Theories of Race

Josiah C. Nott, George R. Gliddon, Louis Agassiz

  • Josiah C. Nott's portrait

    Josiah C. Nott


  • George R. Gliddon's portrait

    George R. Gliddon


  • Louis Agassiz's portrait

    Louis Agassiz



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With Josiah Nott and George Gliddon, whose labors were abetted by the distinguished Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz, the “American School” of anthropology comes clearly into focus as an effort to provide an objective system of classification for human “types” as a way of addressing important social or philosophical issues, including, in their case, the fate of American slavery. Led by Samuel George Morton, whose elaborate series of cranial measurements was represented and received as evidence of differences in intellectual capacity among the races—with such differences presumed to be as permanent and unalterable as skin color—the American School quickly broadened its methodology to include geology and natural history, treating other physical features such as skin color, limb lengths, and hair as evidence of racial identity and objects of scientific research. Through their work the meaning of race—a term often used interchangeably with type, stock, or variety—edged closer to the accepted understanding of species.

The American School deployed the evidence it gathered in support of the theory of polygenesis or “plurality of origins,” which held that humankind was not the result of a single act of creation, as the accepted reading of Genesis suggested, but the result of a series of separate creations or emergences of biologically distinct groups. This argument, versions of which had been advanced by Voltaire, Bory de Saint-Vincent [see Cuvier], Long, Meiners, Virey and others, was particularly well received by pro-slavery apologists in the American South who applauded its implicit and sometimes explicit support of the practice of slavery.

Beginning in the 1840s, Nott, a physician in Mobile, Alabama who already enjoyed a substantial reputation for his work on the causes of yellow fever, undertook the study of anthropology. His first essay in this field, “The Mulatto a Hybrid—Probable Extinction of the Two Races If the Whites and Blacks are Allowed To Intermarry,” cited statistics from the United States census in support of the contention that the different races were essentially distinct species, two terms he used almost interchangeably to refer to what he (following Prichard) called a “permanent variety” or (following Morton) a “pristine or primordial form” (Types of Mankind 81).*

Following this inaugural effort, Nott devoted himself to the task of persuading the general public and the scientific world of the significance of Morton’s findings on cranial capacity, plural origins, and racial differences, focusing especially on the differences between whites and blacks. Like Morton, Charles Hamilton Smith, and Robert Knox, Nott approached the subject of race through natural history, which enabled him to apply the results of experiments in plant and animal hybridization to mixed-race humans, whom he described as impure hybrids condemned like mules to infertility, gradually dwindling vitality, and ultimately extinction.

A devoted Christian, Nott found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to contest the Biblical account of human descent. Where Prichard—whose ever-weakening defense of monogenesis was one of Nott’s primary targets for refutation—conceded that the authorship of Genesis was uncertain and the text possibly compromised over time, Nott contended that Moses wrote the entirety, but that his account was intended for his tribe alone, and described only the genealogy of the white race, with other races simply not entering into the Biblical record.

Nott also rejected Biblical chronology, noting that the conclusion reached in the mid-seventeenth century by Archbishop James Ussher—which enjoyed considerable if diminishing currency among the intellectual elite until the 1860s, when Charles Lyell’s Antiquity of Man appeared—that the world was created some 6,000 years ago did not allow nearly enough time to account for the vast differences among the races. In short, while Nott never doubted his faith, his work on race enabled and even compelled him to question the chronology and narrative completeness of the Bible and in that sense compromised and qualified the authority of revealed religion.

Nott delivered the addresses that comprise Two Lectures to a receptive audience in Mobile in 1844, publishing them later that year. In the first lecture, he argued that the disparities between whites and blacks were created not by climate but by God, who fashioned the races whole and complete and placed them in the climates to which they were suited. In the second, Nott characterized mulattoes as hybrids in the naturalistic sense, cited Morton’s cranial measurements as evidence of intellectual capacity, and noted the “many points of resemblance Anatomists have established between the Negro and Ape” (24).

This work was followed in 1854 by one of the most extraordinary publications of the mid-19th century in America, the lavishly illustrated 738-page Types of Mankind, a heterodox collection of texts written by Nott and Gliddon and dedicated “TO THE MEMORY OF MORTON.” Having served as United States vice-consul at Cairo, Gliddon had acquired a vast collection of Egyptiana, including many skulls. He also studied ancient paintings, and had noted that the servants or slaves represented in these works resembled modern sub-Saharan Africans. On this basis, he concluded that black people were naturally suited to servitude.

