Interesting insights by George Fitzhugh

A presentation of interesting insights through quotations by George Fitzhugh

Consciences, in the general, are vague, indeterminate, illusory, half-developed, capricious and undefinable things. To
catch, cage, and analyze a conscience, would be as difficult a task as to arrest, confine, and analyze the electric spark.
We have observed, however, that the most ordinary phenomenon of a good, sound, healthy conscience, is, that it begets
a feeling of elation, self-approval, self-appreciation and happiness when we have succeeded in our undertakings, and
on the other hand depresses our spirits, destroys our self-respect, makes us look mean and sheepish, and feel penitent
and remorseful, when we have failed in those undertakings, without the slightest regard, in either case, to the objects or
ends in view. Much has been said, and with some truth, of a clean shirt and sound stomach, as promotives of cheerful
spirits and a clear conscience. A dyspeptic usually looks and feels mean and melancholy; and his conscience is reproachful
in consequence of the infirmity of his stomach. So a man in a dirty shirt, with a long beard, uncombed hair, and unbrushed
clothes, hat and boots, is un-easy, uncomfortable, and a little conscience-smitten.
– George Fitzhugh, Thad. Stevens’s Conscience, page: 1, 1866

How fallacious, treacherous, and deceptive a guide mere conscience is, we see most conspicuously displayed in the
false estimate which the world holds of successful warriors and great conquerors, and in the false concert and undue
self-appreciation which their successful butcheries engender in themselves. Bonaparte was, without comparison, not
only the greatest of human homicides, but the most purposeless and useless one. Caesar, and all other Roman conquerors,
spread and planted Roman civilization in the track of their conquests; a civilization that generally remains to the present
day, and which probably will never become extinct. Alexander spread Greek civilization throughout Western Asia and
part of Africa, and even Mahomet and his successors elevated and enlightened the people that they subdued. But
Bonaparte did exactly the reverse of all this. He disgusted all sensible, virtuous, and conservative people with French
politics, French manners and customs, French thought, morality and infidelity, with the French language, and with
Frenchmen. In Germany, Austria, Russia, Italy, throughout Continental Europe, and even in England and America,
Bonaparte found French thought, manners and customs aped and imitated, and the French literatire, language, and
civilization cultivated among all the higher and more enlightened classes. When his star began to rise above the
horizon, all Christendom was half-galvanized. His cruel, disorganizing, bloody career of conquest and of carnage,
disgusted whatever was respectable and influential in the world, not only with himself; but with Frenchmen, and
with everything pertaining or peculiar to them. Yet so long as be was successful, the world, except a few of the
thoughtful, admired. He nationalized every petty State in Europe as fast as Caesar and Alexander denationalized
whole continents, and applauded him as never was man admired and applauded before. The world’s conscience
then was where it will always be found, on the side of the successful; and Bonaparte’s conscience became the
more self-satisfied and self-approving, just in proportion as he slaughtered more men, devastated more countries,
and inflicted more of human misery in every form. He became perfectly beside himself with arrogance, pretension,
vanity, and self-conceit, and issued weekly bulletins, more pompous, frothy, silly and absurd, than Alexander’s
drunken pretensions to divinity. Measured by the amount of human misery which he wantonly and causelessly
inflicted, and he was the worst man that ever lived, yet so long as he was successful his whole conduct and
behavior showed that he had the clearest and most proving conscience of any man in Christendom.
– George Fitzhugh, Thad. Stevens’s Conscience, page: 2, 1866

We have not been able to discover the morality of peace, or what single virtue it begets or cherishes. Yet peace has its
uses; if none other, than it is needed to repair the damages of war. Peace and war are antinomes, whose due alternation
preserves the health and well-being, and promotes the growth, progress and improvement of society. War draws men
closer together, makes them dependent on each other, allays domestic strife and competition, in a great measure equalizes conditions, banishes selfishness, and makes men live, labor and fight for each other; and continually seeing and feeling
their mutual inter-dependence, it begets brotherly love. Patriotism itself, the noblest of human virtues, is not love of the
soil of our country, but love for our fellow-citizens. This virtue is dormant and almost extinguished in time of peace, but
bursts forth with beautiful light and intensity in time of war. There are more generous, liberal and charitable actions
performed in one day of war than in a year of peace. Men then obey the scriptural injunction, and love their neighbors
as themselves. And woman, noble woman, throws aside all her little vanities and frivolities, and devotes her means,
her time and her labor to the relief of the sick, the wounded and the needy. The rich no longer hold themselves aloof
from the poor, for they feel the need of the. poor, who are battling side by side with them for the rights, liberty and
independence of all. The poor no longer envy and hate the rich, for they see the wealth of the rich sustaining the war,
and, when needed, supplying the wants of all, either by voluntarily imposed taxation, or by the liberal hand of private
charity. It is a season of almost universal love and brotherhood. A few cold-hearted speculators and extortioners
prey upon the wants and necessities of their fellowmen, but their number is much less than is generally supposed.
-Thoughtless people charge our merchants with extortion, but on investigation it will be found that they pay high
prices for their goods, and sell them at reasonable profits. In all ages and in all countries war has been considered
the most honorable pursuit. Virtue and valor were expressed by the same word among the Romans. So long as they were
virtuous and pros-perous they were always at war. They and all other nations, who have been most distinguished in
war, have succeeded best in cultivating the arts of peace. The Romans were more remarkable for justice, clemency,
piety, morality and general enlightenment than any of the profane nations of antiquity. They originated the first great
system of jurisprudence, which is still the groundwork of the laws of most civilized nations. We find in the Old Testament
that great warriors were the favorites of God, and that wars were often ordained and commanded by him. The subject
is exhaustless; but our object will be answered if we have shown that peace and war are antimimes or opposing
concurrent forces, whose opposition and alternation are necessary parts of the economy of the moral world.
– George Fitzhugh, The Uses and Morality of War, page 2-3, 1866

