Defense of Slavery: George Fitzhugh

Section Review

Adriana Garcia

George Fitzhugh

 George Fitzhugh was born in Prince William County, Virginia in 1806. He was the son of an army surgeon and planter. He was a lawyer in Port Royal, Virginia for most of his life. Fitzhugh grew up in a modest family and had a formal education. He later studied law with a local attorney, and made his own practice in Port Royal. Apart from being a lawyer, he was master of a plantation. For some time he had a Federal appointment during the Buchanan  administration as the law clerk in the Attorney-General's office. When the war was over, he spent some time as an associate judge of the Freedmen's Court in Virginia.

In the early 1850s Fitzhugh joined Southerners in the growing defending of a strange institution. Fitzhugh was stronger as a writer than a scholar. In the 1850s the majority of the money he made came from his writings. He was a helpful editor to the Richmond Examiner in 1854, this was one of the biggest newspapers in the south at that time. Some of Fitzhugh's articles from the Examiner were later published in his book, Sociology for the South. This book was proslavery. In Sociology for the South, Fitzhugh has many thoughts on slavery. He states that society abuses the poor and weak, while the rich employ workers for the barest wages possible. Even if this person has good intentions, they are decreasing the value of the poor person.  He writes,

"There is no equality except in theory, in such society, and there is no liberty. Then men of property, those who own lands and money, are masters of the poor; masters, with none of the feelings, interests or sympathies of masters; they employ them when they please, and for what they please, and may leave them to die in the highway, for it is the only home to which the poor in free countries are entitled."(McKitrick 39)

He believed that a free society destroys morality and  creates a body politic based on selfishness:

"Liberty and equality are not only destructive to the morals, but to the happiness of society. Foreigners have remarked on the care-worn, thoughtful, unhappy countenances of our people, and the remark only applies to the North, for travellers see little of us at the South, who live far from highways and cities, in contentment on our farms." (McKitrick 40)

Fitzhugh was convinced that because masters had sympathy for their slaves, they could not bring themselves to cheat them of their wages. A good example to describe this affection would be a man with his child, whom he is so fond of  because they are dependent on him.  When children grow up, they become independent and this paternal  love is transferred to his grandchildren. A master therefore likes his servant because he is also dependent  on him and rarely is it seen for a master to be  dissatisfied with his slave.

"Every social structure must have its substratum. In a free society, this substratum, the weak, poor and ignorant, is borne down upon and oppressed with continually increasing weight by all above. The slaves are substratum, and the master's feelings and interests alike prevent him from bearing down upon and oppressing them." (McKintrick 46)

In the South, where slavery was widespread, everyone was happy and in a safe environment, where they had "no mobs, trades unions, strikes for higher wages, armed resistance to law, but little jealousy of the rich by the poor." (McKitrick 47) He later continued his arguments in Cannibals All! and Slaves Without Masters. Fitzhugh gained popularity rapidly and was considered one of the best defenders of slavery in the South. Fitzhugh went on to publish more than one hundred articles between 1855 and 1857 for DeBow's Review.

Even though his main topic was slavery, he went on to write about technological processes, the glories of the Virginia countryside, English Literature, and American and ancient history. Fitzhugh was a strong believer in the Confederacy. During the Civil War he held a minor post in the Department of the Treasury in Richmond. He then began to write for DeBow's Review, again defending a patriarchal social system that included slavery.

Fitzhugh later joined the Freedman's Bureau, even though it was hated by many white Southerners. The Bureau dealt with the problems of relief, education, health and sanitation, land and labor contract disputes and southern hostility. The views that Fitzhugh held on blacks and the Bureau were patronizing. He believed that blacks could not survive without having a master. In 1869 congress terminated the Bureau. In October 1866, Fitzhugh's Camp Lee was published. Fitzhugh then believed that the work of the Bureau was necessary. He was sure that the fates of the blacks would soon be placed back in the hands of white Southerners.

His further studying of Cui Bono made him conclude that black power in politics was growing.  White Southerners were fearful of this, and Fitzhugh accused blacks of plotting a social and cultural revolution, but historians agree that no such revolution was ever in the works. The only thing that blacks wanted was equality, but not to deteriorate the whites in the process. Unfortunately for white Southerners such as Fitzhugh, social equality was untolerable.  In The Conduct of War, Fitzhugh contributed ideas that were enacted by the Confederate government during the first half of the national conflict. Fitzhugh suggested a military stratregy that was not used but could cause problems for the South. The unfortunate side of this was that it was against the customs of the period. These strategies were created from Fitzhugh's overconfidence about the outcome of the war.

Fitzhugh's attention was also drawn by the Trent Affair, which went on in November and December of 1861. Lincoln believed that Fitzhugh's thoughts were to enslave both blacks and whites and used some of Fitzhugh's thought for his famous speech, but stated the opposite of Fitzhugh's notions. Fitzhugh later wrote for the Lippincott's Magazine of Philadephia.

Later in the early 1870s, his health began to fail, and he had to decrease his workload. He then moved to Texas with his daughter and died in 1881. Although Fitzhugh was a strong intellectual writer, he was disliked by his peers for his blatant radicalism. This was because his arguments were so controversial. To be honest Fitzhugh believed that slavery should be considered an important social arrangement and that this system  would help the country advance and this would be to everyone's benefit. From this thought Fitzhugh became the first person to act against capitalism, in turn displaying its bad qualities. He later stated that "With slavery, both the master and the slave are always provided for; the slave always has a home and food  while the master always has his lands worked upon."(Derek)

Fitzhugh openly spoke about black inferiority and all of his writings spoke of exploitation.  Fitzhugh approved of capital  in responsible hands. "All great enterprises owe their success to association of capital and labor." (Praising Slavery) he said that with slavery in place,  everything grows, from the slaves' needs to the masters' need for help and both receive what they want. Fitzhugh proposes a good way of life for  slaves, which he considered more effective and in turn provide the slave with an easy life. Fitzhugh said himself that "socialism is the new fashionable name of slavery." (Praising Slavery)

Of all the inhabitants of the South, Fitzhugh understood his subject more thoroughly than anyone else. In his Blessings of Slavery, Fitzhugh mentioned that "the negro slaves of the south are the happiest, and in some sense the freest people in the world."  His writings defend slavery, for he really believes that it would be of great help to the blacks as well as to their masters, because they should both gain much from this union. George Fitzhugh was the most noted of the proslavery intellectuals. "George Fitzhugh respectfully is by far the most important and influential of the southern philosophers of the time." (Derek)