On one of his visits to the United States, Gliddon had met Morton, whose work he regarded as providing empirical confirmation of this inference; on the same visit he also met and befriended Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, a staunch defender of slavery and states’ rights. Settling in the United States for good in 1840, Gliddon began a career as a popular lecturer on Egyptology, telling his audiences that the ancient Egyptians were “Caucasoid,” and that Egyptian civilization was far older than biblical chronology would seem to allow. (Morton’s position on the racial character of the ancient Egyptians would be rejected by Anténor Firmin.) By 1852, he was living in Mobile, where he and Nott organized their joint publication, with Nott as the primary author of the four hundred pages concerning the “types of mankind.” Included in this catalogue were accounts of the “physical history of the Jews,” Caucasians, Egyptians, “African Types,” and “Negro Types,” and other reflections on comparative anatomy and hybridity. This was followed by Gliddon’s extended, even distended remarks on the tenth chapter of Genesis, a polemic text directed at “the biblical dunces in the United States” (503).

Despite the tent-show manner of presentation, Types of Mankind became the single text most responsible for setting the issue of race in a scientific context for the general public. By 1900, nine editions had been published, disseminating to a wide public the arguments that polygenesis and permanent racial differences were decreed by natural law, and that racial mixing threatened to end the European race. Two years after the initial publication, the now-famous Nott supervised the American translation (or egregiously imperfect mistranslation) of the first book of Gobineau’s Essay on the Inequality of Human Races to which he contributed a fifty-page updating of Morton’s cranial measurements and some sharp criticisms of Gobineau’s religiosity, to which he attributed Gobineau’s stubborn monogenism; the five-hundred-page text appeared as The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Races (Philadelphia, 1856).

Of crucial importance to the credibility of Types of Mankind among the scientific community was the inclusion of Agassiz’s essay, “Sketch of the Natural Provinces of the Animal World and their Relation to the Different Types of Man.” Before visiting the United States in 1845, Agassiz, who had never seen a black person, had established a formidable reputation as a naturalist, and had written in support of the original unity of the human species. But partly as a consequence of seeing Negro hotel employees in Philadelphia behaving in ways he found wanting in courtesy, he converted to the opposite position, which he argued in an 1850 pamphlet called “The Diversity of Origin of the Human Race.”

Because he believed that humans should be studied as part of the natural world in which hybrids did not flourish, and because he believed that God in his wisdom had created the world in all its variety, Agassiz became convinced that black people represented a separate creation that exhibited a crucially different degree of humanity from whites. This position had the advantage of not being contradicted by the Bible, which, Agassiz contended, documented primarily the history of the Jews while only incidentally alluding to other races. He examined Morton’s skulls in Philadelphia and met Nott in Charleston, South Carolina, where the two gave papers at a conference, with Agassiz declaring that the differences between races were “primitive” and that “races did not originate from a common center, nor from a single pair.”** Agassiz agreed to participate in Types of Mankind, even though he supported, as Nott and Gliddon did not, political equality for black people.

In his contribution to that volume, Agassiz contended that groups of humans, like groups of animals, have certain natural “boundaries,” and that interbreeding between races neither disproved the premise that either race was what Morton called a “primordial organic form” nor indicated an underlying identity between them. He added that the differences between human races could actually be greater than the differences between types of monkeys considered to be distinct species. While Agassiz admired Nott (but regarded Gliddon as “coarse”), he did not share all of his collaborator’s views. “It is clear,” Agassiz’s biographer wrote, “that he never fully realized the extent to which his views served the partisan purposes of racists, nor fully appreciated the sensitivity of the majority of Americans to the slavery question.”*** A devout Christian, Agassiz was more alert to the threat to the supreme creative power of God represented by “developmental” theories, the most formidable of which would shortly be announced by Darwin as the theory of evolution—which Agassiz opposed. By the end of his life, Agassiz was one of the most respected scientists in the world, with particular eminence in several fields including ichthyology, marine zoology, and glaciology.

The controversy surrounding Types of Mankind underscored the rapidly widening gap between Biblical accounts of the origins of mankind and the increasing body of scientific knowledge on the subject. In the disputes swirling around the book, few if any of the participants rejected altogether the evidence of the Bible or affirmed an unquestioned primacy of science over scripture. One example of the peculiar kind of torque applied to religious believers in race-theory is provided by John Bachman, a professor, naturalist, and pastor in Charleston, South Carolina. Bachman carried on extensive debates with Morton, Nott and Gliddon, and Agassiz, making a traditionalist argument that the notion of plural creations contradicted the accepted meaning of Genesis concerning the primal pair and the single act of creation. His commitment to the unity of mankind and to Christian revelation did not, however, cause Bachman to dispute the superiority of the white race, much less to free his slaves.

