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Defending the Master Race

Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant

Jonathan Spiro

Publication Year: 2009

Scholars have labeled Madison Grant everything from the "nation's most influential racist" to the "greatest conservationist that ever lived." His life illuminates early twentieth-century America as it was heading toward the American Century, and his legacy is still very much with us today, from the speeches of immigrant-bashing politicians to the international efforts to arrest climate change. This insightful biography shows how Grant worked side-by-side with figures such as Theodore Roosevelt to found the Bronx Zoo, preserve the California redwoods, and save the American bison from extinction. But Grant was also the leader of the eugenics movement in the United States. He popularized the infamous notions that the blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordics were the "master race" and that the state should eliminate members of inferior races who were of no value to the community. Grant's behind-the-scenes machina tions convinced Congress to enact the immigration restriction legis lation of the 1920s, and his influence led many states to ban interracial marriage and sterilize thousands of "unworthy" citizens. Although most of the relevant archival materials on Madison Grant have mysteriously disappeared over the decades, Jonathan Spiro has devoted many years to reconstructing the hitherto concealed events of Grant's life. His astonishing feat of detective work re veals how the founder of the Bronx Zoo wound up writing the book that Adolf Hitler declared was his "bible."

Published by: University of Vermont Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. viii

Madison Grant: The Consensus

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pp. x

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pp. xi-xvi

At the conclusion of World War II, the American Military Tribunal at Nuremberg indicted Major General Karl Brandt of the Waffen-SS for conspiracy to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. Brandt had been Adolf...

Part 1: The Evolution of Scientific Racism

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pp. 1-140

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Chapter 1: Big-Game Hunter

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pp. 3-30

In December of 1887, twenty-nine-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, back in his native Manhattan after a two-year stint playing cowboy in the Badlands, hosted a dinner party for ten of his closest...

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Chapter 2: The Bronx Zoo

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pp. 31-51

As Madison Grant hunted the ever-dwindling mammals of North America in the 1890s, he began to dream of creating a zoological park in which the continent’s endangered species could be preserved...

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Chapter 3: From Conservation to Preservation

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pp. 52-72

By the turn of the twentieth century, with the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium firmly established as the largest and most popular institutions of their kind in the world, Madison Grant decided...

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Chapter 4: Wildlife Management

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pp. 73-87

At the time of its founding in 1888, and for many years thereafter, the Boone and Crockett Club stood alone as the only national organization devoted to protecting America’s big game. By the second decade...

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Chapter 5: From Mammals to Man

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pp. 88-116

Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn were close friends and colleagues for forty years, from the formation of the New York Zoological Society in 1895 until the death of Osborn in 1935...

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Chapter 6: The Eugenics Creed

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pp. 117-140

One year after William Z. Ripley’s lecture at the Half- Moon Club confirmed for Madison Grant the dangers that immigration posed to the Nordic race, Grant had to face another kind of crisis. On the morning...

Part 2: Conserving the Nordics

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pp. 141-293

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Chapter 7: The Passing of the Great Race

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pp. 143-166

Madison Grant completed the manuscript for The Passing of the Great Race in the spring of 1916 and showed it to three of his closest friends, Charles Stewart Davison, Moses Taylor Pyne...

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Chapter 8: Grant's Disciples

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pp. 167-195

The Passing of the Great Race appeared just before the United States entered the Great War, and hence the book was somewhat overlooked when first published. But the resumption...

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Chapter 9: Creating the Refuge

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pp. 196-233

In 1883, Emma Lazarus penned the famous poem embronzed at the Statue of Liberty inviting Europe to send its unwanted masses to America...

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Chapter 10: Culling the Herd

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pp. 234-265

And so it had been done. Just sixteen years after Israel Zangwill proclaimed America the great melting pot, America abdicated the title. The next quarter century saw fewer foreigners immigrate into the United States than had...

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Chapter 11: Saving the Redwoods

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pp. 266-293

In August of 1991, the California Department of Parks and Recreation received a letter from a man who had just visited Humboldt Redwoods State Park in northern California. The Humboldt redwood trees are the tallest...

Part 3: Extinction

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Chapter 12: Nordic and Anti-Nordic

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pp. 297-327

The lifelong hostility between Madison Grant and Franz Boas was the personification if not the core of the nature- nurture debate in the United States. Grant was the prophet of scientific racism...

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Chapter 13: The Empire Crumbles

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pp. 328-354

In retrospect, we can see that 1924 was the high point of scientific racism in the United States. That was the year that Congress passed the Immigration Restriction Act and the state of Virginia enacted both the Racial Integrity...

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Chapter 14: The Ever-Widening Circle - The Third Reich

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pp. 355-383

In his presidential address to the Eugenics Research Association in 1929, Clarence G. Campbell predicted: “The truth which a few eugenicists see so clearly today will become commonplace opinion...

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Epilogue: The Passing of the Great Patrician

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pp. 384-390

Madison Grant, who had been rendered increasingly infirm by arthritis and old age, died in 1937 at the age of seventy-two. “He had been through a most dreadful time,” wrote Kermit...

Appendix A: Organizations Served by Madison Grant in an Executive Capacity

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pp. 391

Appendix B: The Interlocking Directorate of Wildlife Conservation

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pp. 392-393

Appendix C: Selected Members of the Advisory Council of the ECUSA

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pp. 394

Appendix D: Selected Members of the Interlocking Directorate of Scientific Racism

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pp. 395-396

Key to Archival Collections

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pp. 397-400


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pp. 401-442

Works Cited

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pp. 443-466


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pp. 467-487

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781584658108
E-ISBN-10: 158465810X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584657156

Page Count: 508
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Grant, Madison, 1865-1937.
  • Grant, Madison, 1865-1937 -- Influence.
  • Conservationists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Hunters -- United States -- Biography.
  • Big game hunting -- History.
  • Wildlife management -- United States -- History.
  • Zoologists -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
  • Eugenics -- United States -- History
  • Racism -- United States -- History.
  • United States -- Race relations.
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