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Are We A Dying Race?

Creator: J.H. Kellogg (author)
Date: 1897
Source: Wellesley College Archives

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A philosopher has said, "It is the greatest of a felicities to be well born." Unfortunately, not all human beings enjoy this felicity. Indeed, it is yearly becoming more and more apparent that an increasing proportion of human beings are badly born. In every large city are to be found thousands who belong to what are known as the vicious, the criminal, or the indigent or pauper classes. For the most part, these persons are born into the condition in which they are destined to spend their lives, and are little more responsible for the unhappy situation in which they find themselves than are the deaf and dumb, the blind, or those who are in other respects congenitally deformed. The only difference between the infirmities from which these persons suffer and those with which the cripple, the blind, or the deaf are afflicted, is that their physical deficiencies are less conspicuous. They are, nevertheless, as real. Their deformities consist in bad or abnormal construction of the brain, although a minute examination will reveal, in the majority of persons belonging to these inferior classes, external deformities of a very pronounced character.


Another class of deformities which may be recognized, perhaps more commonly among the so-called "upper" classes, include such congenital defects as flat or narrow chest, weakness of the heart, feeble digestive powers, a neurotic temperament, and various idiosyncrasies of mind and body. Heredity is a force which operates in the most thoroughgoing manner. Every human being is the product of a principle which has been taking notes of the lives and habits, the neglects, the excesses, and the abuses, of every crime against the body through all the generations from Adam down to the individual man in question. The living man or woman is simply the material representation, the focus or vortex, so to speak, of the myriad of influences which have been operating from the earliest ages of man's history down to the moment of inspection.


Man's physical, mental, and moral character is as much a matter of heredity as is the capital of wealth with which he starts out in life. The man who lives the life of the spendthrift and dies bankrupt, leaves his children penniless. Sometimes it takes a series of generations to consume completely the accumulated earnings of preceding generations. So it is with bodily and mental health. The complete mental and physical bankruptcy which lands a man in the insane asylum or alms-house infirmary may be simply the result of two or three generations of sins against the body and the soul on the part of profligate ancestors. "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."


The world looks with disdain upon the money spendthrift. The man who recklessly squanders the family inheritance and leaves his children penniless is regarded by the world as little short of a criminal, a thief, a robber. What does society say about the man who by a process exactly identical, disinherits his children of that most valuable of all possessions - soundness of body and mind ? Society ignores the sins of this class of criminals, never asking a man to consider the consequences of his course of life upon his possible progeny, but allows him to squander, without questioning his right, the constitutions of unborn children, in open violation of the law by which nature has protected the well-being of the human race.


One of the most conclusive evidences of the degeneration of the race is to be found in the astonishing rate at which insanity and imbecility have increased within the last forty or fifty years. According to Dr. Wines, the number of insane per million persons in the United States increased between 1850 and 1890 from 673 to 1,700 ; and the number of feeble-minded persons or imbeciles per million increased from 681 to 1,527. In other words, the number of feeble-minded per thousand or million at the present time is nearly three times as great as fifty years ago; and the same is true with reference to the insane in Great Britain and Ireland, older countries, and in which certain causes of degeneracy have been even more active than in this country, the number of insane per million having increased in thirty years -- that is, between 1862 and 1891 -- from 1,810 to 3,070. From these facts, for which I am indebted to Dr. Arthur McGugan, of the Michigan Asylum for the Insane, it appears that the process of degeneracy going on in this country is likewise proceeding at a similar rate in other countries.


That this great increase of individuals who are mentally deficient is largely owing to the influence of heredity cannot be questioned, since it has been shown by careful observations made by Dr. Hurd, of the Eastern Michigan Hospital for Insane, that the evil effects of intemperance are to be recognized most clearly in the extraordinary frequency of insanity and mental deficiency in the children of drunkards.


An increase of ten per cent in the proportion of defectives occurring within fifty years would be an appalling fact. It would mean, if continued long enough, complete race demoralization and extinction; it would be an unmistakable indication of progress downward instead of upward, of retrogression instead of real race progression. A-ten-per cent. increase in the proportion of defectives in fifty years would mean at least a doubling in five hundred years, and starting with ten defectives of all classes per thousand (the number is much larger than this) and doubling every five hundred years, it would require only three or four thousand years to render the whole population defective, provided there was no increase in the rate of downward progress, and we know perfectly well that race degeneration gains momentum like a falling body.

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