Immigration: Waves and Crises

Hysteria over immigration is hardly new.  The US saw large waves of immigration from 1890 to 1910 and reacted strongly with riots, discrimination and federal action.  Books and pamphlets warned of contamination of the nation by inferior races.  In that case, the "inferior races" everyone was worried about were Italians, Poles, Jews and other East and South Europeans.

A book that embodied the spirit of the times was: The Passing of the Great Race, by Madison Grant.  Grant was a highly educated New England patrician, an explorer, naturalist, and a pioneer in attempting to preserve the Bison and other rapidly disappearing fauna of the American West.  After these adventures, he devoted himself to the study of so-called scientific racism, and his book summarized and popularized these notions.

His book was rooted in the idea of separate origins of the various races of man, and the notion that there were higher and lower races.  The highest races, he proclaimed, were the Nordic or Teutonic, and human progress could all be attributed to them. He also argued that interbreeding of races led inevitably to the "lower" type, so that a mix of white and Negro was Negro, a mix of German and Jew, was a Jew, and so on.

His book got a laudatory review from his friend Teddy Roosevelt, and a then obscure and just out of jail Austrian politician wrote to tell him that it was "his bible."  That politician, Adolf Hitler, was writing his own book on race and eugenics, but he borrowed heavily from Americans like Grant and Henry Goddard.

The book is still for sale on Amazon, and has 24 reviews as of today, averaging four stars (out of five).  Amazon's own blurb reads:
This wonderful book is devoted to an attempt to elucidate the meaning of history in terms of race. Not by their language or political grouping. This book examines the European ethnic groups such as the Alpine and Nordic races.
First published in 1916, it serves as an important work in the study of racial origins.
That's all a crock, of course.  Grant's theories had already been discredited by the scientific studies of Franz Boas and his colleagues and students before the book was published.  Subsequent work has only confirmed the ideas of Boas, that so-called races have little basis in human biology or culture.

Nonetheless, it and it's ideas became the basis of American immigration policies for decades.

(Notes related to Gods of the Upper Air, by Charles King)


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