With the publication of Types of Mankind, one of the consequences of the race concept comes starkly into view. These consequences were, to some, obvious at the time. In 1849, Benjamin Disraeli said in a speech on the floor in the House of Commons that, “Race implies difference, difference implies superiority, and superiority leads to predominance.”**** And in Introduction to Anthropology (1859), the German anthropologist Theodor Waitz noted that “If there be various species of mankind, there must be a natural aristocracy among them, a dominant white species as opposed to the lower races who by their origin are destined to serve the nobility of mankind, and may be tamed, trained, and used like domestic animals. . . . All wars of extermination, whenever the lower species are in the way of the white man, are then not only excusable, but fully justifiable.”*****

The American School is today known for bringing science itself into disrepute because of the explicit support it offered for racial ranking and for slavery. The texts reproduced below represent perhaps the clearest indication of the connection between a certain view of race and support for practices of discrimination and exploitation including slavery. But by advancing scientific rather than theological or philosophical explanations of the many questions surrounding the issue of racial difference, the American School prepared the way for the debates about evolution following the publication of The Origin of Species. The questions of the unity or disunity of the human species, the nature of hybridism, and the character of the differences between the races continued to occupy scientists and others for many years. Moreover, such questions were central to the efforts by Americans of all persuasions and circumstances in the mid-nineteenth century to understand their own national identity and to determine the place of the largely enslaved Negroes and the largely displaced Indians in the nation.

*Josiah C. Nott, “The Mulatto a Hybrid—Probable Extermination of the Two Races If the Whites and Blacks are Allowed To Intermarry,” American Journal of the Medical Sciences, VI (1843), 252-56. 

**Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Charleston, SC, 1850) 3: 106-07. 

*** Edward Lurie, “Louis Agassiz and the Races of Man,” Isis 45 (Sept., 1954) 3: 227-42, 236. 

 ****Benjamin Disraeli, “Speech in the House of Commons, 1 February 1849, Wit and Wisdom of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, ed. H. G. Caleroft (New York: D. Appleton, 1881), 288. 

*****Theodor Waitz, Introduction to Anthropology, trans. from Vol. * of Anthropologie der Naturvölker (Leipzig, 1859) by J. Frederick Collingwood (London: Longman, Green & Roberts, 1863), 21. 

Two Lectures on the Natural History of the Caucasian and Negro Races



The question of the unity of the Human Race is a grave one—it has elicited a vast deal of talent and research, and is deserving of the profoundest study—most candid men have acknowledged its difficulty, and that all past time has afforded no data, by which it can be definitively settled. My object is to place before the world new facts, which may assist in forming a rational conclusion on this vexed question. . . .

I will here lay down a chain of propositions for examination, and I would appeal to every candid man who has studied Geology and Natural History, to say whether they are not true.

1st. Have there not been several creations and destructions in the Animal and Vegetable kingdoms, previous to the creation spoken of by Moses?

2nd. Is it not admitted by Naturalists, that many of the animals now upon the earth are entirely different from those which existed before the flood, and that if the flood was universal these animals have been created since?

3d. Is it not admitted by Naturalists that the Ark only contained the animals which inhabited the part of the earth in which Noah dwelt, and that it is a Zoological and physical impossibility that the Ark could have contained pairs and septuples of all the animals now on the earth?

4th. Is it not a fact, that Islands newly emerged from the ocean, become covered with plants, differing from all others in other parts of the globe—thus showing that the creative power of the Almighty is still exercised, whenever circumstances are ready for it?

5th. Does not all this prove that the account given by Moses is imperfect, and that much has been omitted of the infinite works of the creator, both before and after the creation of which he speaks?

6th. Has God any where said that he never intended to create another man, or that other races were not created in distant parts of the globe. I would ask, after all these admitted truths, is there any thing so revolting in the idea that a Negro, Indian, or Malay, may have been created since the flood of Noah, or (if the flood was not universal) before this epoch?

I know it will be said that Negroes existed at the time that Moses wrote, but to this I will reply that Moses must have known equally well of a vast number of animals which did not descend from the Ark, and which were not included in his account. I set out then with the proposition, that there is a Genus, Man, comprising two or more species — that physical causes cannot change a White man into a Negro, and that to say this change has been effected by a direct act of providence, is an assumption which cannot be proven, and is contrary to the great chain of Nature's laws. (6-7)

Lecture I

We mean then by the term Species, a race of Animals or Plants, marked by peculiarities of structure, which have always been constant and undeviating—two races are considered specifically different, if they are distinguished from each other by some peculiarities which one cannot be supposed to have acquired, or the other lost, through any known operation of physical causes.

The Horse and Ass, for example, are the same genus, but different species, because no physical causes could have produced such dissimilarity.

Genus, is a more comprehensive term, it includes all the species of a class; for example, the Qurang Outang, Apes, Baboons, &c., are all of one genus though different species.

