This entry is a part of a series.
To clearly understand the material below in context,
you may wish to begin at the beginning with
the introduction to the series.
Madison Grant has been touted by many to be among the greatest conservationists in American history. After joining Teddy Roosevelt’s Boone and Crockett Club in New York in 1893, he spearheaded many of the club’s efforts to preserve America’s natural wonders from destruction by commercial interests, and stave off extinction of many of the country’s endangered species including bison, moose, elk—and California redwoods. At the same time he headed up the creation of the largest zoo in the world, the Bronx Zoo, establishing a whole new approach to zoo architecture—dispensing whenever possible with cages and replacing them with “natural habitats.” These projects kept him continually busy for the next fifteen years.
But a lecture he heard at a meeting in 1908 riveted his attention in a new direction. As noted in the previous entry in this series, noted economist…and part-time anthropology dabbler and author…William Ripley lectured on some of the main points of his 1899 book titled The Races of Europe. Madison was so impressed that he soon got his own copy of the book, studied it intensely, and used its massive bibliography to guide his own research into the topic at hand. That topic was the imminent possibility of the decline of US civilization because it was being inundated with immigration of “inferior” races of people. Grant realized that indeed “his people”…the aristocratic elite of the country, almost to a man of “northern European” (“Teutonic”) racial stock…were becoming a minority in their own land. If something wasn’t done, and done soon, there would be no turning back.
Birthrates among Northern European Americans were down, the vast majority of immigrants in the past decade and more were from Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe—Italians, Poles, Greeks…Jews—and they reproduced prolifically. Add to that the problem of Northern Europeans “mixing” in marriage with “inferior” races and producing “inferior” children. While he agreed with Ripley’s “facts,” Grant refused to give in to the basic pessimism that there would be no way to stem the tide. And thus Madison Grant took time out of his busy schedule to do extensive research and then write his OWN book on the topic, The Passing of the Great Race.
Grant’s book reiterated many of Ripley’s points, and shared many of the same basic theories. But his book coined a new word to label the Great Race…rather than Teutonic, Grant chose “Nordic.” I guess it emphasized the “Northness” that he wanted to home in on as being the source of all greatness in history. All good things came from men descended from men who were fierce and brave and hardy, and survived battling the ice and snow of the Northlands. (Then again, the Laplanders, hardiest of all Europeans, you’d think, with their reindeer and all…were considered an inferior race by the Nordic theorists of Grant’s time. To say nothing of the Eskimos. Who were way down on the totem pole of races. Go figure.)
Just being “not Negro or Asian or American Indian” (black or yellow or red) wasn’t enough to make someone Nordic. Nor was being European. Europe allegedly had three different “basic races.” The Nordics, mostly from England and points north (but not including Ireland…), were the real deal, the “truest” whites. Tall. Real tall and muscular. And light blond, with blue eyes. And with long narrow noses. Like the Roman statue guys. (See, those guys weren’t REALLY Roman…according to Nordic theory, the leaders of ancient Greece and Rome were mostly transplanted Nordics.)
The European “Alpines” from Central Europe were back down the evolutionary tree, and substandard whites. They were much shorter, less muscular, stocky, broad-nosed. Best suited to being peasants. To say nothing of the “Mediterraneans,” who were darker and swarthier, shorter, and mostly slender.
And to the Nordics belong all the “best characteristics” of mankind.
In addition to virility, other traits that are peculiarly Nordic are loyalty, chivalry, and veracity [“truth-telling”], as well as a love of efficiency, a predilection for organization, and proficiency in marksmanship (the degree to which Grant projects onto the Nordics his own self-image is wondrous to behold).
The Nordics are inherently individualistic, self-reliant, and jealous of their personal freedom, which explains why they are overwhelmingly found in the pews of Protestant congregations. In comparison with the other races, Nordics excel in literature and in scientific research.
