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Cannibals All! Or, Slaves without Masters

Cannibals All! Or, Slaves without Masters

George Fitzhugh

Edited by C. Vann Woodward

ISBN 9780674094512

Publication date: 05/01/1966

Cannibals All! got more attention in William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator than any other book in the history of that abolitionist journal. And Lincoln is said to have been more angered by George Fitzhugh than by any other pro-slavery writer, yet he unconsciously paraphrased Cannibals All! in his House Divided speech.

Fitzhugh was provocative because of his stinging attack on free society, laissez-faire economy, and wage slavery, along with their philosophical underpinnings. He used socialist doctrine to defend slavery and drew upon the same evidence Marx used in his indictment of capitalism. Socialism, he held, was only “the new fashionable name for slavery,” though slavery was far more humane and responsible, “the best and most common form of socialism.”

His most effective testimony was furnished by the abolitionists themselves. He combed the diatribes of their friends, the reformers, transcendentalists, and utopians, against the social evils of the North. “Why all this,” he asked, “except that free society is a failure?”

The trouble all started, according to Fitzhugh, with John Locke, “a presumptuous charlatan,” and with the heresies of the Enlightenment. In the great Lockean consensus that makes up American thought from Benjamin Franklin to Franklin Roosevelt, Fitzhugh therefore stands out as a lone dissenter who makes the conventional polarities between Jefferson and Hamilton, or Hoover and Roosevelt, seem insignificant. Beside him Taylor, Randolph, and Calhoun blend inconspicuously into the American consensus, all being apostles of John Locke in some degree. An intellectual tradition that suffers from uniformity—even if it is virtuous, liberal conformity—could stand a bit of contrast, and George Fitzhugh can supply more of it than any other American thinker.


  • George Fitzhugh was possibly the best-known, and probably the best, apologist of the system of Negro slavery which prevailed in the South of the United States until the Civil War. In 1854 he published Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society, and in 1857 Cannibals All!, or, Slaves Without Masters… Fitzhugh was that rare thing, an American conservative; indeed his conservatism was so radical that, apart from his support for the American Revolution, he was almost an American Tory. Professor Woodward traces the influence of Carlyle and Disraeli, and the earlier tradition of Aristotle and Filmer… Yet Fitzhugh was really, as Professor Woodward says, ‘an American original,’ and Cannibals All! is a highly readable text in the John Harvard Library of documents of American cultural history. Fitzhugh was drastically, even deliberately, old-fashioned in his views, but at the same time remarkably modern in the way he came to them through sociology and psychology rather than philosophy, religion, economics or law.

    —Times Literary Supplement


  • George Fitzhugh, lawyer, planter, newspaperman, sociologist, was born in Virginia in 1806. He married in 1829, had nine children, and lived until the Civil War in his wife’s home in Port Royal, Virginia. During this period he practiced law, was employed briefly in the Attorney General’s office, wrote for various periodicals and newspapers, and published two books, Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society (1854) and Cannibals All! (1857). After a foray into abolitionist territory in 1856, including a debate in New Haven with Wendell Phillips, he returned to the South more convinced than ever of his position, and up to the War he remained hopeful of converting the North. Fitzhugh died in Texas in 1881.
  • C. Vann Woodward was Professor of American History at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is the author of several authoritative books on the South: Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel (1938); Origins of the New South (1951); Reunion and Reaction (1951); and The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955). He passed away on December 17, 1999.

Book Details

  • 306 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press