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Eugenics and Restriction, 1919

The following pamphlet of the Immigration Restriction League was written by Prescott F. Hall, a Boston lawyer and co-founder of the League. This 1919 article calls for immigration restriction using arguments from eugenics, a scientific movement for genetic improvement of the human race through selective breeding. These racist beliefs were later taken up by the Nazis under Adolf Hitler, after which they were widely discredited. During the early 20th century, however, Boston and Cambridge were hotbeds of support for both eugenics and immigration restriction.

There is one aspect of immigration restriction in the various countries which does not often receive much attention, namely, the possibility of its use as a method of world eugenics….

…Immigration to any country of a given stratum of population tends to sterilize all strata of higher social and economic levels already in that country…. As long as the people of any community are relatively homogenous, what differences of wealth and social position there may be do not affect the birth rate, or do so only after a considerable time. But put into that community a number of immigrants, inferior mentally, socially, and economically, and the natives are unwilling to have their children associate with them in work or social life. They then limit the number of their children in order to give them the capital or education to enter occupations in which they will not be brought into contact with the new arrivals. This result is quite apparent in New England, where successive waves of immigration from lower and lower levels have been coming in for eighty years….

What is the result, then, of the migration of a million  persons of lower level into a country where the average is of a higher level? …

Of course, [some say] at once that these immigrants are improved. We may grant that, although the improvement is probably much exaggerated. You cannot make bad stock into good by changing its meridian, any more than you can turn a cart horse into a hunter by putting it into a fine stable, or make a mongrel into a fine dog by teaching it tricks. But such improvement as there is involves time, expense, and trouble; and, when it is done, has anything been gained? Will any one say that the races that have supplanted the old Nordic stock in New England are any better, or as good, as the descendants of that stock would have been if their birth rate had not been lowered….

The moral seems to be this: Eugenics among individuals is encouraging the propagation of the fit, and limiting or preventing the multiplication of the unfit. World eugenics is doing precisely the same thing as to races considered as wholes. Immigration restriction is a species of segregation on a large scale, by which inferior stocks can be prevented from both diluting and supplanting good stocks. Just as we isolate bacterial invasions, and starve out the bacteria by limiting the area and amount of their food supply, so we can compel an inferior race to remain in its native habitat, where its own multiplication in a limited area will, as with all organisms, eventually limit its numbers and influence. On the other hand, the superior races, more self-limiting than the others, with the benefits of more space and nourishment will tend to still higher levels.

This result is not merely a selfish benefit to the higher races, but a good to the world as a whole…

Source: Prescott F. Hall, Immigration Restriction and World Eugenics (Publications of the Immigration Restriction League, No. 71, 1919), Harvard Digital Collections, Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930, MS Am 2245 (1159).

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