Madison Grant (November 19, 1865 – May 30, 1937) was an American lawyer known primarily for his work as a eugenicist and conservationist. As a eugenicist, Grant was responsible for one of the most famous works of scientific racism, and played an active role in crafting strong immigration restriction and anti-miscegenation laws in the United States.
As a conservationist, Grant was credited with the saving of many different species of animals, founding many different environmental and philanthropic organizations and developing much of the discipline of wildlife management.
Grant was born in New York City, New York to Gabriel Grant, a well-known physician and American Civil War surgeon, and Caroline Manice. Madison Grant's mother was a descendant of Jessé de Forest, the Walloon Huguenot who in 1623 recruited the first band of colonists to settle in New Netherland. On his father's side, Madison Grant's first American ancestor was Richard Treat, dean of Pitminster Church in England, who in 1630 was one of the first Puritan settlers of New England. Grant's forebears through Treat's line include Robert Treat a colonial governor of New Jersey, Robert Treat Paine (a signer of the Declaration of Independence), Charles Grant (Madison Grant's grandfather who served as an officer in the War of 1812) and Gabriel Grant (father of Madison), a prominent physician and the health commissioner of Newark. Dr. Gabriel Grant was awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as surgeon with the Second New Jersey volunteers in the Civil War. During the Battle of Fair Oaks, he moved the wounded to safety while under heavy fire. Grant was a lifelong resident of New York City.
Grant was the oldest brother among four siblings. The children's summers, and many of their weekends, were spent at Oatlands, the beautiful Long Island country estate built by their grandfather DeForest Manice in the 1830s. As a child he attended private schools and traveled Europe and the Middle East with his father. He attended Yale University, graduating early and with honors in 1887. He received a law degree from Columbia Law School, and practiced law after graduation; however, his interests were primarily those of a naturalist. He never married and he had no children. He first achieved a political reputation when he and his brother, De Forest Grant, took part in the electoral campaign of New York mayor William Lafayette Strong in 1894.
Grant is most famously the author of the popular book The Passing of the Great Race in 1916, an elaborate work of racial hygiene detailing the "racial history" of Europe. The most important of Grant's concerns with the changing "stock" of American immigration of the early 20th century (characterized by increased numbers of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, as opposed to Western and Northern Europe), Passing of the Great Race was a "racial" interpretation of contemporary anthropology and history, stating race as the basic motor of civilization.
Similar ideas were proposed by Gustav Kossinna in Germany. Grant promoted the idea of the "Nordic race", a loosely defined biological-cultural grouping rooted in Scandinavia, as the key social group responsible for human development; thus the subtitle of the book was The racial basis of European history. As an avid eugenicist, Grant further advocated the separation, quarantine, and eventual collapse of "undesirable" traits and "worthless race types" from the human gene pool and the promotion, spread, and eventual restoration of desirable traits and "worthwhile race types" conducive to Nordic society:
|“||A rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or unfit—in other words social failures—would solve the whole question in one hundred years, as well as enable us to get rid of the undesirables who crowd our jails, hospitals, and insane asylums. The individual himself can be nourished, educated and protected by the community during his lifetime, but the state through sterilization must see to it that his line stops with him, or else future generations will be cursed with an ever increasing load of misguided sentimentalism. This is a practical, merciful, and inevitable solution of the whole problem, and can be applied to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types.||”|
In the book, Grant recommends segregating "unfavorable" races in ghettos by installing civil organizations through the public health system to establish quasi-dictatorships in their particular fields. He states the expansion of non-Nordic race types in the Nordic system of freedom would actually mean a slavery to desires, passions, and base behaviors.
In turn, this corruption of society would lead to the subjection of the Nordic community to "inferior" races, who would in turn long to be dominated and instructed by "superior" ones utilizing authoritarian powers. The result would be the submergence of the indigenous Nordic races under a corrupt and enfeebled system dominated by inferior races, and both in turn would be subjected by a new ruling race class.
Nordic theory, in Grant's formulation, was similar to many 19th century racial philosophies which divided the human species into primarily three distinct races: Caucasoids (based in Europe), Negroids (based in Africa), and Mongoloids (based in Asia). Nordic theory, however, further subdivided Caucasoids into three groups: Nordics (who inhabited Northern Europe and other parts of the continent), Alpines (whose territory included central Europe and parts of Asia), and (who inhabited Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East).
In Grant's view, Nordics probably evolved in a climate that "must have been such as to impose a rigid elimination of defectives through the agency of hard winters and the necessity of industry and foresight in providing the year's food, clothing, and shelter during the short summer. Such demands on energy, if long continued, would produce a strong, virile, and self-contained race which would inevitably overwhelm in battle nations whose weaker elements had not been purged by the conditions of an equally severe environment." The "Proto-Nordic" human, Grant reasoned, probably evolved in eastern Germany, Poland and Russia, before migrating northward to Scandinavia.
