George Fitzhugh on Liberty & Free Society

A presentation of Fitzhughian thought on liberty through quotations by George Fitzhugh

“There were no poor houses, and few or no public charities, in the world, until late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
For many centuries before that date there were Poor Laws, it is true, in England; laws that made poverty and want
of employment the gravest and most common of crimes; laws to punish the poor, but none to relieve their wants,
or to preserve them from starvation. Laws for whipping, branding, and even hanging them, for the mere offence
of quitting their parishes. Let us not suppose, however, that our ancestors were more cruel or unfeeling than we.
Poverty was really then a crime, and a crime that disturbed and harassed society more than all other crimes.
Most of the poor were abundantly provided for by their feudal lords, or masters. The monasteries clothed and fed
many of them, and lands were cheap, rents low, and employment abundant. The poor of that day were fugitive
or emancipated villains, thieves, incendiaries, sturdy robbers, murderers, and romantic beggars-or, in fine, (to
borrow the words of the Westminster Review, the great champion of the poor), “Pauper Banditti” There was
then no need of poor houses, but pressing necessity for laws punishing vagrancy, and compelling the poor to
work. The poor, then, were all a vicious outgrowth of society, like,the Gypsies of the present day-who are, no
doubt, their descendants. Stocks, and jails, and branding irons, and the gallows, were very properly provided
for them instead of poor houses. Before the abolition of serfdom, whilst slavery was universal, there were no
poor houses, no public provision for, the poor, because none were needed. Private charity amply sufficed to
take care of the few destitute who were without masters, without employment, or too feeble to labor.”
– George Fitzhugh, The Poor House System, page: 1, 1867

“In free society it is impossible to determine who has lived in affluence, or grown rich from the profits derived
from their labor, yet, certain that all wealth is created or produced by them, and but exacted or exploited, and
accumulated and amassed by those above them-by the cunning, the skillful and the rich who employ them.
Certain, and on all bands admitted, that their labor is more heavily taxed by the superior classes, than that
of slaves by their masters, and hence, as Mr. Greeley shows, they are worse provided and more destitute
than slaves, although they work harder and more skillfully; and hence it is very truly said by their employers,
that “free labor is cheaper than slave labor.” Cheaper, only because the slave lives in plenty, idleness and
ease, and consumes almost all that he produces, whilst free laborers produce an enormous surplus, which
is filched or exploited by their employers, and which makes the few wealthy and pauperizes the masses.
Hence the great prosperity and rapid progress of free society; and hence, also, the little wealth and slow
progress of slave society. But, as free society progresses, improves and grows rich under this industrial
high pressure system, paupers multiply by the million, and the employers, who have grown rich from the
profits derived from their labor, are bound to support them just as masters are bound to support their
slaves, whenever, from any cause, they can no longer support themselves.”
– George Fitzhugh, The Poor House System, page: 3, 1867

“As civilization advances liberty recedes, because laws become more complex and numerous, public opinion more stringent
and dictatorial, religion and morality more dominant and restrictive, fashion more exacting in its requirements, human wants
and luxuries more numerous, and the labor needed to supply them greater. Hence it will even be found that in large cities, the
great centres and foci of civilization, there is least of liberty. Not only the laws of the State and of the Union, but the corporate
laws, more restrictive than either, curtail men’s liberties in such cities. But, white men, especially good men, are extremely
averse to that degree of liberty which law and government still leave to thorn. They contract marriage and have families, and
both husband and wife become almost slaves to their children, for whom they are legally, morally, and religiously bound to
labor, take care of, and educate. Besides, they become members of a church, and thus incur new obligations, and further
lessen their liberty. But this does not suffice; whilst white men dislike liberty they love security, and very properly are not
satisfied with that loose and imperfect kind of security that mere law and government afford. They labor from morn to eve
to amass property, and whilst so laboring, if not slaves, are performing the part of slaves. But wealth is easier to lose than
to make, and to provide against such losses and the various contingencies and misfortunes of life, they enter into temperance societies, freemason and odd-fellow societies, and many other such that provide for their sick and unfortunate members,
and for their destitute families after their deaths. Trades Unions are another fashionable and most efficient way of parting
with liberty in order to beget security. We highly approve of them. Think them a great and beneficent discovery in social
science; nevertheless, they abridge liberty to acquire security.”
– George Fitzhugh, Liberty and Civilization, pages: 1-2, 1866

