Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging: Madison Grant

Madison Grant might be the most loathesome character in American history. Well, that's probably a little harsh. But he's pretty bad.

Some readers might be familiar with Grant. But I'm thinking a lot of people are not. Certainly everyone needs to be. A Google search of Grant will turn up a lot more right-wing websites than anything else. This man not only spouted dangerous racist ideology during the early 20th century, he had the power to make his voice heard and influence policy both in the United States and abroad.

Madison Grant was born into an elite New York family in 1865. A contemporary of Theodore Roosevelt, the two served together in the conservation movement and shared many of the same racial prejudices. Like many of his class, Grant graduated from Yale and became a lawyer. Grant first became known to a larger intellectual public through his work in the conservation movement. Grant, like many upper-class men of his generation, liked to hunt. But Grant, like his friends and fellow conservationists Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, the force behind the founding of Glacier Park, connected hunting with saving the white race from self-destruction. All of these men believed that "white" people were imperiled from the forces of mongrelization and immigration in the modern era. They feared white women having sex and therefore children with lesser peoples, such as Italians and Jews, not to mention blacks. Moreover, they felt that modern America had feminized American males, as the bureaucratic factory, pollution-choked air, and organizations of the Gilded Age robbed them of the means to prove themselves as masculine men. They looked for ways to employ their inner savage. Hunting became one important way to do this--others included the Boy Scouts, the Spanish-American War, boxing, football, hiking, and exploring the tropics. However, the possibility to hunt became imperiled by 1900 as the vast herds that their fathers hunted had vanished. What to do? How could Anglo-Saxon men save themselves, their children, and the race without animals to kill? The answer was conservation. Grant, Roosevelt, Grinnell, and many other wealthy Anglo-Saxon men took on a conservationist mission by the 1890s to protect the last remaining herds of deer, elk, bear, bison, and other American animals in order that they and their sons could hunt them. They published in journals like Forest and Stream, used their political connections to push through game laws, and hounded working-class and non-Anglo Saxon people from the hunting ranges.

Both Grant and Roosevelt used the connections they made between hunting, masculinity, and race outside the conservationist movement. Both blamed immigrants and blacks for diluting the white race and both blamed white women for not producing more children. Roosevelt called blacks "a perfectly stupid race" and accused white women of committing "race suicide." His friend Grant went far further.

Putting to pen beliefs that many upper-class Americans, including Roosevelt, shared, in 1916 Grant published The Passing of the Great Race. Grant attempted to explain the racial history of the world in his work. The Great Race of course was the Nordic race. Having developed among the difficult cold climates of northern Europe, the Nordics created the perfect man.

"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. The mental characteristics of the Mediterranean race are well known, and this race, while inferior in bodily stamina to both the Nordic and the Alpine, is probably the superior of both, certainly of the Alpines, in intellectual attainments. In the field of art its superiority to both the other European races is unquestioned."

Among the many things he recommended was the extermination of "worthless race types" from the human gene pool and to segregate undesirable races in ghettos. He also argued that inferior races wanted to be dominated by superior ones.

The Passing of the Great Race became quite popular. It was a best-seller both in the United States and in Europe. The editor of the Saturday Evening Post 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.” Contrary to what we might think today, not one of Grant's powerful friends disowned him or even distanced themselves from his book. Rather, they continued to work with him on conservationist and anti-immigrant campaigns. They stayed close to him because they agreed with him. They believed that the Anglo race was in peril and that the nation needed immigration reform to stop the white race from becoming permanently diminished with undesirable blood.

In the 1920s, Grant served as the head of the Immigration Restriction League and the Eugenics Research Association. He was a key player in the Second Eugenics Congress in 1921, which built on the original 1912 Eugenics Congress in Britain led by such notables as Winston Churchill and Arthur Balfour. Among the attendees of the Second Eugenics Congress were Alexander Graham Bell, leading conservationist Gifford Pinchot and future U.S. President Herbert Hoover. Sadly, Theodore Roosevelt died in 1919 or no doubt he would have attended as well. Grant went on to publish a sequel to Passing of the Great Race in 1933. Entitled The Conquest of a Continent, Grant wished for the creation of a separation nation for blacks in order to protect white blood from their taint, though he knew that the realities of the American South made this impossible. At the very least, he wanted stricter anti-miscegenation laws, the promotion of contraception among blacks so they stop breeding, and extremely strict legal segregation.

Not surprisingly, Madison Grant's work served as a major influence on one Adolf Hitler. Hitler wrote to Grant, telling him, "The book is my Bible." The defense team for Karl Brandt, head of the Nazi euthanasia program, introducedThe Passing of the Great Race in the Nuremberg Trials, somewhat unsuccessfully given Brandt's death sentence.

I want to make one important point here. There is one degree of separation between Theodore Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. The next time you think of what a hero TR is, remember that the beliefs that he espoused and Grant wrote down deeply influenced Adolf Hitler. Now, I'm not saying that Roosevelt was a Nazi. We can't know what he would have thought of Hitler. But we do know that they shared a lot of unsavory beliefs about non-Nordic peoples. These ideas played a central role in TR's opinions and policies. We need to remember these and make them central to our analysis of Roosevelt's legacy.

Among Grant's other fine accomplishments was his time as the head of the New York Zoological Society, where he worked to have a Congolese pygmy man placed on display with the apes.