Friday, June 14, 2013

A Letter from President Roosevelt on Race Suicide (1907)


[After reading Dr. Cronin's article on "The Doctor in the Public School," in the April number of the Review Of Reviews, President Roosevelt dictated the following letter to the editor of this magazine. Owing to the widespread interest in the subject, the President has acceded to the editor's request that the letter be given to the public. It is perhaps only fair to Dr. Cronin to call attention to the fact that he was dealing in his article with the question of large families in some of the crowded sections of New York City. The President heartily approved of the article as a whole, but took exception to the single paragraph cited in his letter. - The Editor.]

My Dear Dr. Shaw: YOU know how sincerely I believe that your magazine generally stands for moral betterment all around. I was really shocked to see in it the last paragraph but one in the article in the April magazine on " The Doctor in the Public School." The ordinary individual thinks so little on these questions that it is pardonable for him to think in confused fashion even on such an elementary proposition as this. But the man who affects to instruct others in matters of moral and hygienic reform must be expected to exhibit at least the rudimentary intelligence and morality necessary to prevent his saying what has been said here. The writer states clearly that it is an erroneous idea to assume that the average American family should have a larger number of healthy children than the present birth-rate shows. The vital statistics of a State like Massachusetts show that there the average native American family of native American descent has so few children that the birth-rate has fallen below the death-rate. This, of course, means race suicide, and it ought to be understood that if after a while there are no children to go to school the question of their health in school would not even be academic.

The writer's statement that "physical defects go hand in hand with a large number of children, both in the rich and the poor," is simply not true, as he could tell at a glance by looking up, for instance, the fact that athletes are most apt to be found in fair-sized families. I am not speaking now of families of inordinate size, though even as to such the high standard of health and strength among the French Canadians, for instance, is astonishing, but of those of half a dozen children or thereabouts. Let him look up any serious statistics, or study any author worth reading on the subject at all, including Benjamin Franklin, and he will see that in the ordinary family of but one or two children there is apt to be lower vitality than in a family of four or five or more. All he has to do, if he doubts this, is to study the effects of the marriages with heiresses by the British nobility. The question at issue is not between having "a few perfect children" and "a dozen unkempt degenerates"; it is between having, in the average family, a number of children so small that the race diminishes, while, curiously enough, the physique in such case likewise tends to fall off, and the reasonable growth which comes when the average family is large enough to make up for the men and women who do not marry and for those who do and have no children, or but one or two. The writer quotes the statistics for Berlin. Let him study them a little more; let him study other statistics as well; let him turn to any book dealing with the subject if written by a man capable of touching on it at all (as, for instance, let him turn to page 162 of Finot's "Race Prejudice," which I happen at this moment to be reading), and he will see that in cities like Berlin the upper classes, the wealthier classes, tend to die out precisely because of the low birth-rate to which he points. The greatest problem of civilization is to be found in the fact that the well-to-do families tend to die out; there results, in consequence, a tendency to the elimination instead of the survival of the fittest; and the moral attitude which helps on this tendency is of course strengthened when it is apologized for and praised in a magazine like yours. It is not the very poor, it is not ignorant people with large families, who tend to read such articles in magazines like the Review Of Reviews; it is the upper-class people who already tend to have too few children who are reached and corrupted by such teachings.

Our people could still exist under all kinds of iniquities in government; under a debased currency, under official corruption, under the rule of a socialistic proletariat, or a wealthy oligarchy. All these things would be bad for us, but the country would still exist. But it could not continue to exist if it paid heed to the expressed or implied teachings of such articles as this. These teachings furnish excuses for every unnatural prevention of child-bearing, for every form of gross and shallow selfishness of the kind that is really the deepest reflection on, the deepest discredit to, American social life. There are countries which, and people in all countries who, need to be warned against a rabbit-like indifference to consequences in raising families. The ordinary American, whether of the old native stock or the self-respecting son or daughter of immigrants, needs no such warning. He or she needs to have impressed upon his or her mind the vital lesson that all schemes about having "doctors in public schools," about kindergartens, civic associations, women's clubs, and training families up in this way or that are preposterous nonsense if there are to be no families to train; and that it is a simple mathematical proposition that, where the average family that has children at all has only three, the race at once diminishes in numbers, and if the tendency is not checked will vanish completely, - in other words, there will be race suicide. Not only the healthiest, but the highest relations in life are those of the man and the woman united on a basis of full and mutually respecting partnership and wise companionship in loving and permanent wedlock. If, through no fault of theirs, they have no children they are entitled to our deepest sympathy. If they refuse to have children sufficient in number to mean that the race goes forward and not back,* if they refuse to bring them up healthy in body and mind, then they are criminals.

Sincerely yours,

Theodore Roosevelt.

The White House, Washington, April 3, 1907.

* This must mean, on an average, four among the families which are not, from natural causes, childless or limited to a less number than four. Prof. Edward A. Ross, of the University of Wisconsin, has put the matter concisely as follows: "The type to be standardized is not the family from one to three, but the family of four to six. The one-child or two-child ideal growing in favor with the middle class would, If popularized, hurry us to extinction."

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