Lincoln's Defense of Politics: The Public Man and His Opponents in the Crisis over Slavery

By Thomas E. Schneider | Go to book overview

George Fitzhugh


Chapter 5
The Turn to History

George Fitzhugh's antireform writings circulated widely in the 1850s, reaching even the northwestern state of Illinois. They were read with interest by a Springfield lawyer who in later years would preside over the greatest reform in American history since the adoption of the Constitution. Fitzhugh's reputation did not survive the downfall of the society that he had taken up his pen to defend. However, the obscurity into which events have cast him is not necessarily deserved. One sign of Fitzhugh's breadth is the fact that no more than a small fraction of the chapter headings in either of his books, Sociology of the South and Cannibals All! make reference to slavery. The success or failure of a form of society presents a bigger and more enduring question than the fate of one institution. Lincoln acknowledged that Fitzhugh's doctrine of the failure of free society was not without some justification: to save it Lincoln called on “every one who really believes, and is resolved, that free society is not, and shall not be, a failure.”1

Lincoln and Fitzhugh differed in their judgments about the prospects for free society, and they differed accordingly in their views of the wisest course to follow in the crisis that had come upon the American people. The difference in the character of their judgments had consequences for the firmness with which their views were main-

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