Madison Grant and the Racialist Movement
George McDaniel, American Renaissance, December 1997
Perhaps more than any other man, Madison Grant created what we might call the “racialist moment” in American history. This was the period beginning approximately with the administration of Theodore Roosevelt (who wrote that the Negro was a member of “a perfectly stupid race”) and continuing through the administration of Warren Harding, during which the country discarded its remaining, melting-pot sentimentalism about blacks and foreign immigration. The period also saw the emergence of a new science, eugenics, which promised to banish inherited evils. This era of explicit, intellectual racialism lasted until approximately the Great Depression, then withered under Franklin Roosevelt’s massive shift to the Left, and finally collapsed during the war with Nazi Germany.
Madison Grant (1865–1937) worked tirelessly for the racialist movement for almost this entire period. He joined, chaired, and often founded its organizations. He counted among his closest associates U.S. Presidents, top industrialists, best-selling writers, and some of the greatest scientists of the time. And he wrote two of the seminal works of American racialism: The Passing of the Great Race (1916) and The Conquest of a Continent (1933).
Grant was born in New York in 1865, just as the first of the modern white-against-white conflicts was closing. He was descended from Jacobites who came to the colonies from Scotland after the defeat of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” in the Forty-Five uprising (1745), and throughout his life retained the Jacobite brand of conservative fire. He was graduated from Yale in 1887 and received a law degree from Columbia in 1890.
The Passing of the Great Race was published in 1916 to immediate popular success. It established Grant as an authority in anthropology, and laid the groundwork for his research in the emerging science of eugenics. It was read by presidents, dictators, scientists, and common people alike, and even today — excoriated as it is — it has much to teach. The impact of the book can be understood only in the cultural milieu in which it appeared.
Immigration just after the War Between the States proceeded at great speed. The decade of the 1880s saw the arrival of 5,246,613 immigrants, and in 1882 alone, 788,992 were admitted. Two hundred twenty thousand Chinese came from 1854 to 1882. Subsiding a bit in the nineties, the influx rose again after the turn of the century, averaging over 800,000 arrivals each year between 1900 and 1914. Most of these were immigrants from parts of the world unfamiliar to Americans: Russia, Poland, Austria-Hungary, Italy, the Balkans, and Turkey. Many newcomers brought Marxist and anarchist ideas alien to the old American stock.
Just as it does today, the American identity faced a two-pronged threat: a large influx of aliens and the presence of a large Negro element. Negro migration to the Northern industrial cities brought a slow awakening to the entire country of the true nature of the race problem, and Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel, The Clansman, was one of the first works in the new century to focus on it. The book’s sympathetic account of the first Ku Klux Klan encouraged a reappraisal of often-sentimental notions about blacks.
In a sense, this reappraisal came to a head in August, 1908, in Lincoln’s own Springfield, Illinois. A black habitual criminal attacked a white girl in her bedroom and, while being pursued by her father, turned and killed him with a razor. At least one other attack on a white woman was also reported, and the white people responded by killing two blacks and burning down a crime-ridden black neighborhood called the “Badlands.” Thousands of local blacks fled Springfield. It was this event that inspired the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Springfield in 1909.
In 1915, a new entertainment medium widened the audience for the racialist message when D.W. Griffith debuted his film masterpiece, Birth of a Nation. Based upon The Clansman, and, to some degree, on Dixon’s 1902 novel, The Leopard’s Spots, this movie was hailed as a technical triumph even by its harshest critics. Nevertheless, the NAACP, along with other black and some Jewish organizations, picketed the movie and threatened violence in the cities where it opened.
The success of the film was in some doubt when Dixon contacted his old Johns Hopkins classmate, President Woodrow Wilson, and arranged a special showing at the White House. Wilson is said to have leapt to his feet, exclaiming, “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”
With the news that the President loved it, audiences flocked to see Birth of a Nation. During its opening in Atlanta, William J. Simmons announced the founding of the second Ku Klux Klan, in nearby Stone Mountain, Georgia. This Klan organization went on to sweep the country, becoming especially strong in the Midwest.
