George Fitzhugh on Slavery
A presentation of Fitzhughian thought on slavery through quotations by George Fitzhugh
The defence of Southern slavery involves, necessarily, the defence of every existing human institution, because they are
all alike assailed by abolition as modifications of slavery itself. You of the North cannot conquer them, without taking issue
with them. You cannot admit their premises and deny their conclusions. If slavery be wrong in principle, wrong in the abstract,
then all governmental institutions are wrong, and should be abolished. If negro slavery be wrong because it is slavery, then
are marriage, and church government, and separate ownership of lands, and parental authority equally wrong, unless it be
proved that white slavery, which these institutions occasion, is free from the objections which apply to all other kinds of
slavery. Conservatives, North or South, have not an inch of ground to stand upon, unless they at once boldly and distinctly
take the position, that slavery in the abstract, slavery in the general, slavery in principle, is right, natural, and necessary.
-Right, natural, and necessary, because it has been universal, for there is no so-called free society in the world in which
four-fifths of the people are not slaves, governed and controlled, not by mere law, but by the will and ipse dixit of superiors
right, also, because it is sanctioned alike by human and divine law.
– George Fitzhugh, The Conservative Principle, page: 3, 1857
The owners of slaves are almost always too enlightened to abuse women and children, and it is they
who form public opinion at the South, and thereby control, in great measure, the moral conduct of all
the members of society. Ill treatment of wives and children is very rare with us, for here the family is
considered a sacred and a holy thing, whilst at the North it is going quite out of repute and fashion, and
perpetual partnerships between man and woman are taking the place of regular Christian marriage.
– George Fitzhugh, The Politics and Economies of Aristotle and Mr. Calhoun, page: 2, 1857
Society-is of itself the practical assertion that “man has property in man.” He cannot live alone. By mere
force of nature, by intuitive necessity, the strong protect and control the weak, the weak serve and obey
the strong; but the property in each case is mutual. The husband is, by nature as well as law, master of
wife and children, and bound to provide for, protect, and govern them; they are his property, but he is
equally theirs. This is the germ and nucleus of all government, and of all property of man in man. All the
other institutions of society carry out into practice the principle, that all men have property in each other,
and that none are free; all belong to society, which is bound to protect, to govern, and to provide for all.
– George Fitzhugh, The Conservative Principle, page: 6, 1857
The two best criteria of slavery are, “a social status in which the will of the superior controls and directs the will
and action of the inferior,” or “a social condition in which man becomes the property of his fellow man.” Take either
criterion, and all human government is manifestly slavery. In despotic governments the will and conduct of all
subjects may be controlled by an autocrat; in democracies by a majority; in armies, navies, and the merchant
service by superior officers; in families by the parent or master; on farms, in stores, in every business operation
of life, by the employer. The negro slave is not controlled and directed in all his actions by his master. The freest
white citizen is controlled and directed in much of his conduct by his government, We are by birth and nature
the creatures and slaves of society, and therefore none altogether free.
– George Fitzhugh, The Conservative Principle, page: 5, 1857
A state of dependence is the only condition in which reciprocal affection can exist among human beings-the only
situation in which the war of competition ceases, and peace, amity and good will arise. A state of independence
always begets more or less of jealous rivalry and hostility. A man loves his children because they are weak, helpless
and dependent; he loves his wife for similar reasons. When his children grow up and assert their independence,
he is apt to transfer his affection to his grand-children. He ceases to love his wife when she becomes masculine
or rebellious; but slaves are always dependent, never the rivals of their master. Hence, though men are often
found at variance with wife or children, we never saw one who did not like his slaves, and rarely a slave who was
not devoted to his master. “I am thy servant!” disarms me of the power of master. Every man feels the beauty,
force and truth of this sentiment of Sterne. But he who acknowledges its truth, tacitly admits that dependence
is a tie of affection, that the relation of master and slave is one of mutual good will. Volumes written on the subject
would not prove as much as this single sentiment. It has found its way to the heart of every reader, and carried
conviction along with it. The slave-holder is like other men; he will not tread on the worm nor break the bruised
reed. The ready submission of the slave, nine times out of ten, disarms his wrath even when the slave has offended.
The habit of command may make him imperious and fit him for rule; but he is only imperious when thwarted or
ordered by his equals; he would scorn to put on airs of command among blacks, whether slaves or free; he always
speaks to them in a kind and subdued tone. We go farther, and say the slave-holder is better than others-because
he has greater occasion for the exercise of the affection. His whole life is spent in providing for the minutest wants
of others, in taking care of them in sickness and in health. Hence he is the least selfish of men. Is not the old
bachelor who retires to seclusion, always selfish? Is not the head of a large family almost always kind and
benevolent? And is not the slave-holder the head of the largest family?
– George Fitzhugh, Slavery Justified, 1849
A Southern farm is the beau ideal of Communism; it is a joint concern, in which the slave consumes more than
the master, of the coarse products, and is far happier, because although the concern may fail, he is always sure
of a support; he is only transferred to another master to participate in the profits of another concern; he marries
when he pleases, because he knows he will have to work no more with a family than without one,and whether he
live or die, that family will be taken care of; he exhibits all the pride of ownership, despises a partner in a smaller
concern, “a poor man’s negro,” boasts of “our crops, horses, fields and cattle;” and is as happy as a human being
can be. And why should he not? – he enjoys as much of the fruits of the farm as he is capable of doing, and the
wealthiest can do no more. Great wealth brings many additional cares, but few additional enjoyments. Our stomachs
do not increase in capacity with our fortunes. We want no more clothing to keep us warm. We may create new
wants, but we cannot create new pleasures. The intellectual enjoyments which wealth affords are probably
balanced by the new cares it brings along with it. There is no rivalry, no competition to get employment among
slaves, as among free laborers. Nor is there a war between master and slave. The master’s interest prevents
his reducing the slave’s allowance or wages in infancy or sickness, for he might lose the slave by so doing.
His feeling for his slave never permits him to stint him in old age. The slaves are all well fed, well clad, have
plenty of fuel, and are happy. They have no dread of the future – no fear of want.
– George Fitzhugh, Slavery Justified, 1849