Almost all men are prone to believe that wars are unmitigated evils, and many look forward with hope and expectation
to a milennial state of society, in which there shall be no wars, no strife, no discord, no jealousies, no rivalries, and
wherein all men shall love, aid, and assist each other. If the absence of national and foreign wars could beget intestine
peace, could banish rivalries, competitions and hatreds among, neighbors, could beget universal love and concord,
then eternal peace would be the summun bonum of human existence. But such milennial beatitude is a utopian
chimera which man is doomed ever to pursue, and never to overtake. National peace begets intestine war-makes
men love money, greedy of gain, selfish, low-minded, effeminate, and sensual. The universal pursuit of wealth
begets fierce and angry competitions, and sets each man at war with his neighbor-for no man ever did acquire
wealth, or ever expected to acquire it, by the labor of his own hands. No man in pursuit of wealth expects, or is
willing to exchange the results of his own labor for an equal amount of the results of other people’s labor. All men,
in times of peace, try to acquire wealth by the profits of capital, which does not labor at all, which is a non-producer,
which taxes or exploila les labor, but does not pay or compensate it; or are trying to grow rich by professional or
mechanical skill, or by sharpness in trade, or in some way to get a great deal of the results of other people’s labor,
for a very little, or none of their own. Peace begets universal war, of the worst exploitation; or, in plain English,
cheating. When nations, communities, sects, or individuals, resolve never to fight, and persevere in practising
their resolves, they take to cheat-ing, and become thoroughly contemptible, selfish, and sensual-lose their
intellectual And moral natures, assimilate themselves to the lowest order of the brute creation, and grow fat
and lazy, like well-fed pigs. All history shows that over-pacific individuals, sects, and nations become knavish,
cowardly, mean, and contemptible, depraved in morals and in intellect, and, finally, the easy prey of more
warlike, virtuous, and intelligent peoples. Sodom and Gomorrah, with all their crimes and sensuality, were
but the legitimate out-growths of peace long continued. “The canker of a calm world and a long peace.”
– George Fitzhugh, The Uses and Morality of War, page 1-2, 1866

To make a people respect itself, is the first step in teaching other peoples to respect it.
Without a cultivated language, national habits, thought, customs, and fashions-and
above all, without a domestic or home literature, a people is little better than a crowd
of imitative monkeys. Making saur kraut and lagerbier, however cunningly, no more
constitutes national character, than producing lots of cotton, sugar, and tobacco. ‘Tis the
achievements of the mind, not of the body, that shed distinction and glory on a people.
– George Fitzhugh, German Literature, page: 1 1860

It has occurred to us sometimes in travelling that it would be well if every man were numbered, just as they number our
rooms and baggage. Indeed it has long been the custom in large hotels to call men by the number of their rooms. When
we first begin travelling it sounds very humiliating to be addressed as Number 375, but one gets used to it after awhile.
As civilization advances, we expect to see men labelled like their trunks. It will be a great convenience in travelling,
and also be exceedingly levelling and democratic. We recommend the plan to the red and black republicans. If
coats of arms be so very criminal, are not aristocratic names equally so. Number Nine Hundred and Ninety-nine
will sound quite as democratic and plebeian as Duc d’ Egalite or “Praise God Barebones.”
– George Fitzhugh, Family History, and the Philosophy of Names, page: 3, 1860

We know hardly-a family most of whose members do not occupy the same social position which their ancestors held
two hundred years ago. Pride of pedigree is the greatest stimulant to exertion, energy, industry, and economy. When
by extravagance or misfortune one generation falls, it is not very difficult for the next generation, by industry and
economy, in a new country like ours, to recover its normal ancestral position. This it usually does. Respectable
connexion, as an incentive to virtuous exertion, will, ere long, cease to be under the ban of public opinion. Every
man in America desires to be an aristocrat, for every man desires wealth, and wealth confers power and distinction,
and makes its owner an unmistakable aristocrat. What vile hypocrisy, what malicious envy and jealousy, to censure
and vilify in others, that which every man of us is trying with might and main to attain. Civilization would cease
but for the universal desire of white men to become aristocrats. The negro rarely indulges such a wish, and
hence, lacking this stimulant to exertion, can only be moved to industrious action by the fear of corporal
punishment. Men are not content with becoming aristocrats themselves, they moreover desire to found a
family and make aristocrats of their posterity. Who is not ambitious to rear a distinguished race (a glorious
ancestry) among his descendants. Ancestry is no more disgraceful in the past than in the future.
– George FItzhugh, Family History, and the Philosophy of Names, page 6-8, 1860