“In fact,” declares Grant…“in the Europe of today the amount of Nordic blood in each nation is a very fair measure of its strength in war and standing in civilization.” [from: Spiro, Jonathan. Defending the Master Race. University Press of New England, 2009. Kindle Edition. This book is the source of much of the information about Madison Grant in this blog series. I will just use the name of the author, Spiro, in subsequent citations in this entry.]
Lest you worry that those promoting these theories had a problem with Jesus…no, Grant and friends insisted He was Nordic too. (Not believing in the “virgin birth,” they were sure his dad had been a soldier from Up North.) They were pretty sure Mary wasn’t “Jewish,” either. She would have been somehow descended from some transplanted Nordics too.
King David was probably Nordic (as indicated by biblical references to his fairness), and as to Jesus, Grant assures us that he possessed all the “physical and moral attributes” of a Nordic. This tradition is “so deeply rooted in everyday consciousness that … in depicting the crucifixion no artist hesitates to make the two thieves brunet in contrast to the blond Saviour.” [Spiro]
And if non-Nordic countries “seemed” to have some pretty talented or gifted natives, not to worry. Almost all of them were transplanted Nordics too.
Representative Nordics from the past include Alexander the Great (recognizable by his “Nordic features, aquiline nose, [and] gently curling yellow hair”), Dante Alighieri, and all the chief men of the Renaissance, including Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci (“a fact easily recognized by a close inspection of busts or portraits”). [Spiro]
Yes, the Nordics were the biggest and bestest all the time. Grant’s book declared…
The Nordics are, all over the world, a race of soldiers, sailors, adventurers, and explorers, but above all, of rulers, organizers, and aristocrats in sharp contrast to the essentially peasant character of the Alpines. Chivalry and knighthood, and their still surviving but greatly impaired counterparts, are peculiarly Nordic traits, and feudalism, class distinctions, and race pride among Europeans are traceable for the most part to the north.
… [of the Mediterraneans] This is the race that gave the world the great civilizations of Egypt, of Crete, of Phoenicia including Carthage, of Etruria and of Mycenean Greece. It gave us, when mixed and invigorated with Nordic elements, the most splendid of all civilizations, that of ancient Hellas, and the most enduring of political organizations, the Roman State. To what extent the Mediterranean race entered into the blood and civilization of Rome, it is now difficult to say, but the traditions of the Eternal City, its love of organization, of law and military efficiency, as well as the Roman ideals of family life, loyalty, and truth, point clearly to a Nordic rather than to a Mediterranean origin.
After establishing just how superior the whiter-than-white Nordic race was, Grant then went on to give a blueprint for how “his peeps” might regain their Power Position at the top of civilization. You might say it was a Lily White Blueprint.
It included a combination of eugenics and politics. If those Nordics in power in the US could be convinced that the Great Race was in danger of passing from the American scene, they could pass laws that would turn the tide. First order of business…change the country’s immigration laws to “keep out” the riff-raff. Second order of business…put in place laws that would prohibit interracial marriages/reproduction (and would impose stiff penalties on any who dared flout those laws.) And after that begin dealing with the “problems” already here. Sterilize undesirables…starting with the severely handicapped and the insane (because few people would question the wisdom of that.) But then work gradually toward sterilizing the “weak,” the “unfit”…and eventually the “worthless races.”
And Madison Grant found an audience hungry for his ideas. The first edition sold well, and new editions were released in 1918, 1920, and 1921. It was translated into German, French, and Norwegian for an international audience.
It got rave reviews from a number of periodicals, and spawned numerous imitators. Foremost among those imitators was Lothrop Stoddard.
