To the Editor:

In Professor Stanley M. Elkins’ otherwise masterful review of George Fitzhugh’s Cannibals All! [November 1960] . . . he says of Fitzhugh that “he refused, in his defense of slavery, to use the one argument—racial inferiority—that carried real weight in the North despite all the abolitionists’ equalitarian polemics.” . . . But . . . Fitzhugh plainly advanced that argument in his Sociology for the South, published three years earlier in 1854: “Now, it is clear [Fitzhugh wrote] the Athenian democracy would not suit a Negro nation. . . . He is but a grownup child and must be governed as a child. . . .” It must be said that at the very least, the historical record reveals an equality of polemical irresponsibility either side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Michael McGiffert
University of Denver
Denver, Colorado



Mr. Elkins writes:

I regret that my review of Cannibals All! gave the impression that Fitzhugh was completely above racism. He clearly believed, as did the great majority of Americans of his generation both North and South, that the Negro was by nature childlike and improvident, and he said as much in Sociology for the South. He was careful, however, to limit the implications of this inferiority. The Negro was not a brute, he was a full-fledged human being, albeit weak and dependent.

In Cannibals All!, moreover, by stressing the universality of dependence, Fitzhugh blurred the notion of a specifically racial inferiority and further emphasized the Negro’s humanity. This may still have been racism, but it was a far more humane and a potentially more flexible racism than the rigid color consciousness that dominated the thinking of so many of Fitzhugh’s contemporaries.



+ A A -
Share via
Copy link