To the Home Page of the National Humanities Center Web Site National Humanities Center Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature  contact us | site guide | search 
Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Religion
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Religion
Text 1. Bryant/Freneau
Text 2. John Mayfield
Text 3. Alexis de Tocqueville
Text 4. Frederick Douglass
Text 5. George Fitzhugh
» Reading Guide
•  Link

Text 6. Charles Colcock Jones
Text 7. Henry David Thoreau
Text 8. Mormons


RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
5.  George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South; or, The Failure of Free Society, 1854
  Ch. 6:  "Scriptural Authority for Slavery"
  Ch. 8:  "Religion"


George Fitzhugh was a southern lawyer and plantation owner (of minimal success in both endeavors) whose contempt for the North and its emerging capitalist society resulted in this volume. The key to its theme lies in the subtitle: The Failure of Free Society, i.e., of capitalism and its modern society based on liberty, individualism, and competition. In contrast he offers the "socialism" of the past (in a pre-Marxist sense), where a powered minority protects the poor and weak, as in the slaveholding South where "all is peace, quiet, plenty and contentment."

In these two selections Fitzhugh addresses the place of religion in the "socialism" of the South. In Chapter Six he lists biblical justifications for slavery, including historical precedents and scriptural citations. In Chapter Eight he applauds what he sees as the failure of religious freedom and church-state separation in America, which would have led to moral depravity and social chaos. Comparing Chapter Eight with de Tocqueville's praise of freedom of religion in America is almost imperative. Comparing Chapter Six with the Douglass and Jones pieces is strongly recommended. 6 1/4 pages.


Discussion questions
Chapter 6
  ·  On what basis does Fitzhugh assert that slavery is "repeatedly instituted by God"? How does he explain away the instances where slavery is treated as an evil, or used as punishment, or considered "disgraceful"?
  ·  According to Fitzhugh, how does slavery provide "many sources of happiness"?
  ·  How does Fitzhugh equate true Christianity with slavery and "pretended Christianity" with the freeing of slaves? How would Frederick Douglass have responded?

Chapter 8
  ·  To Fitzhugh, the American republic courted disaster by failing to adopt a state religion. Despite this failure, how did Christianity "slip into our governments"?
  ·  What is the role of faith, even "involuntary belief," in human society? How does religious freedom undermine the social cohesion provided by faith?
  ·  How does Fitzhugh judge the Mormons, utopians, and other religious individualists? How does he feel about women's rights?
  ·  Why is it misguided to believe in human progress, according to Fitzhugh? How has the American experiment gone astray, and what can save it?


Reading highlights
  ·  Note Fitzhugh's apparent anti-Semitism in Chapter Six. Why would he have refuted this characterization?
  ·  In Chapter Eight, note Fitzhugh's contrast of philosophy and religion. Why should we "avoid all philosophy in the practical affairs of life"?


» Link


Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did American Christianity reflect the nation's ideals of democracy, individualism, and progress?
  •  As the nation became more sectionalized, what role did religion play in defining individual and group identity?
  •  How did religion inform the debate over slavery?
  •  How did religious groups outside the mainstream of American Protestantism reflect American culture, even in the act of rejecting it?




Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

Contact Us | Site Guide | Search


Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
National Humanities Center
Web site comments and questions, contact: lmorgan@nationalhumanitiescenter.org
Copyright © 2002 National Humanities Center. All rights reserved.
Revised: January 2002
nationalhumanitiescenter.org