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 racial anthropology, and played an active role in crafting strong immigration restriction and anti-miscegenation polices 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. Grant was a lifelong resident of New York City. 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 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 book had eight printings within twenty years and is considered one of the most influential and vociferous works of scientific racism and eugenics to come out of the United States. Coming out 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, revolving around the idea of "race" as the basic motor of civilization. He specifically 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.
Other messages in his work include recommendations to install civil organizations through the public health system to establish quasi-dictatorships in their particular fields with the administrative powers to segregate unfavorable races in ghettos. He also mentioned that 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 authortarian powers. The result would be the submergance of the indigeneous Nordic races under a corrupt and infeebled 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 in that it 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 Mediterraneans (who inhabited southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East).
In Grant's view, Nordics probably evolved in a climate which "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, blondness, wavy hair, blue 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.
Yet, while Grant allowed Mediterraneans to have abilities in art, as quoted above, later in the text he remarked that true Mediterranean achievements were only through admixture with Nordics:
- This is the race that gave the world the great civilizations of Egypt, of Crete, of Phoenicia including Carthage, of Etruria and of Mycensean 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 due to their abandonment of cultural values rooted in religious or superstitious proto-racialism, they were close to committing "race suicide" by being miscegenated with and out-bred by more inferior stock who were taking advantage of the transition.
The book was immensely popular and 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 also strongly embraced by the racial hygiene movement in Germany in the early 1920s and 1930s; however, they typically used the term "Aryan" instead of "Nordic", though the principal National Socialist 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; Passing was the first non-German book ordered to be reprinted by the NSDAP when it took power, and Adolf Hitler wrote to Grant that, "The book is my Bible".
One of his long-time opponents was the Jewish anthropologist Franz Boas. 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 "hereditarian" branch of physical anthropology at the time, 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 Galton Society with American eugenicist and biologist Charles B. Davenport in 1918 as an alternative to Boas (Spiro 2002).
Grant advocated restricted immigration to the United States through limiting immigration from East Asia and Southern Europe; he also advocated efforts to purify the American population though 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(citation needed). 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. 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).
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 cofounded the Save-the-Redwoods League with 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 International Committee of Eugenics. He was awarded the gold medal of the Society of Arts and Sciences 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 Jonathan Spiro 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. 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.
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 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). "Everybody ought to read it", the character explained, "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."
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.
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 National Socialist euthanasia program, in order to justify the population policies of the Third Reich or at least indicate that they were not ideologically unique to Germany (it seemed to have had little effect, as Brandt was sentenced to death).
Grant's works of scientific racism are often cited by scholars 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 the United States. As such, because of Grant's well-connectedness and influential friends, he is often used to contradict the idea that the U.S. did not have its own history of racism and eugenics. Because of the strong associations his eugenics work had with the policies of Germany under the NSDAP, his work as a conservationist has been somewhat ignored and obscured, as many organizations with which he was once associated do not generally want to overstress their connections with him.
- Grant, Madison. "The vanishing moose, and their extermination in the Adirondacks," Century Magazine 47(1894): 345-356.
- ________. The caribou. New York, Office of the New York Zoological Society, 1902.
- ________. "Moose." Report of the Forest, Fish, Game Commission, State of New York (1903): 225-238.
- ________. The Rocky Mountain goat. New York, Office of the New York Zoological Society, 1905.
- ________. "Condition of wild life in Alaska," Smithsonian Institution Annual Report, 1909 (Washington, 1910): 521-529.
- ________. The passing of the great race; or, The racial basis of European history. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916.
- ________. The passing of the great race, or, The racial basis of European history. New edn., rev. and amplified, with a new preface by Henry Fairfield Osborn. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1918.
- ________. Saving the redwoods; an account of the movement during 1919 to preserve the redwoods of California. New York, Zoological Society, 1919.
- ________. The passing of the great race, or, The racial basis of European history. rev. ed. with a documentary supplement, with prefaces by Henry Fairfield Osborn. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1921.
- ________. Der Untergang der grossen Rasse, die Rassen als Grundlage der Geschichte Europas. German translation of The passing of the Great Race by Rudolf Polland. München, J. F. Lehmann, 1925.
- ________, ed., with Charles Stewart Davidson. The founders of the republic on immigration, naturalization and aliens, collected for and edited by Madison Grant and Charles Stewart Davidson. New York, C. Scribner’s Sons, 1928.
- ________, ed., with Charles Stewart Davidson/ The alien in our midst; or, "Selling our birthright for a mess of pottage"; the written views of a number of Americans (present and former) on immigration and its results. New York, The Galton Publishing co., 1930.
- ________. The conquest of a continent; or, The expansion of races in America. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933.
- Barkan, Elazar. The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
- Cooke, Kathy J. "Grant, Madison." American National Biography. Online, Feb. 2000.
- Guterl, Matthew Press. The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.
- Spiro, Jonathan P. "Patrician racist: The evolution of Madison Grant." Ph.D. diss., Dept. of History, University of California, Berkeley (2000).
- ________. "Nordic vs. anti-Nordic: the Galton Society and the American Anthropological Association," Patterns of Prejudice 36:1 (2002): 35-48.
- Madison Grant's Passing of the Great Race (1921 ed.), available via Google Books
- Excerpts from Passing of the Great Race used at the Nuremberg Trials
- Profile of Madison Grant in The Northlander
- The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant. A free ebook, available in HTML, PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats.