Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/June 1880/The Crossing of the Human Races

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THE movement of expansion which followed the geographical discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries has resulted in transporting to a host of points on the globe not only the European white but also the African negro, who was first carried away into slavery. Everywhere the two races have crossed with each other and with the natives of the place; and everywhere, in consequence of these unions of the two races, mixed populations have appeared, having in varied proportions the blood of the whites, the negroes, and the local races. This is a remarkable fact, which has engaged the attention of travelers, but which the founders of anthropology—Buffon, Blumenbach, and Prichard—and most of their successors, seem to have passed over. I have often pointed out this singular omission, and indicated the causes of it, the chief of which is that those writers were without the documents bearing on the subject which we possess now. I have also tried to fill the gap in the investigation, and, after having studied the phenomena from a general point of view, have shown, I believe, how the study of what has passed and of what is passing now throws light on the origin of populations which are often considered as of a pure race, and how an attentive study may enable us to discover traces of a crossing sometimes too ancient for the remembrance of it to survive, sometimes on the contrary recent enough to permit us to recover historical evidence of it. I have endeavored also to indicate what may be the consequences in the future of contemporary facts.

The conclusions to which this study has led me are in direct disagreement with those of some anthropologists, and in particular with the doctrines advanced by Dr. Nott, the Count de Gobineau, Dr. Perrier, Messrs. David, Turnham, Knox, etc. Without repeating the considerations I have already advanced concerning these differences of opinion, I will here point out what the differences are. Those who disagree with me affirm more or less explicitly that crossing between human races is of itself a cause of decline, and that, when two unequal races intermarry, the mixed population is fatally inferior to both. In the crossing of unequal races the superior is depressed, they say, without raising the inferior. The mixed race is more or less degraded physically, and is deprived of all disposition to work, of all moral force.

Most of the adversaries of crossing still maintain that the formation of a new race resulting from the union of two other races is really impossible. Populations originating thus can not be kept up, they say, except by the continued accession of new elements from pure races. If they are abandoned to themselves and left to form connections with each other, the mongrels will become infertile after a few generations, and the mixed race will disappear.

None of the eminent men with whom I regret to differ take any account of the influence of the action of the surroundings. I believe that the conditions of the surroundings play as important a part in the crossing of races as they do in other matters. They may sometimes favor, sometimes restrict, sometimes prevent, the establishment of a mixed race. This simple consideration accounts for many apparently contradictory facts. Etwick and Long have affirmed that in Jamaica the mulattoes hold out only because they are constantly recruited by the marriage of whites with negresses. But in San Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, there are, we may say, no whites, and the population consists of two thirds mulattoes and one third negroes. The numbers of the mulattoes are there well kept up by themselves without the introduction of fresh blood. In respect to fertility, different instances of crossing between individuals of the two same races may give different results, according to the place where they are effected. I believe it is unnecessary to insist and show that the physical and physiological faculties of children born of mixed unions ought to present analogous facts.

In my view the aggregation of physical conditions does not in itself alone constitute the environment. Social and moral conditions have an equal part in it. Here, again, it is easy to establish, in the results of crossings, differences which have no other cause than differences in these conditions. It is true that mongrels, born and grown up in the midst of the hatred of the inferior race and the contempt of the superior race, are liable to merit the reproaches which are commonly attached to them. On the other hand, if real marriages take place between the races; and their offspring are placed upon a footing of equality with the mass of the population, they are quite able to reach the general level, and sometimes to display superior qualities.

All of my studies on this question have brought me to the conclusion that the mixture of races has in the past had a great part in the constitution of a large number of actual populations. It is also clear to me that its part in the future will not be less considerable. The movement of expansion, to which I have just called attention, has not slackened since the days of Cortez and Pizarro, but has become more extended and general. The perfection of the means of communication has given it new activity. The people of mixed blood already constitute a considerable part of the population of certain states, and their number is large enough to entitle them to be taken notice of in the population of the whole world.

In using the word (metis) mongrel, or person of mixed race, I do not mean the fruit of union between individuals belonging simply to distinct branches of a single great race. By that criterion all Europeans would be mongrels. That kind of crossing has been going on among us since the dawn of the present geological period. We may begin to trace it through prehistoric times; and from the birth of history, even in the legendary form, it appears preparing the way for the actual condition of things. This fact alone unequivocally condemns all the theories which ascribe a degrading influence to intermixture considered by itself.

I refer at present only to mixtures of the white with the negro and other colored races. M. d'Omalius d'Halloy, a Belgian scholar distinguished for his critical spirit, in the last edition of his "Anthropology," fixes the population of the globe at twelve hundred millions, and the number of mongrels from crossings of this kind at eighteen millions. Thus the latter already constitute one sixty-sixth of the whole human race.

The proportion becomes more considerable when we look at some of the states of South America, where the aggregation of circumstances has favored a mixture of races. Statistics already several years old show in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, the La Plata, and Brazil, a total of 16,040,100 inhabitants, of whom 3,333,000 are mongrels. The latter, then, form about one fifth of the population. This proportion, high as it is, is really too small, for, since the censuses from which the numbers were borrowed were taken, the mixture of races has increased; again, many persons of mixed blood have been counted as whites. In these countries any one who rises to an honorable position in society can call himself a white, and no one will refuse him the privilege. I know of a family in the best society of one of the Central American states, in which the negro and Indian blood are notably mixed. All of its members pretend to be pure whites and pass for such, and a person who should express any doubt on the subject would be very badly received.

The inhabitants of the province of São Paulo in Brazil are nearly all the mixed issue of marriages contracted by the Portuguese and by whites from the Azores with the native tribes, the Carijos and the Guayanazos.

These facts are significant. They become more so when we recollect how short a time has been necessary to produce such results. In South and Central America, and Mexico, the crossing has been going on on an extensive scale only since the conquest of Mexico and Peru, between 1519 and 1533. Less than three centuries and a half separate us from that epoch and what are three centuries in the history of mankind? It is easy to believe that in three centuries more the mixture will be complete in that part of the New World.

Are the United States and Canada the theatre of ethnogenic phenomena analogous to those which we have just proved to exist in the countries south of them? The contrary is generally asserted. We have only a few details concerning the mulattoes of the Southern States; and Dr. Nott has strangely contradicted himself in the few generalities he has written on this subject. Travelers sometimes speak of mongrels whom they have met on the confines of the Union or of Canada. But, on the whole, I know nothing precise on the result of the mixture of races in the vast region which extends from the frontiers of Mexico to beyond the Arctic Circle. The work of Mr. Daniel Wilson,[2] without entirely filling this gap, furnishes some really interesting statements bearing on this subject. It makes known some facts which, although they are presented in a little too general manner and without statistical details, are nevertheless of great value; and it states some others with more detail. Incidentally, it adds its testimony to the evidence which had already been gathered against the common errors which are daily repeated. By these features it merits the attention of anthropologists, and an analysis of some of its details is of interest.

[As Mr. Wilson's book is easily accessible to American readers, we will not repeat in detail the citations which M. de Quatrefages makes from it, but will only give a summary of the argument which he deduces from them. Editor Popular Science Monthly.]

Mr. Wilson does not dwell at much length on the history of the mulattoes. Having mentioned the opinion of Dr. Nott, who believes that they are infertile, sickly, and destined to extinction, and having referred rapidly to a few local circumstances which seem to support this opinion, he concludes by saying that nothing justifies the conclusion of that anthropologist. His figures seem to be decisive. Carefully compiled statistics show that the number of negroes imported into the United States can not have exceeded four hundred thousand, while the colored race in the country now comprises about five million persons, and is largely composed of mulattoes. Dr. Nott admitted that his statements concerning the debility of the mulattoes applied only to those of South Carolina, and that in Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama, the children of the negro and white were well-formed and prolific. He explained the difference by saying that the Englishman is the only true white, and can not produce a robust offspring with the negro, while the Spaniard and Frenchman, already mixed, are more allied to him, and will cross fruitfully with him. This strange theory is easily refuted by historical arguments. So Dr. Nott's testimony confirms our theory, at least for the three more Southern States. It is shown, then, that the mixed race of black and white is increasing in the southern part of the Union as well as in South America. We can not doubt that, in a future the remoteness of which is dependent on the disappearance of existing prejudices, a fusion will take place between the men of color and the whites.

The facts related by Mr. Wilson concerning the crossing of the whites with the red Indians and the native races of the North are very instructive. Half-breeds of the local races have associated with Europeans, and been accepted as on terms of equality for a long time. The case has been regarded, however, as exceptional, and it has been believed that ultimately the Indians would be represented only by the relics buried with them in their tombs. Another belief is now gaining ground, that the Indian is not disappearing, but that a mixed race, full of vigor, is being developed faster than superficial observations have enabled us to perceive, and that the indigenous ethnological element is a factor of the population which is destined to exercise a permanent influence upon the Europeo-American race. The official reports show that the Indians have borne the test of endurance everywhere that they have been put upon reservations, as well as everywhere that they have been permitted to associate on equal terms with whites. Sufficient account has not been taken of the fact that the Indian population which thus gives so good an account of itself is not of pure blood. In the territory of the Hudson Bay Company alliances have been formed between both Scotch immigrants and Canadian French and the Indian women. The difference in paternity is revealed in the offspring, but in both cases the half-breeds are a large race and robust, have greater powers of endurance than the pure Indians, and are intellectually their superiors. Dr. Kane and Dr. Rae have noticed that the half-breeds of Greenland and Labrador are superior in every way to the pure Esquimaux. In these remote regions the mixed race may become fixed and endure; but, where contact with the white race is more constant and is renewed more frequently, the pure Indian blood will continue to diminish, and will at last disappear, not by extinction, but by absorption. Numerous facts may be adduced to show that this is taking place among the Sioux, among the Cherokees, and among the Indians of Canada. After several crossings the descendants at last pass for whites, and are lost from the account of the Indians, though still transmitting Indian blood. A Huron chief at Jeune-Lorette, Canada, had four children, three daughters and a son. Two of the daughters married French-Canadians, and the other daughter an Irishman; the son married a Scotch-Canadian woman. The children of the three daughters pass for Europeans, and only those of the son for Indians or half-breeds, although they are all mixed in an equal degree. The same is likely to take place in innumerable cases. Moreover, the white men select the most promising Indian girls, so that the Indians, by this process, give up their best stock to swell the account of the white race.

In the United States and Canada the numerical preponderance and constant influx of Europeans have, if we may use the term, masked the mixed race; but, in the border regions and the Northwest and in the Hudson Bay Company's territory, the local race and the settlers occupy, in consequence of the superior numbers of the native race, a position analogous to that which they hold in Mexico and Central and South America. Marriage with Indian women is inevitable, and families of a mixed race are growing up everywhere, sharing the ideas and habits of the European father, and destined to mingle with the civilized community on a footing of equality.

These facts show that man is everywhere the same, and that his passions and instincts are independent of the differences that distinguish the human groups. The reason of it, says M. de Quatrefages, is that these differences, however accentuated they may seem to us, are essentially morphological, but do not in any way touch the wholly physiological power of reproduction.

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  1. Translated and abridged from the "Revue Scientifique."
  2. "Some American Illustrations of the Evolution of New Varieties of Man," by Daniel Wilson, LL. D., F. R. S. E., University College, Toronto.