The Passing of the Great Race was published the next year, in 1916. Grant intended it as a call to American whites to counter the dangers both from blacks and non-traditional immigration. Adopting the then-popular racial taxonomy of William Z. Ripley in The Races of Europe, Grant describes the three European subraces of Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean. As was common in his day, he unabashedly favored the Nordic and went to great pains to contrast Nordic civilization and traits with that of other races and subraces. For example, he faulted Nordic, altruistic devotion to blacks and other unsuccessful groups, a devotion that always proves self-destructive.
Grant concluded that America should abandon a largely open-door immigration policy. He favored a eugenics program that would promote the Nordic race and discourage the expansion of the colored races in the white world. In particular, he condemned miscegenation.
It is worth noting that one of the reasons Grant and other racialists opposed the new immigration was that it brought alien ideologies. The First World War had seen the triumph of Bolshevism, and continuing immigration from Eastern Europe brought Marxists. Like most racialists, Grant saw socialism as unfit for Nordics. When he was helping found the Galton Society in 1918, he wrote to the other organizers: “My proposal is the organization of an anthropological society . . . confined to native Americans, who are anthropologically, socially, and politically sound, no Bolsheviki need apply.”
The Passing of the Great Race became an immediate best-seller, with new editions in 1918, 1920, and 1921, multiple printings, and translations into German, French, and Norwegian.
It was reviewed favorably by Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and by periodicals as diverse as the Journal of Heredity and The Saturday Evening Post. The editor of the Post commissioned a series of articles on immigration in a similar vein, and in an editorial in the May 7, 1921, issue wrote: “Two books in particular that every American should read if he wishes to understand the full gravity of our present immigration problem: Mr. Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race and Dr. Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color. . . . These books should do a vast amount of good if they fall into the hands of readers who can face without wincing the impact of new and disturbing ideas.”
The Passing of the Great Race did indeed fall into the hands of such readers, turning up in the personal libraries of some of the most important figures of the day. It was typical, for example, that Dr. Rupert Blue, Surgeon General of the United States, gave a copy personally to Sir Henry Wellcome the British pharmaceutical manufacturer.
Grant was not alone in sounding the alarm. Some of the other books published during this period include: Mankind at the Crossroads by E.G. Conklin (1914); America’s Greatest Problem: The Negro by Major R.W. Shufeldt (1915); The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy by Lothrop Stoddard (1920, Introduction by Grant); Race and National Solidarity by Charles Josey (1923); Applied Eugenics by Paul Popenoe and Roswell Johnson (1923); and The Fruit of the Family Tree by Alfred E. Wiggam (1924). These were all intended for a mass audience, but academic textbooks soon joined them, including Genetics and Eugenics by W.E. Castle (1916) and Evolution, Genetics, and Eugenics by H.H. Newman (1921).
The effect was felt at both the state and federal level. Twenty-four states passed laws encouraging sterilization of those who were retarded, insane, or had criminal records. At the Federal level, in 1921, Albert Johnson, head of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, began a series of hearings on immigration. He appointed Harry Laughlin, who in 1922 would be one of Grant’s co-founders of the American Eugenics Society, as an expert witness on eugenics. In 1922, Laughlin reported extensively on racial differences in IQ as measured by the new army intelligence test.
In 1923, Grant’s close friend Henry Fairfield Osborn, the famous paleontologist who named “tyrannosaurus rex,” spoke enthusiastically about intelligence testing: “We have learned once and for all that the Negro is not like us.”
This was precisely the kind of thing Grant and others had been saying for years. These ideas helped pass the Johnson Act of 1924, which established national origin immigration quotas of 2 percent of the number of foreign-born already in America as determined by the census of 1890. This greatly reduced the flow of immigrants from non-traditional sources, a policy that remained essentially unchanged until 1965.
Grant called the act a “new Declaration of Independence,” and his entry in The Dictionary of American Biography credits him with helping it pass. In its 1937 obituary, the New York Times said of Grant’s book: “Besides being a recognized book on anthropology, it has often been called to Congressional attention in the passage of restrictive immigration laws. . . . Mr. Grant . . . helped frame the Johnson Restriction Act of 1924.”
Grant was active throughout the 1920s, serving as president of both the Immigration Restriction League and the Eugenics Research Association. He was also treasurer of one of the most important events in the history of eugenics, the Second Eugenics Congress of 1921. This event continued the pattern of the First Eugenics Congress, which had been held in London in 1912, with Winston Churchill as one of the sponsors and at which Prime Minister Arthur Balfour delivered the inaugural address. The second congress was hosted by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. More than 300 delegates came from Europe, Latin America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. No German scientists were invited because of the policy of ostracism that continued after the war.