“We like especially the eight-hour rule, which, if it is secured, will pretty well give the “coup de grace” to the liberty of the
masses; but it will infinitely promote their well-being, and human well-being is cheaply purchased by the sale or sacrifice
of human liberty, when such liberty stands in the way of its enjoyment. But the most all-pervading, thorough and efficient
way in which civilization destroys liberty is through the agency of its servants and offspring, capital or property. Although
we cannot trace back civilization to its origin, the whole of the white race having been more or less civilized, as far back
as history (written or monumental) or tradition extends; yet observation and reflection will readily convince us that the
appropriation of the lands by the few was the first great step in the progress of civilization.”
– George Fitzhugh, Liberty and Civilization, Pages: 1-2, 1866

“The institution of domestic slavery, as it exists at the South, as it has existed, until recently, throughout the world, and
as it now exists in nine-tenths of the world, is the commonly assigned cause for these impending disasters. But the true
cause of quarrel lies deeper. It is not mere negro slavery, but the slavery principle; slavery in every form, that the great
moral and intellectual movement of the day proposes to remedy and remove. Those who feel so much for the negroes
of the West Indies and of America, begin to feel quite as much for wives, children, apprentices, wards, sailors, soldiers,
and hirelings-nay, for all the weak and the poor, for they begin to discover that the principle and the practice of slavery
is found interwoven with all human relations and human institutions as now existing, and with unflinching philanthropy
they have resolved to “cut sheer asunder” all those relations. They most consistently and courageously wage war
against, slavery in every form. The principle and the practice wherever found must be eradicated, and a transition
effected from the present state of society, to a millennial, an agrarian, or communistic status. Government, they
agree, is but slavery variously modified, from slavery to law, down to jails, penitentiaries, stocks, manacles, and
the gallows all human government, must, therefore, be abolished and the “sovereignty of the individual,” “free
-love,” “attractive labor,” and “passional attraction” supply its place.”
– George Fitzhugh, The Conservative Principle, pages: 2-3, 1857

“The best governed countries, and those which have prospered most, have always been distinguished for the
number and stringency of their laws. Good men obey superior authority, the laws of God, of morality, and of
their country; bad men love liberty and violate them. It would be difficult very often for the most ingenious casuist
to distinguish between sin and liberty; for virtue consists in the performance of duty, and the obedience to that
law or power that imposes duty, whilst sin is but the violation of duty and disobedience to such law and power.
It is remarkable, in this connection, that sin began by the desire for liberty and the attempt to attain it in the
person of Satan and his fallen angels. The world wants good government and a plenty of it – not liberty.”
– George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South, page: 30, 1854

“Liberty and equality are new things under the sun. The free states of antiquity abounded with slaves. The
feudal system that supplanted Roman institutionally changed the form of slavery, but brought with it neither
liberty nor equality. France and the Northern States of our Union have alone fully and fairly tried the experiment
of a social organization founded upon universal liberty and equality of rights. England has only approximated
to this condition in her commercial and manufacturing cities. The examples of small communities in Europe
are not fit exponents of the working of the system. In France and in our Northern States the experiment has
already failed, if we are to form our opinions from the discontent of the masses, or to believe the evidence of
the Socialists, Communists, Anti-Renters, and a thousand other agrarian sects that have arisen in these countries,
and threaten to subvert the whole social fabric. The leaders of these sects, at least in France, comprise within
their ranks the greater number of the most cultivated and profound minds in the nation, who have made government
their study. Add to the evidence of these social philosophers, who, watching closely the working of the system
have proclaimed to the world its total failure, the condition of the working classes, and we have conclusive
proof that liberty and equality have not conduced to enhance the comfort or the happiness of the people.”
– George Fitzhugh, Slavery Justified, page: 1, 1849

“When we look to the vegetable, animal and human kingdoms, we discover in them all a constant conflict, war, or
race of competition, the result of which is, that the weaker or less healthy genera, species and individuals are
continually displaced and exterminated by the stronger and more hardy. It is a means by which some contend
Nature is perfecting her own work. We, however, witness the war, but do not see the improvement. Although
from the earliest date of recorded history one race of plants has been eating out and taking the place of another,
the stronger or more cunning animals been destroying the feebler, and man exterminating and supplanting his
fellow, still the plants, the animals and the men of to-day seem not at all superior, even in those qualities of
strength and hardihood to which they owe their continued existence, to those of thousands of years ago. To
this propensity of the strong to oppress and destroy the weak, government owes its existence. So strong is
this propensity, and so destructive to human existence, that man has never yet been found so savage as
to be without government. Forgetful of this important fact, which is the origin of all governments, the political
economists and the advocates of liberty and equality propose to enhance the well being of man by trammeling
his conduct as little as possible, and encouraging what they call free competition. Now, free competition is
but another name for liberty and equality, and we must acquire precise and accurate notions about it in
order to ascertain how free institutions will work. It is, then, that war or conflict to which Nature impels
her creatures, and which government was intended to restrict.”
– George Fitzhugh, Slavery Justified, 1849