My belief too, is, that there is a Genus Homo, with its species and varieties.

It would be almost an anomaly in nature if man should be restricted to one species. (17)

Wherever colonies of Europeans have been formed, in temperate countries, they have soon flourished, and the white population has multiplied so fast, as to encroach upon the native, and in many instances, entirely supersede them . . . .

On the other hand, the proofs are quite as positive to show that the negro is equally unsuited to a cold climate.

Though a constant influx of negro slaves takes place from Soudan into Turkey, it is without effect or impression.

Herodotus tells us that there was once a colony of Black wooly headed Africans at Colchis, but they are extinct.

No black race in short has been, or can be established at any great distance from the equator.

Look at the bills of mortality in our northern cities, and you will see the proportion of deaths amongst the blacks, increasing as you go north, until you get to Boston, where the proportion is three to one compared to the whites.

This has been attributed to their habits and condition, but if I had time I could prove positively, that climate there has its influence.

I have in another place mentioned the fact, that a cold climate so freezes their brains as to make them insane or idiotical. (19)

Lecture II

PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES. — The Anatomical and Physiological differences, between the Caucasian, the Malay, Mongol, Indian and Negro races, have elicited a great deal of scientific research, and I might very well write an octavo on these points alone. Time, however compels me to restrict my lecture to a parallel between the Caucasian and Negro races. I wish it farther to be understood, that my parallel will be limited to the race of Negroes which we see in this country, and which I shall presently describe. . . .

When the Caucasian and Negro are compared, one of the most striking and important points of difference is seen in the conformation of the head.

The head of the Negro is smaller by a full tenth—the forehead is narrower and more receding, in consequence of which the anterior or intellectual portion of the brain is defective.—The upper jaw is broader and more projecting—the under jaw inclines out, and is deficient in chin; the lips are larger and correspond with the bony structure; the teeth point obliquely forward and resemble in shape those of Carnivorous animals; the bones of the head are thicker, more dense and heavy, and the same fact exists with regard to the other bones of the skeleton. . . .

In animals where the senses and sensual faculties predominate, the nerves coming off from the brain are large, and we find the nerves of the Negro larger than those of the Caucasian.

In other portions of the skeleton, differences not less marked, are presented. The arm of the African is much longer than in the Caucasian—a Negro of 5 feet 6 has an arm as long as a white man of 6 feet. The arm from the elbow to the hand is much longer in proportion, than in the white man—his hand is longer, more bony and tendinous—the nails more projecting and stronger. . .

Now it will be seen from this hasty sketch, how many points of resemblance Anatomists have established between the Negro and Ape. It is seen in the head and face, the arms and hands, the compressed chest, the bones and muscles of the pelvis, the flat long thighs, the forward bend of the knee, in the leg, foot and toes. In short, place beside each other average specimens of the Caucasian, Negro and Ourang Outang, and you will perceive a regular and striking gradation—substitute for the Negro a Bushman or Hottentot from the Cape of Good Hope, and the contrast is still stronger. (23-24)

If the position I take be true, that the human race is descended from several or many original pairs, it is reasonable to suppose that there is not at present a single unmixed race on the face of the earth.*

Look at the population of the United States! From how many nations have we received crosses? Read the early history of Great Britain, France, Germany, Egypt, in short the whole world as far as we have records—who now can tell what blood predominates in each nation?

*Note. — It has been supposed that the varieties of the human race, were produced at the Tower of Babel, when the confusion of tongues occurred; but so remarkable an occurrence would have been mentioned. We might just as well suppose that some were changed into Monkeys, while others were changed into negroes. In arguing a question of this kind we want facts. (28)

There is a marked difference between the heads of the Caucasian and the Negro, and there is a corresponding difference no less marked in their intellectual and moral qualities.

The brain of the Negro, as I have stated, is, according to positive measurements, smaller than the Caucasian by a full tenth; and this deficiency exists particularly in the anterior portion of the brain, which is known to be the seat of the higher faculties. History and observation, both teach that in accordance with this defective organization, the Mongol, the Malay, the Indian and Negro, are now and have been in all ages and all places, inferior to the Caucasian.

Look at the world as it now stands and say where is civilization to be found except amongst the various branches of the Caucasian race? (35)

But what does the history of the Caucasian show in all climes and in all times — strike off the fetters of bad government, and he takes up the march of civilization and presses onward—the principle of action within him is like the life in the acorn—take an acorn which has laid in a box for a thousand years and plant it in a congenial soil, it sprouts at once and grows into the majestic oak.

History cannot designate the time when the Caucasian was a savage—Caucasian races have often been plunged by circumstances into barbarism, but never as far as we know, into savageism. Cannabalism appears to belong exclusively to the African and Oceanic Negroes—the Bushman, the Hottentots, and perhaps the Caribs; but history does not tell us when and where the Caucasian has gorged his appetite on human flesh and blood.