Among the notables in attendance were future President Herbert Hoover, Alexander Graham Bell (the Congress’s honorary president), conservationist and future Governor of Pennsylvania, Gifford Pinchot, and Leonard Darwin, son of Charles Darwin. Henry Fairfield Osborn, director of the museum, was president. Harry Laughlin was in charge of exhibits, and Lothrop Stoddard handled publicity. One hundred eight papers were presented on topics ranging from plant and animal genetics to anthropology and political science. The conference signaled the vitality of a young science that was nevertheless destined to die an early death.
Madison Grant continued to lobby for immigration control even after the passage of the Johnson Act. In 1927, he and other eugenicists signed a “Memorial on Immigration Quotas,” urging the President and Congress to extend “the quota system to all countries of North and South America . . . in which the population is not predominantly of the white race.”
Grant continued to write. In 1930, along with Lothrop Stoddard, Harry Laughlin, Charles Davenport, Paul Popenoe, and Henry Fairfield Osborn, and others, he contributed to The Alien in Our Midst, subtitled Selling Our Birthright for a Mess of Pottage.
The book was Grant’s idea and — like Conquest a few years later — was written to defend the 1924 immigration act. It included essays on race and immigration from both contemporary writers and from great Americans of the past like Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and George Washington. The book was widely distributed to legislators and editors by the American Coalition of Patriotic Societies.
In 1933, Grant’s second major work, The Conquest of a Continent, appeared. In it, he explained why he wrote the book:
A controversy immediately arose over this new basis [the national origins immigration quotas], as it was to the interest of every national and religious group of aliens now here to exaggerate the importance and size of its contribution to the population of the country, especially in Colonial times. . . . The purpose of this opposition was to warp public opinion in regard to the merits of various national groups and to exaggerate the non-Anglo-Saxon elements in the old Colonial population. This book is an effort to make an estimate of the various elements, national and racial, existing in the present population of the United States and to trace their arrival and subsequent spread.
He then embarks on what Henry Fairfield Osborn in the introduction calls the “first racial history of . . . any nation.” Especially interesting today is Grant’s analysis of the Negro problem. He writes: “Among the various outland elements now in the United States which threaten in various degrees our national unity, the most important is the Negro.” He discusses several proposed solutions.
First, “slow amalgamation with the Whites,” he rejects immediately, arguing that this would “produce a racial chaos such as ruined the Roman Empire.” He considers repatriation at somewhat greater length, but rejects this as well, for reasons no longer applicable in our time: “Today, [repatriation to Africa] is not possible, because Africa, with the exception of Liberia, is under the control of white states, which certainly would not welcome such an enormous addition to their own color problem. . . .”
The third solution Grant considers is the establishment of a separate black nation within the territory of the United States. This he tends to reject because it would involve the abandonment of large sections of the South, but he admits that something similar had already occurred in some areas, both in America and, especially, in the West Indies:
This has actually happened in some places along the lower Mississippi River, where the numbers of the Negroes have become so overwhelming that the few remaining Whites have simply moved out and abandoned the district to them. It has happened and is happening in the West Indies. Haiti and Santo Domingo have been entirely turned over to Negroes and other examples of West Indian Islands almost abandoned to Negroes can be found.
In the final analysis, Grant has no easy answers to the problem. He urges states to adopt laws prohibiting intermarriage and he castigates Christian churches in the North for “trying to break down the social barriers between Negro and White.” Social separation is paramount, he says, and to that end public opinion “might well stop exalting the Mulatto and thereby putting its stamp of approval on miscegenation. Negroes should be encouraged to respect their own racial integrity.” And, finally, contraception should be made “universally available to them.”
Perhaps because Passing of the Great Race had been so influential, Conquest of a Continent provoked an immediate storm of opposition. On December 13, 1933, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, Richard E. Gutstadt, sent the following letter to the publishers of a number of Jewish periodicals:
Scribner & Sons have just published a book by Madison Grant entitled ‘The Conquest of a Continent.’ It is extremely antagonistic to Jewish interests. Emphasized throughout is the ‘Nordic superiority’ theory, and the utter negation of any ‘melting pot’ philosophy with regard to America.
