In the early de cades of the nineteenth century, an upsurge of writing on human racial differences by highly regarded scientists formed the basis of the so- called American School of ethnology. By the late 1830s and  1840s, these scientists had gained international stature for work that claimed to offer proof of what they believed was black inferiority and difference. Central to the arguments of many of these writers was the theory of polygenesis— the idea that racial groups had sepa- rate origins in dif fer ent parts of the globe. The scientiSc racialists of the period supported their ideas about racial differences in a variety of ways. Philadelphia physician and researcher Samuel Morton (1799–1851), president of the Acad emy of Natu ral Sciences in Philadelphia, developed his theory through a comparative analy sis of skull size and shape that purported to make clear why, in his view, blacks were not as intelligent as whites. His Crania Americana (1839) and Crania Ægyptiaca (1844) inspired Josiah C. Nott (1804–1873), a physician from Mobile, Alabama, who authored Two Lectures on the Natu ral History of the Caucasian and Negro Races (1844), and George  R. Gliddon (1809–1857), an En glishman who, while serving as vice consul at Cairo, examined mummiSed skulls and, like Samuel Morton, asserted that the ancient Egyptians were white. Nott and Gliddon’s work on racial differences culminated in Types of Mankind: Ethnological Researches, Based upon the Ancient Monuments, Paintings, Sculptures, and Crania of Races, and upon Their Natu ral, Geo graph i cal, Philological, and Biblical History (Philadelphia, 1854), the source of the se lection below. Their widely disseminated compendium of “facts” about the races offered scientiSc legitimation to those of their contempo- raries who would argue for blacks’ lower place in the social hierarchy, whether as slaves in the South or as marginalized noncitizens in the North.

From Types of Mankind

Mr. Luke Burke, the bold and able Editor of the London Ethnological Jour- nal, deSnes Ethnology to be “a science which investigates the mental and physical differences of Mankind, and the organic laws upon which they depend; and which seeks to deduce from these investigations, princi ples of human guidance, in all the impor tant relations of social existence.” To the same author are we indebted not only for the most extensive and lucid deS- nition of this term, but for the Srst truly philosophic view of a new and impor tant science that we have met with in the En glish language.

The term “Ethnology” has generally been used as synonymous with “Eth- nography,” understood as the Natu ral 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 vari ous Types of Mankind, as well as their social relations and adaptations; and, under this comprehensive aspect, it there- fore interests equally the philanthropist, the naturalist, and the statesman. Ethnology demands to know what was the primitive organic structure of each race?— what [is] such race’s moral and psychical character?— how far a

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race may have been, or may become, modiSed 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?

Such is the scope of this science— born, we may say, within our own generation— and we propose to examine mankind under the above two- fold aspect, while we point out some of the more salient results towards which modern investigation is tending. The press everywhere teems with new books on the vari ous partitions of the wide Seld of Ethnology; yet there does not exist, in any language, an attempt, based on the highest scientiSc lights of the day, at a systematic treatise on Ethnology in its extended sense. Morton was the Srst to conceive the proper plan; but, unfortunately, lived not to carry it out; and although the pres ent volume falls very far below the just requirements of science, we feel assured that it will at least aid materi- ally in suggesting the right direction to future investigators.

The grand prob lem, more particularly in ter est ing 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 is used towards each other.

Whether an original diversity of races be admitted or not, the perma- nence of existing physical types will not be questioned by any Archæologist or Naturalist of the pres ent 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.

* * * Mr. Lyell,1 in common with tourists less eminent, but in this question not less misinformed, has somewhere stated, that the Negroes in Amer i ca are undergoing a manifest improvement in their physical type. He has no doubt that they will, in time, show a development in skull and intellect quite equal to the whites. This unscientiSc assertion is disproved by the cranial mea- sure ments of Dr. Morton.

That Negroes imported into, or born in, the United States become more intelligent and better developed in their physique generally than their native compatriots of Africa, every one will admit; but such intelligence is easily explained by their ceaseless contact with the whites, from whom they derive much instruction; and such physical improvement may also be readily accounted for by the increased comforts with which they are supplied. In Africa, owing to their natu ral improvidence, the Negroes are, more fre- quently than not, a half- starved, and therefore half- developed race; but when they are regularly and adequately fed, they become healthier, better developed, and more humanized. Wild horses, cattle, asses, and other brutes, are greatly improved in like manner by domestication: but neither climate nor food can transmute an ass into a horse, or a buffalo into an ox.

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1. Sir Charles Lyell (1797–1875) was an in^uential British geologist and evolutionary theorist.



One or two generations of domestic culture effect all the improvement of which Negro- organism is susceptible. We possess thousands of the second, and many more of Negro families of the eighth or tenth generation, in the United States; and (where unadulterated by white blood) they are identical in physical and in intellectual characters. No one in this country pretends to distinguish the native son of a Negro from his great- grand child (except through occasional and ever- apparent admixture of white or Indian blood); while it requires the keen and experienced eye of such a comparative anato- mist as Agassiz2 to detect structural peculiarities in our few African- born slaves. The “improvements” among Americanized Negroes noticed by Mr. Lyell, in his pro gress from South to North, are solely due to those ultra- ecclesiastical amalgamations which, in their illegitimate consequences, have deteriorated the white ele ment in direct proportion that they are said to have improved the black.


2. The Swiss- born Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) was a biologist and geologist at Harvard who argued that blacks were a separate (and inferior) species of humans.


In an extraordinary moment in his career as an abolitionist, Douglass (1818–1895) was invited to address the literary socie ties at Western Reserve College, in Hud- son, Ohio, on the occasion of the college’s commencement on July  12, 1854. He thus became the Srst invited black commencement speaker at a white college. Dou- glass chose to contest Josiah Nott and George Gliddon’s claims in Types of Mankind and elsewhere that the races had separate creations and that some races were supe- rior to others. In a detailed critique of a number of prominent ethnologists (racial scientists), Douglass argued for a single creation based on his understanding of science and his reading of the Bible. He especially challenged the assertion of Nott and Gliddon’s intellectual hero, Samuel Morton, that the ancient Egyptians were white. Drawing on environmental and historical evidence that suggested Egyptians had close connections with black Africans, Douglass linked African Americans to the very people who helped to give rise to Western civilization. The address, which Douglass titled The Claims of the Negro, Ethnologically Considered, was long and detailed, thirty- seven printed pages in the edition Douglass published in Rochester, New York, later in 1854, which is the source of the se lection below. Not a scientist himself, Douglass was mainly intent on showing how so- called science could be misused by racists to marginalize and enslave African Americans.

From The Claims of the Negro, Ethnologically Considered

There was a time when, if you established the point that a par tic u lar being is a man, it was considered that such a being, of course, had a common ancestry with the rest of mankind. But it is not so now. This is, you know, an age of science, and science is favorable to division. It must explore and

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