Davenport: Death is Nature’s Great Blessing to the Race. Why Keep Defectives Alive?

Charles Davenport, in The Eugenic Programme And Progress in its Achievement (1914) [italics in original, bold added]

The lowest stratum of society has, on the other hand, neither intelligence nor self-control enough to justify the State to leave its matings in their own hands. On the contrary, the defectives and criminalistic are, so far as may be possible, to be segregated under the care of the State during the reproductive period or otherwise forcibly prevented from procreation. State laws permitting the sterilization of institutional cases have been passed by a dozen state legislatures. There is reason for believing that if executed at all they will be administered conservatively. It is desirable that the States should proceed slowly in this matter of sterilisation as a substitute for segregation. But in some way or other the reproduction of defectives must be controlled.


As I have intimated, it is, however, not merely the number born of children of the different stocks that determine their relative number in the community but the number who survive to maturity. The survival of the eugenic in greater numbers than the cacogenic is to be sought. We hear a great deal about infant mortality and child saving that appeals to the humanity and the child-love in us all. It is, however, always the saving of the lowest social class that is contemplated. I recall the impassioned appeal of a sociologist for assistance in stopping the frightful mortality among the children of prostitutes. But the daughters of prostitutes have hardly one chance in two of being able to react otherwise than their mothers. Why must we start an expensive campaign to keep alive those who, were they intelligent enough, might well curse us for having intervened in their behalf? Is not death nature’s great blessing to the race? If we have greater power to prevent it than ever before, so much the greater is our responsibility to use that power selectively, for the survival of those of best stock; more than those who are feebleminded and without moral control.

But any programme for improving our stock is futile unless we take into account immigration and the possibility of controlling it selectively. Assuming that the annual addition to our population by births is 2,500,000 and that only 2,000,000 survive infancy, it is probable that between one-quarter and one-third of the annual increment of our population is through immigration. And, while we know something of the family history and “breeding stock” of those who are born here, we know practically nothing of the family stock of the million souls who immigrate here in the year. They are the greater menace to f the country because they bring in so many unknown factors. Why do we so long delay finding’ something about the family history, the mental capacity, the moral control, of the stock from which our immigrants come? Why do we not take these things into account in passing them through our portals? Every social worker knows families in his territory all of whose children are a social menace because they are untrainable. Thousands of such persons are coming into this country every year, but we are not able to recognise them as such, by inspection. We take them into our communities and, as servants, even into our homes, when we would not take those of our own town of whose bad breeding we are aware. The eugenics programme can never disregard the, say, 30 per cent. annual increment of our population due to immigration.

Eugenics seeks to serve society and deserves a place among the agencies that tend to social amelioration. It does not minimise the value of education; it seeks to increase the proportion of the educable and the degree of their response to educational efforts. It is not opposed to religion; it seeks to increase the proportion of those who can be emotionally controlled or who lend themselves more easily to religious and social influences. It does not find itself out of sympathy with efforts put forth for individual welfare. Physique, brain, and character must be cultivated; but that need must not render us blind to the fact that there are those who can not be improved by all of these social efforts and render it only the harder to help those who can be improved.

Thus the programme of eugenics stands; first, investigation; then, as knowledge grows, education. Finally, legislation based on sound public sentiment. For the carrying out of this programme the public is quite ready and indeed waiting. It is seeking to be wisely led.

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