We are interested in stifling the sale of this book. We believe that this can be best accomplished by refusing to be stampeded into giving it publicity. Every review or public criticism of the book of this character brings it to the attention of many who would otherwise know nothing of it. This results in added sales. The less discussion there is concerning it, the more sales resistance will be created.
We therefore appeal to you to refrain from comment on this book, which will undoubtedly be brought to your attention sooner or later. It is our conviction that a general compliance with this request will sound the warning to other publishing houses against engaging in this type of venture.
In fact, Grant wrote very little about Jews, noting only his view that they were of Central European, Khazar origin: “It is doubtful whether there is a single drop of the old Palestinian, Semitic-speaking Hebrew blood among these East European Jews.”
Nevertheless, by this time, Hitler had begun consolidating power in Germany and his excesses were undermining eugenics and scientific racial theory. The New York Times, in its review of Conquest, was quick to make the connection: “Substitute Aryan for Nordic and a good deal of Mr. Grant’s argument would lend itself without much difficulty to the support of some recent pronouncements in Germany.”
Grant actually had occasion to caution others about the National Socialist government. In 1934, he wrote to Laughlin warning that American eugenicists should be careful in their relations with Germany and should “proceed cautiously in endorsing” the actions being taken by the German government.
Another aspect of Grant’s career that he considered intimately related to his work in racial science was conservationism, and his involvement with nature and wildlife was long and varied. Just as with the racialist movement, he was ever the leader. In 1895, along with Theodore Roosevelt and a handful of others, he co-founded the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society), and served as its secretary until 1924. He helped found the American Bison Society in 1905; was president of the Bronx Zoo for many years; was co-founder and president of the Bronx Parkway Commission (which built the road to the Zoo); co-founder of the Save the Redwoods League; and a founding member of the Boone and Crockett Club, which helped establish Yellowstone National Park.
In an excellent essay in the April, 1995 issue of The Mankind Quarterly, Roger Pearson writes about the link between conservation and racial thinking:
The success of the conservationist movement in the United States at this vital period in the nation’s history was facilitated by the sympathy of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was deeply concerned about the threat to the quality of both the natural and human stock of America. . . .
With Madison Grant serving as secretary and later as president, the Boone and Crockett Club was largely comprised of eugenicists and eugenics sympathizers. Renowned as one of the more active members of the eugenics movement, and especially for his efforts to preserve the ‘Old American’ component of the American population, Grant worked just as ardently to preserve the natural heritage for future generations of Americans and should be remembered always with honor as one of the nation’s greatest benefactors.
Despite disavowals by American eugenicists, Nazism had already begun to erode support for the eugenics movement by the 1930s. German policies played into the hands of people like the anti-eugenicist, Franz Boas of Columbia, a socialist who launched a one-man crusade to destroy eugenics and “undermine the belief in race as a primary factor in cultural behavior.” Through his many books and students (including Margaret Mead and Ashley Montagu), Boas’ views began to prevail.
Even so, Grant’s efforts never flagged. In 1932, he again served as treasurer of the third and final Eugenics Congress. This Congress was also held at the Museum of Natural History, and included as sponsors Mrs. E. H. Harriman, Mrs. H. B. Dupont, Dr. J. Harvey Kellogg (of Kellogg’s cereals), and Leonard Darwin.
Conquest was published in 1933, after which Grant served on the advisory board of Eugenical News. He continued to write, to plan, to lobby. But the old days were ending. A schism had developed among eugenicists between those who favored “negative eugenics” and those in the “mainstream” who promoted “positive eugenics.” Moreover, Nazism was rapidly discrediting the science. By mid-decade, Osborn had died, and Grant himself died on May 30, 1937. The man who had devoted so much of his life to preserving his race left no children.
Two years later, Hitler invaded Poland. From then on, eugenics would be equated with concentration camps, Nazi doctors, Holocaust, and war crimes. As a science it was dead. Ironically, Grant’s views on nature and wildlife have been largely adopted, and conservation is at the forefront of mainstream thought. Of course, Grant receives little credit for this. His dreams of racial preservation, which he saw as part and parcel of nature conservation, are reviled today by all but a few. They owe it to the memory of this early activist to carry on his work, to ensure that the ideals of Madison Grant do not perish.