Pro Slavery Argument from Cannibals All!

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

Cannibals All! by George Fitzhugh (1806-1881) was published in 1857, the same year as the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision. The book owes both its title and much of its intellectual foundation to the British social critic and historian Thomas Carlyle. The book’s central theme was that the black slaves of the south were considerably more free than northern whites who were entrapped by the oppressive system of free labor. Fitzhugh was not a racist and unlike many of his contemporaries read and conversed with abolitionists. A native of Virginia, he married Mary Brockenbrough of Port Royal, Virginia and after their marriage he inherited several of her slaves and moved into her home a somewhat ram shackled plantation. Together they had nine children, but Fitzhugh drifted from occupation to occupation practicing law for a time and working for the Confederate Treasury Department during the Civil War. However he was read widely throughout the South both as a pamphleteer and as a correspondent for the Richmond Enquirer, and the influential southern periodical, De Bow’s Review. He also published another book entitled Sociology for the South: or the Failure of a Free Society in 1855.

Fitzhugh calls on many English thinkers and writers to shape his arguments in Cannibals All! Karl Marx will use many of these same sources and arguments in crafting his masterpiece Das Kapital ten years later.

Transcription of Primary Source

We are all, North and South, engaged in the White Slave Trade, and he who succeeds best is esteemed most respectable. It is far more cruel than the Black Slave Trade, because it exacts more of its slaves, and neither protects nor governs them. We boast that it exacts more when we say, “that the profits made from employing free labor are greater than those from slave labor.” The profits, made from free labor, are the amount of the products of such labor, which the employer, by means of the command which capital or skill gives him, takes away, exacts, or “expatiates” from the fee laborer. The profits of slave labor are that portion of the products of such labor which the power of the master enables him to appropriate. These profits are less, because the master allows the slave to retain a larger share of the results of his own labor than do the employers of free labor…

When the day’s labor is ended, he is free, but is overburdened with the cares of family and household, which makes his freedom an empty and delusive mockery…The Negro slave is free, too, when the labors of the day are over, and free in mind as well as body; for the master provides food, raiment, house, fuel and everything else necessary to the physical well-being of himself and his family.

The Negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and, in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither by care nor labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected from the despotism of their husband by their masters. The Negro men and stout boys work, on the average, in good weather, not more than nine hours a day. The balance of their time is spent in perfect abandon. The free laborer must work or starve. He is more a slave than the Negro because he works longer and harder for less allowance than the slave, and has no holiday, because the cares of his life with him begin when its labors end. He has no liberty, and not a single right.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
Cannibals All! or Slaves Without Masters
This excerpt is from page 18 of a 379 page book.
George Fitzhugh (1806-1881)
A. Morris in Richmond, Virginia
American Antiquarian Society
Catalog Code: 
E455 F555 C857