…Stoddard earned his Ph.D. in 1914, and spent the rest of his life as a journalist, author, and devotee of Madison Grant. Stoddard was in constant contact with Grant, and he borrowed almost all his ideas (and many of his sentences) from the master. His relationship with Grant was probably the closest one of his life, with the notable exception of that with his mother—with whom he continued to live until he finally married at the age of forty-three. (When Stoddard violated what was almost a rule among eugenicists and actually managed to sire two children, a delighted Robert DeCourcy Ward congratulated him on creating “more young Americans of the right stock!” Stoddard’s beloved mother, on the other hand, was greatly perturbed by his marriage and promptly joined a religious cult.) Soon after their marriage, Stoddard’s wife became an ever more devout Christian Scientist, and Stoddard briefly emulated her. He bitterly renounced the religion, however, when his wife died gruesomely from cancer after refusing medical assistance. [Spiro]
Stoddard authored over two dozen books, most related to race and civilization, focusing primarily on the dangers posed by “colored” peoples to “white” civilization. Many of his books and articles were racialist, describing what he saw as the peril of immigration. His most famous book was The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World-Supremacy in 1920.
In this book, he presented a view of the world situation pertaining to race and focusing concern on the coming population explosion among the “colored” peoples of the world and the way in which “white world-supremacy” was being lessened in the wake of World War I and the collapse of colonialism.
…Stoddard argued that race and heredity were the guiding factors of history and civilization and that the elimination or absorption of the “white” race by “colored” races would result in the destruction of Western civilization. [Wiki: Stoddard]
Yes, Grant and Stoddards’ names were connected like Siamese twins much of the time from then on. They even made it as a twosome into the famous novel The Great Gatsby by Jazz-and-Eugenics Age author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in 1922, very shortly after Stoddard’s Rising Tide book had come out, and a new edition of Grant’s Passing book had been recently released, Gatsby includes this little scene. “Tom” below refers to a book by “this man Goddard,” which certainly seems to be a pun mash-up of the names of Grant and Stoddard.
“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read “The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?”
“Why no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.”
“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”
“Tom’s getting very profound,” said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we — ”
“Well these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”
“We’ve got to beat them down,” whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun.
“You ought to live in California —” began Miss Baker, but Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.
“This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and —” After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again. “ — And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization — oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?”
It wasn’t just fictional characters recommending Grant and Stoddards’ books in the 1920s, though.
Most of the nation’s leading newspapers and magazines accepted the writings of Grant and Stoddard as holy writ. The two men received the official endorsement, for example, of the exceedingly influential George Horace Lorimer, who had attended Yale at the same time as Grant and was now the editor of the most widely read magazine in the United States, the Saturday Evening Post. In a series of editorials in the spring of 1921, Lorimer informed the nation that it was time to relinquish “the rose-colored myth” of a “magical melting pot” that was going “to make Americans out of any racial scrap of humanity cast into it.” He endorsed immigration restriction, and recommended “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.” [Spiro]
I can remember reading the Saturday Evening Post as a pre-teen in the 1950s. I particularly admired the folksy Post covers by Norman Rockwell. I had always assumed, in part because of Rockwell’s pictures, that the Post was a heartwarmingly all-American publication that represented The American Dream of equality and liberty and justice for all.
In later years I found that Rockwell had been making those home-spun scenes for the cover of the same mag since 1916! I eventually owned several coffee table books full of his artwork, particular those 300+ Post covers. In all that time, it never dawned on me…there were NEVER any “people of color” on those covers…unless they were portrayed in a “subservient” position, such as this 1940s one of a beaming waiter respectfully serving the needs of a young white gentleman.
When this was first brought to my attention, I thought perhaps it was the “fault” of Norman Rockwell himself. Maybe he was a closet racist?? Then I learned that no, it wasn’t Rockwell…it was the management of the Post, which insisted that this policy be followed. A policy which no doubt had its roots in the editorial tenure of George Horace Lorimer.
It was not until Rockwell finally left the employment of the Post in the 1960s that he was free to explore much more controversial scenarios, particularly for illustrations for Look magazine. Such as these.
Here’s a standard cheery Rockwell cover from 1921, featuring mischievous little white boys, during the period when the insides of the magazine would have been scorched by the rabid racist editorials of Editor Lorimer.
