War, University of Missouri Press.
  • Hite, James C. & Ellen J. Hall (1972). "The Reactionary Evolution of Economic Thought in Antebellum Virginia," The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 80 (4), pp. 476–488.
  • Hofstadter, Richard (1973). The American Political Tradition and the Men who Made it. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Jenkins, William Sumner (1935). Pro-Slavery Thought in the Old South, University of North Carolina Press.
  • Kirkpatrick, Mary Alice (2004). "George Fitzhugh, 1806–1881". Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina.
  • Leavelle, Arnaud B. & Thomas I. Cook (1945). "George Fitzhugh and the Theory of American Conservatism," The Journal of Politics 7 (2), pp. 145–168.
  • Lyman, Stanford M. (1988). "System and Function in Ante-Bellum Southern Sociology," International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 2 (1), pp. 95–108.
  • Mayes, Sharon S. (1980). "Sociological Thought in Emile Durkheim and George Fitzhugh," The British Journal of Sociology 31 (1), pp. 78–94.
  • McCardell, John (1979). The Idea of a Southern Nation: Southern Nationalists and Southern Nationalism, 1830–1860. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • McKitrick, Eric L., ed. (1963). Slavery Defended: The Views of the Old South. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Spectrum-Prentice Hall.
  • O'Brien, Michael (2010). Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810–1860, University of North Carolina Press.
  • Ross, Dorothy (1991). The Origins of American Social Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Perry, Lewis and Fellman, Michael (1979). Antislavery Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Abolitionists, Louisiana State University Press.
  • Pole, J. R. (1978). The Pursuit of Equality in American History, University of California Press.
  • Saunders Jr., Robert (2000). "George Fitzhugh." In: Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, ABC-Clio.
  • Schermerhorn, Calvin (2016). "George Fitzhugh (1806–1881)" In: Encyclopedia Virginia.
  • Schneider, Thomas E. (2006). "George Fitzhugh: The Turn of History." In: Lincoln's Defense of Politics: The Public Man and His Opponents in the Crisis Over Slavery, University of Missouri Press, pp. 54–72.
  • Scott, Anne Firor (1970). The Southern Lady: from Pedestal to Politics, 1830–1930, University of Chicago Press.
  • Snay, Mitchell (1989). "American Thought and Southern Distinctiveness: The Southern Clergy and the Sanctification of Slaves," Civil War History 35 (4), pp. 117–128.
  • Tyler, Alice Felt (1944). Freedom's Ferment; Phases of American Social History to 1860, The University of Minnesota Press.
  • Wilson, Edmund (1962). Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of The American Civil War, Oxford University Press.
  • Wish, Harvey (1943). George Fitzhugh, Propagandist of the Old South, Louisiana State University Press.
  • Wyatt-Brown, Bertram (1982). "Modernizing Southern Slavery: The Proslavery Argument Reinterpreted." In: J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson (eds.), Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in honor of C. Vann Woodward. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

External links[edit]