We can carry back the history of the Negro (though imperfectly) for 4,000 years: we know that he had all the physical characteristics then which he has now, and we have good grounds for believing that he was morally and intellectually the same then as now. One generation does not take up civilization where the last left it and carry it on as does the Caucasian—there it stands immovable; they go as far as instinct extends and no farther. Where, or when I would ask, has a negro left his impress upon the age in which he lived? Can any reasoning mind believe that the Negro and Indian have always been the victim of circumstances? No, nature has endowed them with an inferior organization, and all the powers of earth cannot elevate them above their destiny.

Imperfect as the civilization of St. Domingo now is, if you were to abstract the white blood which exists amongst them they would sink at once into savagism.

The Indian is by nature a savage, and a beast of the forest like the Buffalo—can exist in no other state, and is exterminated by the approach of civilization. You cannot make a slave of him like a negro, his spirit is broken and he dies like a wild animal in a cage. (37-38)

I think I have brought forward facts enough to prove that I have rational grounds for believing in the truth of the proposition with which I set out, viz: That there is a Genus, Man, comprising two or more species — that physical causes cannot change a white man into a negro, and that to say this change has been effected by a direct act of providence, is an assumption which cannot be proven, and is contrary to the great chain of Natures Laws. (40-41)

“Sketch of the Natural Provinces of the Animal World and their Relation to the Different Types of Man”

Before closing these remarks I should add, that one of the greatest difficulties naturalists have met with, in the study of the human races, has been the want of a standard of comparison by which to estimate the value and importance of the diversities observed between the different nations of the world. But . . . it may be proper to ask here, What is a species, what is a variety, and what is meant by the unity or diversity of the races? . . .

[Species, according to Dr. Morton, are] primordial organic forms. Species are thus distinct forms of organic life, the origin of which is lost in the primitive establishment of the state of things now existing, and varieties are such modifications of the species as may return to the typical form, under temporary influences. Accepting this definition . . . I am prepared to show that the differences existing between the races of men are of the same kind as the differences observed between the different families, genera, and species of monkeys or other animals; and that these different species of animals differ in the same degree one from the other as the races of men—nay, the differences between distinct races are often greater than those distinguishing species of animals one from the other. The chimpanzee and gorilla do not differ more one from the other than the Mandingo and the Guinea Negro: they together do not differ more than the orang than the Malay or white man differs from the Negro. . . .

Now, there are only two alternatives before us at present:—

1st. Either mankind originated from a common stock, and all the different races with their peculiarities, in their present distribution, are to be ascribed to subsequent changes —an assumption for which there is no evidence whatever, and which leads at once to the admission that the diversity among animals is not an original one, nor their distribution determined by a general plan, established in the beginning of the Creation; —or,

2d. We must acknowledge that the diversity among animals is a fact determined by the will of the Creator, and their geographical distribution part of the general plan which unites all organized beings into one great organic conception: whence it follows that what are called human races, down to their specialization as nations, are distinct primordial forms of the type of man. . . .

We may, however, draw already an important inference from this investigation, which cannot fail to have its influence upon the farther study of the human races: namely, that the laws which regulate the diversity of animals, and their distribution upon earth, apply equally to man, within the same limits and in the same degree; and that all our liberty and moral responsibility, however spontaneous, are yet instinctively directed by the All-wise and Omnipotent, to fulfil the great harmonies established in Nature. (lxxiii-lxxvi)

Types of Mankind



[by J. C. Nott]

The term “Ethnology” has generally been used as synonymous with “Ethnography,” understood as the Natural History of Man; but by Burke it is made to take a far more comprehensive grasp—to include the whole mental and physical history of the various Types of Mankind, as well as their social relations and adaptations . . . . Ethnology demands to know what was the primitive organic structure of each race?—what such race’s moral and psychical character?—how far a race may have been, or may become, modified by the combined action of time and moral and physical causes?—and what position in the social scale Providence has assigned to each type of man? . . .

The grand problem, more particularly interesting to all readers, is that which involves the common origin of races; for upon the latter deduction hang not only certain religious dogmas, but the more practical question of the equality and perfectibility of races—we say “more practical question,” because, while Almighty Power, on the one hand, is not responsible to Man for the distinct origin of human races, these, on the other, are accountable to Him for the manner in which their delegated power us used towards each other.