The Nordic, in his theory, was Homo europaeus, the white man par excellence. "It is everywhere characterized by certain unique specializations, namely, wavy brown or blond hair and blue, gray or light brown eyes, fair skin, high, narrow and straight nose, which are associated with great stature, and a long skull, as well as with abundant head and body hair." Grant categorized the Alpines as being the lowest of the three European races, with the Nordics as the pinnacle of civilization.
|“||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.||”|
Grant, while aware of the "Nordic Migration Theory" into the Mediterranean, appears to reject this theory as an explanation for the high civilization features of the Greco-Roman world.
|“||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.||”|
Grant also considered North Africa as part of Mediterranean Europe:
|“||Africa north of the Sahara, from a zoological point of view, is now, and has been since early Tertiary times, a part of Europe. This is true both of animals and of the races of man. The Berbers of north Africa to-day are racially identical with the Spaniards and south Italians.||”|
Yet while Grant recognized Mediterraneans to have abilities in art, as quoted above, later in the text, he pondered if the Mediterranean achievements in civilization were due to Nordic original ideals and structure:
|“||This is the race that gave the world the great civilizations of Egypt, of Crete, of Phoenicia including Carthage, of Etruria and of Mycenaean 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.||”|
According to Grant, Nordics were in a dire state in the modern world, where, because of their abandonment of cultural values rooted in religious or superstitious proto-racialism, they were close to committing "race suicide" by miscegenation and by being outbred by inferior stock taking advantage of the situattion.
The book was immensely popular, went through multiple printings in the United States, and was translated into a number of other languages, notably German in 1925. By 1937, the book had sold 16,000 copies in the United States alone. Nordic theory was strongly embraced by the racial hygiene movement in Germany in the early 1920s and 1930s, which, however, they typically used the term "Aryan" instead of "Nordic," but the principal Nazi ideologist, Alfred Rosenberg, preferred "Aryo-Nordic" or "Nordic-Atlantean".
Stephen Jay Gould described The Passing of the Great Race as "the most influential tract of American scientific racism." Grant's work was embraced by proponents of the National Socialist movement in Germany and was the first non-German book ordered to be reprinted by the Nazis when they took power. Adolf Hitler wrote to Grant, "The book is my Bible."
Grant's work is considered one of the most influential and vociferous works of scientific racism and eugenics to come out of the United States. One of his long-time opponents was the anthropologist Franz Boas. Grant disliked Boas and for several years tried to get him fired from his position at Columbia University. Boas and Grant were involved in a bitter struggle for control over the discipline of anthropology in the United States while they both served (along with others) on the National Research Council Committee on Anthropology after the First World War.
Grant represented the "" branch of physical anthropology at the time, despite his relatively amateur status, and was staunchly opposed to and by Boas himself (and the latter's students), who advocated cultural anthropology. Boas and his students eventually wrested control of the American Anthropological Association from Grant and his supporters and used as a flagship organization for his brand of anthropology. In response, Grant founded the with American eugenicist and biologist Charles B. Davenport in 1918 as an alternative to Boas.
Grant advocated restricted immigration to the United States through limiting immigration from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe, as well as the complete end of immigration from East Asia. He also advocated efforts to purify the American population through selective breeding. He served as the vice president of the Immigration Restriction League from 1922 to his death. Acting as an expert on world racial data, Grant also provided statistics for the Immigration Act of 1924 to set the quotas on immigrants from certain European countries. Even after passing the statute, Grant continued to be irked that even a smattering of non-Nordics were allowed to immigrate to the country each year. He also assisted in the passing and prosecution of several anti-miscegenation laws, notably the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in the state of Virginia, where he sought to codify his particular version of the "one-drop rule" into law.
Though Grant was extremely influential in legislating his view of racial theory, he began to fall out of favor in the United States in the 1930s. The declining interest in his work has been attributed both to the effects of the Great Depression, which resulted in a general backlash against Social Darwinism and related philosophies, and to the changing dynamics of racial issues in the United States during the interwar period. Rather than subdivide Europe into separate racial groups, the bi-racial (black vs. white) theory of Grant's protege Lothrop Stoddard became more dominant in the aftermath of the Great Migration of African-Americans from Southern States to Northern and Western ones (Guterl 2001). The rise of the Nazis in Germany also contributed to Grant's intellectual falling out of favor, as the similarity of their overtly racist theories to Grant's would become a liability even before they were officially an enemy at war against the United States.