“The king’s office was a trust, so are your lands, houses and money. Society permits you to hold them, because private
property well administered conduces to the good of all society. This is your only title; you lose your right to your property
as the king did to his crown, so soon as you cease faithfully to execute your trust; you can’t make commons and forests
of your lands and starve mankind; you must manage your lands to produce the most food and raiment for mankind, or
you forfeit your title; you may not understand this philosophy, but you feel that it is true, and are trembling in your seats
as you hear the murmurings and threats of the starving poor. The moral effect of free society is to banish Christian virtue,
that virtue which bids us love our neighbor as ourself, and to substitute the very equivocal virtues proceeding from mere
selfishness. The intense struggle to better each one’s pecuniary condition, the rivalries, the jealousies, the hostilities which
it begets, leave neither time nor inclination to cultivate the heart or the head. Every finer feeling of our nature is chilled
and benumbed by its selfish atmosphere; affection is under the ban, because affection makes us less regardful of mere
self; hospitality is considered criminal waste, chivalry a stumbling-block, and the code of honor foolishness; taste, sentiment, imagination, are forbidden ground because no money is to be made by them. Gorgeous pageantry and sensual luxury
are the only pleasures indulged in, because they alone are understood and appreciated, and they are appreciated just
for what they cost in dollars and cents. What makes money, and what costs money, are alone desired. Temperance,
frugality, thrift, attention to business, industry, and skill in making bargains, are virtues in high repute, because they
enable us to supplant others and increase our own wealth.”
– George Fitzhugh, Slavery Justified, 1849

“Look to the situation of woman when she is thrown into this war of competition, and has to support herself by her
daily wages. For the same or equally valuable services she gets not half the pay that man does, simply because
the modesty of her sex prevents her from resorting to all the arts and means of competition which men employ. He
who would emancipate woman, unless he could make her as coarse and strong in mind and body as man, would
be her worst enemy; her subservience to and dependence on man, is necessary to her very existence. She is not
a soldier fitted to enlist in the war of free competition. We do not set children and women free because they are
not capable of taking care of themselves, not equal to the constant struggle of society. To set them free would be
to give the lamb to the wolf to take care of.Society would quickly devour them. If the children of ten years of age were
remitted to all the rights of person and property which men enjoy, all can perceive how soon ruin and penury would
overtake them. But half of mankind are but grown-up children, and liberty is as fatal to them as it would be to children.”
– George Fitzhugh, Slavery Justified, 1849

“It is the boast of the Anglo-Saxon, that by the arts of peace under the influence of free trade he can march to
universal conquest. However true this may be, all know that if Englishmen or Americans settle among inferior
races, they soon become the owners of the soil, and gradually extirpate or reduce to poverty the original owners.
They are the wire-grass of nations. The same law of nature which enables and impels the stronger race to oppress
and exterminate the weaker, is constantly at work in the bosom of every society, between its stronger and weaker
members. Liberty and equality rather encourage than restrict this law in its deadly operation.”
– George Fitzhugh, Slavery Justified, 1849

“We proceed to show that the war of the wits, of mind with mind, which free competition or liberty and equality
beget and encourage, is quite as oppressive, cruel and exterminating as the war of the sword, of theft, robbery,
and murder, which it forbids. It is only substituting strength of mind for strength of body. Men are told it is their
duty to compete, to endeavor to get ahead of and supplant their fellow men, by the exercise of all the intellectual
and moral strength with which nature and education have endowed them. “Might makes right,” is the order of
creation, and this law of nature, so far as mental might is concerned, is restored by liberty to man. The struggle
to better one’s condition, to pull others down or supplant them, is the great organic law of free society. All men
being equal, all aspire to the highest honors and the largest possessions. Good men and bad men teach their
children one and the same lesson-“Go ahead, push your way in the world.” In such society, virtue, if virtue there
be, loses all her loveliness because of her selfish aims. None but the selfish virtues are encouraged, because
none other aid a man in the race of free competition. Good men and bad men have the same end in view, are
in pursuit of the same object-self-promotion, self-elevation. The good man is prudent, cautious, and cunning of
fence; he knows well the arts (the virtues, if you please,) which will advance his fortunes and enable him to
depress and supplant others; he bides his time, takes advantage of the follies, the improvidence, and vices of
others, and makes his fortune out of the misfortunes of his fellow men. The bad man is rash, hasty, and unskillful.
He is equally selfish, but not half so cunning. Selfishness is almost the only motive of human conduct with
good and bad in free society, where every man is taught that he may change and better his condition.”
– George Fitzhugh, Slavery Justified, 1849

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