Whether an original diversity of races be admitted or not, the permanence of existing physical types will not be questioned by any Achæaologist or Naturalist of the present day. Nor, by such competent arbitrators, can the consequent permanence of moral and intellectual peculiarities of types be denied. The intellectual man is inseparable from the physical man; and the nature of the one cannot be altered without a corresponding change in the other. . . . (49-50)

The immense evils of false philanthropy are becoming too glaring to be longer overlooked. While, on the one hand, every true philanthropist must admit that no race has a right to enslave or oppress the weaker, it must be conceded, on the other, that all changes in existing institutions should be guided, not by fanaticism and groundless hypotheses, but by experience, sound judgment, and real charity. . . .

In the broad field and long duration of Negro life, not a single civilization, spontaneous or borrowed, has existed, to adorn its gloomy past. The ancient kingdom of Meroë has been often pointed out as an exception, but this is now proven to be the work of Pharaonic Egyptians, and not of Negro races. . . .

Looking back over the world’s history, it will be seen that human progress has arisen mainly from the war of races. All the great impulses which have been given to it from time to time have been the results of conquests and colonizations. Certain races would be stationary and barbarous for ever, were it not for the introduction of new blood and novel influences; and some of the lowest types are hopelessly beyond the reach even of these salutary stimulants to melioration. (52-53)

[Nott quotes from an address he had given at Mobile, Alabama in 1849]

Is it not strange . . . that no race has ever been formed from those congenital varieties which we know to occur frequently, and yet races should originate from congenital varieties which cannot be proved, and are not believed, by our best writers, ever to have existed? No one ever saw a Negro, Mongol, or Indian, born from any but his own species. Has any one heard of an Indian child born from white or black parents in America, during more than two centuries that these races have been living here? Is not this brief and simple statement of the case sufficient to satisfy any one, that the diversity of species now seen on the earth, cannot be accounted for on the assumption of congenital or accidental origin? If a doubt remains, would it not be expelled by the recollection of the fact that the Negro, Tartar, and white man, existed, with their present types, at least one thousand years before Abraham journeyed to Egypt as a supplicant to the mighty Pharaoh?

The unity of the human species has also been stoutly maintained on psychological grounds. Numerous attempts have been made to establish the intellectual equality of the dark races with the white; and the history of the past has been ransacked for examples, but they are nowhere to be found. Can any one call the name of a full-blooded Negro who has ever written a page worthy of being remembered? (58-59)


It is true that most of the black races are found in Africa; but, on the other hand, many equally black are met with in the temperate climates of India, Australia, and Oceanica, though differing in every attribute except color. A black skin would seem to be the best suited to hot climates, and for this reason we may suppose that a special creation of black races took place in Africa. The strictly white races lie mostly in the Temperate Zone, where they flourish best; and they certainly deteriorate physically, if not intellectually, when removed to hot climates. (63)

We shall have more to say, in another chapter, on the amalgamation of races, but may here remark, that the infusion of even a minute proportion of the blood of one race into another, produces a most decided modification of moral and physical character. A small trace of white blood in the negro improves him in intelligence and morality; and an equally small trace of negro blood, as in the quadroon, will protect such individual against the deadly influence of climates which the pure white-man cannot endure. For example, if the population of New England, Germany, France, England, or other northern climates, come to Mobile, or to New Orleans, a large proportion dies of yellow fever: and of one hundred such individuals landed in the latter city at the commencement of an epidemic of yellow fever, probably half would fall victims to it. On the contrary, negroes, under all circumstances, enjoy an almost perfect exemption from this disease, even though brought in from our Northern States; and, what is still more remarkable, the mulattoes (under which term we include all mixed grades) are almost equally exempt. (68)

That the animals and plants now existing on the earth must be referred to many widely-distant centres of creation, is a fact which might, if necessary, be confirmed by an infinite number of circumstances; but these things are nowadays conceded by every well informed naturalist; and if we have deemed it necessary to illustrate them at all, it is because this volume may fall into the hands of some possibly not versed in such matters.

Another question of much interest to our present investigation is—Have all the individuals of each species of animals, plants, &c., descended from a single pair? Were it not for the supposed scientific authority of Genesis to this effect, the idea of community of origin would hardly have occurred to any reflecting mind, because it involves insuperable difficulties; and science can perceive no reason why the Creator should have adopted any such plan. Is it reasonable to suppose that the Almighty would have created one seed of grass, one acorn, one pair of locusts of bees, of wild pigeons, of herrings, of buffaloes, as the only starting-point of these almost ubiquitous species?