Grant was a close friend of several U.S. presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover, and also was an avid conservationist. He is credited with saving many natural species from extinction, and co-founded the Save-the-Redwoods League with Frederick Russell Burnham, John C. Merriam, and Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1918. He is also credited with helping develop the first deer hunting laws in New York state, legislation which spread to other states as well over time.
He was also the creator of wildlife management, helped to found the Bronx Zoo, build the Bronx River Parkway, save the American bison as an organizer of the American Bison Society, and helped to create Glacier National Park and Denali National Park. In 1906, as Secretary of the New York Zoological Society, he lobbied to put Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy, on display alongside apes at the Bronx Zoo.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, he served on the boards of many eugenic and philanthropic societies, including the board of trustees at the American Museum of Natural History, a director of the American Eugenics Society, vice president of the Immigration Restriction League, a founding member of the Galton Society, and one of the eight members of the . He was awarded the gold medal of the in 1929. In 1931, the world's largest tree (in Dyerville, California) was dedicated to Grant, Merriam, and Osborn by the California State Board of Parks in recognition for their environmental efforts. A species of caribou was named after Grant as well (Rangifer tarandus granti, also known as Grant's Caribou). He was a member of the Boone and Crockett Club (a big game hunting organization) since 1893, where he was friends with president Theodore Roosevelt. He was head of the New York Zoological Society from 1925 until his death.
Historian has argued that Grant's interests in conservationism and eugenics were not unrelated: both are hallmarks of the early 20th-century Progressive movement, and both assume the need for various types of stewardship over their charges. In Grant's mind, natural resources needed to be conserved for the Nordic Race, to the exclusion of other races. Grant viewed the Nordic race lovingly as he did any of his endangered species, and considered the modern industrial society as infringing just as much on its existence as it did on the redwoods. Like many eugenicists, Grant saw modern civilization as a violation of "survival of the fittest", whether it manifested itself in the over-logging of the forests, or the survival of the poor via welfare or charity.[verification needed]
Grant became a part of popular culture in 1920s America, especially in New York. Grant's conservationism and fascination with zoological natural history made him very influential among the New York elite who agreed with his cause, most notably Theodore Roosevelt. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald featured a reference to Grant in The Great Gatsby. Tom Buchanan, the husband of Daisy Buchanan, the novel's principal female character, was reading a book called The Rise of the Colored Empires by "this man Goddard", a combination of Passing of the Great Race (Grant) and his colleague Lothrop Stoddard's The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy (Stoddard; Grant wrote the introduction to Stoddard's book).
"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?"
There was something pathetic in his concentration, as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more.
In May 1921, soon after his unhappy first visit to Europe, Fitzgerald wrote to Edmund Wilson:
God damn the continent of Europe. It is of merely antiquarian interest. Rome is only a few years behind Tyre and Babylon. The negroid streak creeps northward to defile the Nordic race. Already the Italians have the souls of blackamoors. Raise the bars of immigration and permit only Scandinavians, Teutons, Anglo-Saxons and Celts to enter. France made me sick. Its silly pose as the thing the world has to save. I think it's a shame that England and America didn't let Germany conquer Europe. It's the only thing that would have saved the fleet of tottering old wrecks. (Letters 326)
Fitzgerald recognized the racism implicit in these statements and seemed to abhor it. "My reactions," he wrote "were all philistine, anti-socialistic, provincial and racially snobbish." Yet he continued in the same vein as previously: "I believe at last in the white man's burden. We are as far above the modern Frenchman as he is above the Negro. Even in art!" And so on".
Grant left no offspring when he died in 1937 of nephritis. Several hundred people attended Grant's funeral, and he was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York. He left a bequest of $25,000 to the New York Zoological Society to create "The Grant Endowment Fund for the Protection of Wild Life", left $5,000 to the American Museum of Natural History, and left another $5,000 to the Boone and Crockett Club.
Passing of the Great Race was lauded by Adolf Hitler, who in the early 1930s wrote a 'fan letter' to Grant in which he called the book "his Bible". At the postwar Nuremberg Trials, Grant's Passing of the Great Race was introduced into evidence by the defense of Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician and head of the Nazi euthanasia program, in order to justify the population policies of the Third Reich, or at least indicate that they were not ideologically unique to Nazi Germany.
Grant's works of "scientific racism" have been cited to demonstrate that many of the genocidal and eugenic ideas associated with the Third Reich did not arise specifically in Germany, and in fact that many of them had origins in other countries including the United States. As such, because of Grant's well-connectedness and influential friends, he is often used to illustrate the strain of race-based eugenic thinking in the United States which had some influence until the Second World War. Because of the use made of Grant's eugenics work by the policy-makers of Nazi Germany, his work as a conservationist has been somewhat ignored and obscured, as many organizations with which he was once associated (such as the Sierra Club) wanted to minimize their association with him.
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