As an enthusiastic convert to scientific racism, Lorimer assigned future Pulitzer Prize recipient Kenneth Roberts [author of historical fiction such as Northwest Passage] to write a series of anti-immigration articles for the Saturday Evening Post in the early 1920s.
Roberts also recommended Passing and Rising Tide to Post readers…
… He then borrowed extensively from The Passing of the Great Race to show that while the United States was “founded and developed by the Nordic race,” if immigration were allowed to continue and “a few more million members of the Alpine, Mediterranean and Semitic races” were “poured among us, the result must inevitably be a hybrid race of people as worthless and futile as the good-for-nothing mongrels of Central America and Southeastern Europe.”
The eagerly anti-Semitic Roberts was an effective propagandist, and his widely read articles—which would be quoted often in Congress during the debates on immigration restriction—gave a particularly unflattering view of the “ruthless” and “underhanded” Jews of Europe, who in Roberts’s view were nothing more than “human parasites.”
Roberts was especially revolted by the “howling, shrieking, pushing, squirming mass” of “wretched” Jews who crowded into the filthy Warsaw ghetto, with their long beards, hooked noses, and greasy gaberdines, and he imparted his revulsion to the readers of the Saturday Evening Post on a regular (some might say obsessive) basis. Roberts found the “stench” of Polish Jews to be “sickening,” and he professed to be frustrated that mere words could not convey the absolute “undesirability of these peculiar people.”
In a chilling passage in “The Existence of an Emergency,” Roberts explained in 1921 that European Jews who obtained visas for the United States were prevented from boarding their steamships until they had been certifiably deloused at the port of embarkation under the watchful eye of a medical officer of the U.S. Public Health Service. The most efficient delousing operation had been set up at the Troyl Emigrant Camp at the port of Danzig, to which Polish Jews were conveyed on special sealed trains from Warsaw. The camp, composed of rows of one-story barracks surrounded by barbed wire, was run and operated by Germans officials. When the Jews arrived at the camp, they were separated by sex, shaved of their hair, stripped of their clothing, and made to line up outside the showers. Roberts interviewed the German guards, who were proud of the camp’s efficiency and boasted of their ability to delouse hundreds of Jews in a single day. While the Jews were in the showers, their clothing was placed in airtight rooms and poisonous gas was piped in “in order to destroy the lice and the germs that are usually present.”
Roberts mocked the hysterical reactions of the Jews when they were ordered to undress in front of the shower rooms, and he snidely remarked that from all their “moans and tears” you would think it was the Jews themselves, rather than their clothing, that were being gassed by the Germans.
If the covers of the Posts of those years had reflected the heart of the editor and some of the other writers, I guess Rockwell maybe could have been asked to paint a group of Negroes and Italians and Jews running from some bloodhounds…
In the editorial quoted above, Lorimer added, “These books [Passing and Rising Tide] 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.”
And “fall into” such hands they did. Lots of “big names” had their own copies. I read that Dr. Rupert Blue, Surgeon General of the US at the time, personally passed along a copy of Passing to Henry Wellcome, noted British pharmaceutical manufacturer. And former president Theodore Roosevelt himself had this to say (from the book jacket of one of the editions):
“This is a capital [“of the very best kind”] book—in purpose, in vision, in grasp of the facts our people must realize it shows an extraordinary range of reading and a wide scholarship. It shows a habit of singular seriousness thought on subjects of most commanding importance. It shows a fine fearlessness in assailing the popular and mischievous sentimentalities and attractive and corroding falsehoods which few men dare assail. It is the work of an American scholar and gentleman; and all Americans should be sincerely grateful to you for writing it.”
Indeed, there were many men in high places in American government and business and the aristocracy in general who winced not a bit at facing what they found very appealing “new and disturbing ideas.”
And were quite willing and prepared to bring them to fruition.
We’ll explore their (astonishingly effective) efforts in further entries in this series, starting with