The instincts and habits of animals differ widely. Some are solitary, except at certain seasons; some go in pairs; others in herds or shoals. The idea of a pair of bees, locusts, herrings, buffaloes, is as contrary to the nature and habits of these creatures, as it is repugnant to the nature of oaks, pines, birches, &c., to grow singly, and to form forests in their isolation. (73-74)


A vulgar error has been sedulously impressed upon the public mind, of which it is very hard to divest it, viz., that all the races of the globe set out originally from a single point in Asia. Science now knows that no foundation in fact exists for such a conclusion. The embarrassment in treating of types or races is constantly increased by false classifications imposed upon us by prejudiced naturalists. It is argued, for example, that all the Mongols, all the African Negroes, all the American Indians, have been derived from one common Asiatic pair or unique source; whereas, on the other hand, there is no evidence that human beings were not sown broadcast over the whole face of the earth, like animals and plants: and we incline to the opinion of M. AGASSIZ, that men were created in nations, and not in a single pair.

Since the time of LINNAEUS, who first placed man at the head of the Animal Kingdom and in the same series with monkeys, numerous classifications of human races have been proposed; and it may be well to give a rapid sketch of a few of them, in order to show the difficulties which encompass the subject, and how hopelessly vague every definitive attempt of this kind must be, in the present state of our knowledge.

BUFFON divides the human race into six varieties—viz., Polar, Tartar, Austral-Asiatic, European, Negro, and American.

KANT divides man into four varieties—White, Black, Copper, and Olive.

HUNTER, into seven varieties: METZAN, into two—White and Black; VIREY, into three; BLUMENBACH, into five—viz., Caucasian, Mongol, Malay, Negro, and American; DESMOULINS, into sixteen species; BORY DE ST. VINCENT makes fifteen species, subdivided into races.

MORTON classifies man into twenty-two families; PICKERING, into eleven races [See Further Reading]; LUKE BURKE, into sixty-three, whereof twenty-eight are distinct varieties of the intellectual, and thirty-five of the physical races.

JACQUINOT divides mankind into three species of a genus homo—viz., Caucasian, Mongol, and Negro. . . . Though many other classifications might be added, the above suffice to testify how arbitrary all classifications inevitably must be because no reason has yet been assigned why, if two original pairs of human beings be admitted, we should not accept an indefinite number. (82-83)

Unity of races” seems to be an idea introduced in comparatively modern times, and never to have been conceived by any primitive nation, such as Egypt or China. Neither does the idea appear to have occurred to the author of Genesis. (87)


The illiterate advocates of a pseudo-negrophilism, more ruinous to the Africans of the United States than the condition of servitude in which they thrive, multiply, and are happy, have actually claimed St. Augustine, Eratosthenes, Juba, Hannibal, and other great men, as historical vouchers for the perfectibility of the Negro race, because born in Africa! It might hence be argued that “birth in a stable makes a man a horse.” (135-36)


In 1842 I published a short essay on Hybridity, the object of which was, to show that the White Man and the Negro were distinct “species;” illustrating my position by numerous facts from the Natural History of Man and that of the lower animals. The question, at that time, had not attracted the attention of Dr. Morton. Many of my facts and arguments were new, even to him; and drew from the great anatomist a private letter, leading to the commencement of a friendly correspondence, to me, at least, most agreeable and instructive, and which endured to the close of his useful career.

In the essay alluded to, and several which followed it at short intervals, I maintained these propositions:

1. That mulattoes are the shortest-lived of any class of the human race.

2. That mulattoes are intermediate in intelligence between the blacks and the whites.

3. That they are less capable of undergoing fatigue and hardship than either the blacks or whites.

4. That the mulatto-women are peculiarly delicate, and subject to a variety of chronic diseases. That they are bad breeders, bad nurses, liable to abortions, and that their children generally die young.

5. That, when mulattoes intermarry, they are less prolific than when crossed on the parent stocks.

6. That, when a Negro man married a white woman, the offspring partook more largely of the Negro type than when the reverse connection had effect.

7. That mulattoes, like Negroes, although unacclimated, enjoy extraordinary exemption from yellow-fever when brought to Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, or New Orleans.

. . . I stated in an article printed in “De Bow's Commercial Review,” that I had latterly seen reason to credit the existence of certain “affinities and repulsions” among various races of men, which caused their blood to mingle more or less perfectly; and that, in Mobile, New Orleans and Pensacola, I had witnessed many examples of great longevity among mulattoes; and sundry instances where their intermarriages (contrary to my antecedent experiences in South Carolina) were attended with manifest prolificacy. Seeking for the reason of this positive, and, at first thought, unaccountable difference between mulattoes of the Atlantic and those of the Gulf States, observation led me to a rationale; viz., that it arose from the diversity of type in the “Caucasian” races of the two sections. In the Atlantic States the population is Teutonic and Celtic: whereas, in our Gulf cities, there exists a preponderance of the blood of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and other dark-skinned races. . . . Italy’s origins are questions in dispute; but the Italians are a dark-skinned race. (373-74)

Hence ethnology deduces, that the prolonged superiority of the English to any other aristocracies is mainly due to the continuous upheaval of the Saxon element: and, at such point of view, the social aspirations of Lord John Manners would seem to be as philosophical as his poetic effusions are unique:—

“Let arts and manners, laws and commerce, die;

But leave us still our old nobility!”

