Samuel Morton Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

5). He notes that "the skull is large and oval, and its anterior portion full and elevated." (Morton, p.5). His pro-white bias is very evident, as he states that that "this race is distinguished for the facility with which it attains the highest intellectual endowments." (Morton, p.5). He also goes on to list the accomplishments he believes that Caucasians have attained, including populating the finest parts of the earth and having its best inhabitants. (Morton, p.6).

When discussing Mongolians, Morton seems to find them to be second in intelligence to Caucasians. He describes Asians as being "characterized by a sallow or olive colored skin, which appears to be drawn tight over the bones of the face; long black straight hair, and thin beard. The nose is broad, and short; the eyes are small, black, and obliquely placed, and the eyebrows are arched and linear; the lips are turned, the cheek bones broad and flat." (Morton, p. 50). Morton finds that, "in their intellectual character the Mongolians are ingenious, imitative, and highly susceptible of cultivation." (Morton, p.50). Therefore, it would be tempting to think that Morton described Asians favorably. However, his use of certain words in his description makes it clear that he believes Mongolians are inferior to whites. Morton suggests that Mongolians have very changeable feelings and actually compares their attentions spans to that of a monkey. (Morton, p.50).

Morton's treatment of Native Americans is even less favorable than his treatment of Asians. According to Morton, "The American Race is marked by a brown complexion; long, black, lank hair; and deficient beard. The eyes are black and deep set, the brow low, the cheekbones high, the nose large and aquiline,, the mouth large, and the lips tumid and compressed." (Morton, p. 54). Mentally, he clearly fines Native Americans to be inferior. Morton states that not only are Native Americans slow in acquiring knowledge, but that they are actually averse to learning. (Morton, p.54). Moreover, he describes them as restless, revengeful, fond of war, crafty, sensual, ungrateful, obstinate, unfeeling, not genuinely fond of their children, unable to plan for the future, and suggests that they remain the mental equivalent of children throughout the course of their lives. (Morton, p.54).

However, Morton finds Africans to be the most inferior of the races. Physically, he describes them as "Characterized by a black complexion, and black, woolly hair; the eyes are large and prominent, the nose broad and flat, the lips thick, and the mouth wide; the head is long and narrow, the forehead low, the cheekbones prominent, the jaws protruding, and the chin small." (Morton, p.84). Morton is very dismissive of African intellectual capacity. First, he describes them as joyous and fond of amusement, which clearly reinforces stereotypes of the happy slave. (Morton, p.84). In addition, he overtly reinforces the idea that Africans are content in slavery, stating that while Africans do not lack courage, "once overcome, they yield to their destiny, and accommodate themselves with amazing facility to every change of circumstance." (Morton, p.84). Moreover, while Morton acknowledges that "the many nations which compose this race present a singular diversity of intellectual character," he goes on to describe that the least intelligent Africans are the least intelligent of all people. (Morton, p.84).

In this day and age, it is easy to dismiss Morton's theories as antiquated and racist. However, the fact is that Morton's pseudo-science had disastrous consequences. Morton was a respected scientist, so his reputation lent weight to racist theories. Not only did Morton's writings help support racism, but they also influenced the way a generation of Americans were taught to view race. This impacted America's treatment of slaves, and its treatment of Native Americans. Social Darwinism and the theories of racial inferiority were popular well into the 20th century, where they were used by the Nazis to promote the Holocaust. Though his science has been discredited, Morton's ideas continue to provide a mask of legitimacy for people claiming racial superiority.

Works Cited

Facing History and Ourselves. "Samuel Morton." Race and Membership: The Eugenics

Movement. 2010. Facing History and Ourselves. 16 Feb. 2010. .

Morton, Samuel. Crania Americana; or, a Comparative View of the Skulls of Various

Aboriginal Nations of North and South America: To which is Prefixed an Essay on the Varieties of the Human Species. Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839.

Cite This Thesis:

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