The phenomena of the moral world, though numerous, are not infinite in number. They furnish the
subjects for thought. Like the figures in a kaleidoscope, they are susceptible of a great variety of
combinations. New nations give a seeming originality to old thoughts-or to speak more accurately, every
new nation in thinking for itself originates the same thoughts, which, clothed in a new idiom, have
all the merit of novelty and originality. The Old Testament contains all the thought of the Greeks; yet
the Greeks did not borrow, but originated their thought. Roman thought is chiefly borrowed from
Greece; because her civilization was in great part a mere outgrowth and copy of Greek civilization.
– George Fitzhugh, German Literature, page: 2, 1860

The moral maxims and common sayings of the different nations of ancient and modern times, which
embody all their thought and wisdom, when examined closely, will be found, in all instances, to contain
precisely the same ideas-differing only in the mode of expression. All nations think and originate the
same thought; and they soon get through thinking. Nay, we go farther: for we hold that every man
exhausts the whole field of thought before he is forty-five. He has witnessed all moral phenomena by
that time, and given his cranial kaleidoscope so many shakes, that exhausted it can furnish no new images.
Now, few men are abstractionists, few can look into their mental kaleidoscope, watch the processes
of their own mind; and fewer still, after looking in, can give an intelligible account of the images they
see. Every new man and every new nation pervades the same field of thought, and are original
and instructive when they relate their own observations, great bores when they give other people’s.
– George Fitzhugh, German Literature, page: 3, 1860

We talk a great deal about race in the South. Race certainly erects a far wider distinction and broader difference
amongst men than mere family among men of the same race, and therefore deserves much more attention and
consideration. But there is great inequality and difference between stock, or families of the same race. The blood
or breed of men, both physically and morally, deserves as much attention as the blood of cattle, horses, hogs,
or poultry. Besides, families are the most conservative of all institutions. The “son of nobody” belongs to no
place or country. Men whose kin and ancestry for hundreds of years have resided in the same section, love
their country and may be relied on in times of difficulty. Family pride begets patriotism, and is the only reliable
source from whence it arises. Love of excitement, of adventure, of glory, or of plunder, may induce a man
to fight bravely for any country or in any cause. But ’tis not the mercenary Swiss, nor the needy desperate
adventurer,on whom a country can rely in times of peril. Those who have most ties, like the ancient oak,
that has been putting forth roots for centuries, are the men to cling to and defend their country.
– George Fitzhugh, Family History, and the Philosophy of Names, page: 12, 1860

It has hitherto been the province of history “to teach philosophy by example.” Soon, philosophy will be obliged to return
the favor, by employing itself in collecting, analyzing, and generalizing the thousand minute facts which antiquarian research
is bringing to light as to the history of families, of surnames, and names of places. These facts, disconnected and scattered
through hundreds of volumes, are now useless to the political or general historian, but when properly brought together,
arranged, analyzed, and generalized, will furnish invaluable material from which, by logical induction, the philosopher will
be enabled to write the Social History of the World. The want of such materials has made history, heretofore, the mere
skeleton of the Past. We want the flesh and the blood, as well as the bones of history; and social history, the history of
mankind at large, of man in his normal and ordinary condition, constitutes that flesh and blood-whilst priests and heroes,
kings and emperors, are but the framework and skeleton of what constitutes true history.
– George Fitzhugh, Family History, and the Philosophy of Names, page: 1, 1860

We have made the rash and entirely novel attempt to write about men’s good actions, instead of giving a darker hue to
their crimes; to describe peace, plenty, abundance, contentment, good order, morality and piety, instead of taking our
readers, like a Northern sensation editor, or French or English novelist, into dens of destitution and crime, into gambling
hells, into cellars crowded with disease, infection, and poverty, into deep gloomy mines, wearisome factories, and
starving cottages. The public taste has become vitiated and depraved. It likes “to sup full with horrors” Those writers
are most popular, those books, papers, and reviews, most read, which portray the dark and gloomy side of human
nature. With us it has no dark or gloomy side. We are obliged to say good things of our neighbors, because we know
nothing bad of them. The fashionable writers of the day must be hypochondriacs or vile defamers, or human nature
around them is a very different thing from that to which we have been accustomed. The defect of our society is,
that it gets on so smoothly, so quietly, so comme il faut, that life almost stagnates into ennui et tedium vita. Readers
accustomed to gloat over twenty murders a day, will hardly condescend to read us, who have not a single crime or
stirring tale of human suffering to relate. Possibly, nay, probably, Mr. Reviewer, your readers belong to a class who have
as little taste for the horrible as we. Trusting to this, we are venturing to serve up an intellectual report, without those
condiments of crime and poverty, considered so indispensable by all the fashionable and popular writers of the day.
– George Fitzhugh, The Old Dominion-The Valley of the Rappahannock, page: 5, 1859

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