So, again, in Muscovy. German wives and Teutonic officers have metamorphosed the old Tartar nobility into higher-castes than IVAN and his court would have reputed to be Russian. On the other hand, the recreant crew of conti, baroni, marchesi, in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sicily, and parts of Southern Europe, include some of the most abject specimens of humanity anywhere to be found. The physical cause of this deterioration, from the historical greatness of their ancestral names, is said to be—“breeding in and in.” Now, this may be true enough, as an apparent reason; but is there not a latent one? History shows that the families most degraded (in Portugal especially, where the lowest forms are encountered,) are compounded of Iberian, Celtic, Arab, Jewish, and other types—pure in themselves, but bad in the amalgam. Pride of birth, for centuries, has prevented them from marrying out of the circle of aristocracy. With rare exceptions, they are too mean in person to be accepted by the white nobility of Northern Europe. The consequence is, they intermarry with themselves; and, as in other mulatto compounds, the offspring of such mongrel comminglings deteriorate more and more in every generation. They cease to procreate, and there are some hopes that the corrupt breed is extinguishing itself. . . .

It seems to me certain, however, in human physical history, that the superior race must inevitably become deteriorated by any intermixture with the inferior; and I have suggested elsewhere, that, through the operation of the laws of hybridity alone, the human family might possibly become exterminated by a thorough amalgamation of all the various types of mankind now existing on earth. (406-07)


Although I do not believe in the intellectual equality of races, and can find no ground in natural or in human history for such popular credence, I belong not to those who are disposed to degrade any type of humanity to the level of the brute-creation. Nevertheless, a man must be blind not to be struck by similitudes between some of the lower races of mankind, viewed as something like connecting links in the animal kingdom; nor can it be rationally affirmed, that the Orang-Outan and Chimpanzee are more widely separated from certain African and Oceanic Negroes than are the latter from the Tuetonic of Pelasgic types. But the very accomplished anatomist of Harvard University, Dr. Jeffries Wyman, has placed this question in its true light:--

“The organization of the anthropoid quadrumane justifies the naturalist in placing them at the head of the brute-creation, and placing them in a position in which they, of all the animal series, shall be nearest to man. Any anatomist, however, who will take the trouble to compare the skeletons of the Negro and Orang, cannot fail to be struck at sight with the wide gap which separates them. The difference between the cranium, the pelvis, and the conformation of the upper extremities, in the Negro and Caucasian, sinks into insignificance when compared with the vast difference which exists between the conformation of the same parts in the Negro and the Orang. Yet it cannot be denied, however wide the separation, that the Negro and Orang do afford the points where man and the brute, when the totality of their organization is considered, most nearly approach each other.”*

*Note: Savage and Wyman, “Troglodytes Gorillæ,” Boston, Jour. Of Nat. Hist., 1847, p. 27.

Types of Mankind


It is vehemently maintained, that mankind must be of common origin, because all men are endowed with more or less of reason, with some moral sense, and are impressed with the idea of responsibility to a Supreme Being; but the very statement of such proposition carries with it the conviction that it is simply an hypothesis, unsupported by facts. No line can be drawn between men and animals of the ground of “reason,” and more than one of the savage races of men possess no perceptible moral or religious ideas. (462)

Michael Banton, Racial Theories (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 48-61. 

Adam Dewbury, “The American School and Scientific Racism in Early American Anthropology,” in Regna Darnell, Frederic W. Gleach, eds., Histories of Anthropology Annual 3 (2007): 121-47.  

Paul A. Erickson, “the Anthropology of Josiah Clark Nott,” Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers, no. 65-66 (1986): 103-20.  

George M. Fredrickson, Racism: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). 

Steven Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996). 

Terence D. Keel, “Religion, Polygenism and the Early Science of Human Origins,” History of the Human Sciences 26 (2013) 2: 3-32. 

Charles Pickering, “Geographical Distribution of the Races of Men” (map) in The Races of Man; and Their Geographical Distribution (London: H. G. Bohn, 1854), 4. See in this volume John C. Hall, “An Analytical Synopsis of the Natural History of Man,” vii-lxxii, an extended defense of monogenesis and the Biblical account of origins against the objections of Agassiz and others. 

William Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots: Scientific Attitudes toward Race in America, 1815-59 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960). 

George W. Stocking, Jr., “The Persistence of Polygenist Thought in Post-Darwinian Anthropology,” in Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology (New York: Free Press, 1968), 42–68.