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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 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.
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. Before printing books, Fitzhugh tried his hand at a pamphlet titled "Slavery Justified" (1849). His first book, Sociology for the South (1854) was not as widely known as his second book, Cannibals All! (1857).
George Fitzhugh was born on November 4, 1806, to George Fitzhugh Sr. (a surgeon/physician) and Lucy Stuart. He was born in Prince William County, Virginia, but 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 minor 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.
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."
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.
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."
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. Fitzhugh was also an advocate of women's rights. In Cannibals All!, he asserts that women deserve the right to vote.