An eccentric who had trouble finding a career in life, he practiced law and was a struggling planter for years. Fitzhugh attracted both fame and infamy when he published two sociological tracts for the South. He supported slavery and spoke for many of the Southern plantations owners. Before printing books, Fitzhugh tried his hand at pamphlets. This pamphlet was "Slavery Justified" (1849). His first book, "Sociology in 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 to Mary Metcalf Brockenbrough in 1829 and moved to Port Royal, Virginia. There he began his own law business.
An eccentric for most of his life, Fitzhugh took up residence in a "rickety old mansion" known for a vast collection of bats in its dopattic 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. Unusual 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 acquantence 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 Treasury for the Confederacy. After the Civil War, Fitzhugh spent a short time judging for the Freedman'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 the Slavery reduced the pressure on the poor and lower class, in other words, advocating slavery for poor whites as well as blacks.
Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters (1857) was a socialist 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 English 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 consideribly 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 which was 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 ineqalities in "property in man." His ideas of reform could be seen in terms of a pre-Marxist socialist ideology. The extremes advocated by Fitzhugh's writing lead even some of his allies to denounce his bold claims.
Cayton, Andrew, Elisabeth Israels Perry, Linda Reed, Allan M. Winkler. America: Pathways To The Present Prentice Hall: New Jersey. 2002 Kirkpatrick, Mary Alice. George Fitzhugh, 1806-1881 Documenting the South http://docsouth.unc.edu/fitzhughsoc/summary.html
Eugene Genovese's essay, "The Logical Outcome of the Slaveholders' Philosophy," is based upon the work of George Fitzhugh.