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Making the World Safe for Eugenics: The Eugenicist Harry H. Laughlin's Encounters with American Internationalism1


Harry H. Laughlin's main claim to fame was as director of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, from which position he exerted considerable influence upon early twentieth-century campaigns to restrict immigration and to institute compulsory sterilization of the socially inadequate. Laughlin also had an absorbing fascination for the idea of a single world government. Over the course of forty years, he produced a voluminous body of mostly unpublished work on the subject. In examining Laughlin's musings on internationalism, this article provides a glimpse into how a leading American eugenicist would have projected onto the world stage the policies he was zealously endeavoring to implement at the domestic level. Laughlin sent samples of his work to many of America's leading internationalists. Their responses to Laughlin's ideas reveal much about the character of internationalism in the United States during the era of World War I, especially the extent to which his racist and imperialist assumptions were shared by other members of the internationalist movement. Consequently, this article provides yet another example of how liberal and conservative impulses were neither easily distinguishable nor mutually exclusive during the Progressive Era.

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I would like to thank Hena Ahmed, Marc Becker, and Dan Mandell, all at Truman State University, Julio Decker at the University of Leeds, Kendrick Oliver, University of Southampton, and the journal's anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. I also thank archivists Amanda Langendoerfer and Jane Monson at Truman State University for assistance locating documents and images.

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2 American Peace Award Committee, The American Peace Award (New York, [ca. 1923]).

3 Harry H. Laughlin to American Peace Award Committee, Mar. 24, 1924, file D2-1-3, Harry H. Laughlin Papers, Pickler Memorial Library, Truman State University, Kirksville, MO (hereafter “Laughlin Papers”).

4 DeBenedetti Charles, “The $100,000 American Peace Award of 1924,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 98 (Apr. 1974): 224–49.

5 Dawley Alan, Changing the World: American Progressives in War and Revolution (Princeton, 2003), 276.

6 Ibid.

7 Kevles Daniel J., In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Use of Human Heredity (New York, 1985); Barkan Elazar, The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars (Cambridge, 1992); Larson Edward J., Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South (Baltimore, 1995).

8 Paul Julius, “Population ‘Quality’ and ‘Fitness for Parenthood’ in the Light of State Eugenic Sterilization Experience, 1907–1966,” Population Studies 21 (Nov. 1967): 295–96; Pickens Donald K., “The Sterilization Movement: The Search for Purity in Mind and State,” Phylon 28 (1st qtr., 1967): 88; Ludmerer Kenneth M., Genetics and American Society: A Historical Appraisal (Baltimore, 1972); Reilly Philip R., The Surgical Solution: A History of Involuntary Sterilization in the United States (Baltimore, 1991); Lombardo Paul A., Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell (Boulder, 2008); Largent Mark A., Breeding Contempt: The History of Coerced Sterilization in the United States (New Brunswick, 2008).

9 Higham John, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (New Brunswick, 1955), 313–14; Handlin Oscar, Race and Nationality in American Life (Boston, 1957), 9698; Divine Robert A., American Immigration Policy, 1924–1952 (New Haven, 1957), 1114, 54–57; Reisler Mark, By the Sweat of Their Brow: Mexican Immigrant Labor in the United States, 1900–1940 (Westport, CT, 1976), 152–57; Jacobson Matthew Frye, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA, 1998), 8186; King Desmond, Making Americans: Immigration, Race, and the Origins of the Diverse Democracy (Cambridge, MA, 2000), 173–75; Gerstle Gary, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 2001), 105.

10 William Redfield to Harry H. Laughlin, Dec. 11, 1916; Charles W. Bryan to Laughlin, Dec. 16, 1916; Edwin E. Slosson Dec. 28, 1916; James Bertram to Laughlin, Dec. 29, 1916; Waldemar Kaempffert to Laughlin, Dec. 29, 1916; Robert W. Gumbel to Laughlin, Jan. 3, 1917; John Harvey Kellogg to Laughlin, Feb. 26, 1917; Edwin Bjorkman to Harry H. Laughlin, Apr. 27, 1921, all in file D4-6-9, Laughlin Papers.

11 Harry H. Laughlin to Aristide Briand, Oct. 28, 1931, file B5-1B-5, Laughlin Papers.

12 Harry H. Laughlin to Cordell Hull, Sept. 9, 1933; Under Secretary of State to Harry H. Laughlin, Sept. 19, 1933, file D2-1-1, Laughlin Papers.

13 Pickens Donald K., Eugenics and the Progressives (Nashville, 1968); Wilson Philip K., “Eugenicist Harry Laughlin's Crusade to Classify and Control the ‘Socially Inadequate’ in Progressive Era America,” Patterns of Prejudice 36 (Jan. 2002): 4967.

14 Harry H. Laughlin, “Repairing Our Ship of State,” [1917], 1–2, file C2-4-5, Laughlin Papers; Editorial Department, Review of Reviews, to Laughlin, Aug. 24, 1917; the Editors, New Republic, to Laughlin, Sept. 10, 1917; H. Thompson Rich to Laughlin, Oct. 18, 1917, all in file D2-1-5, Laughlin Papers.

15 “Shall We All Be Mulattoes?” Literary Digest, Mar. 7, 1925.

16 American Year Book, (New York, 1929–35): 1928, 472; 1929, 471–72; 1930, 484; 1931, 511; 1932, 514; 1934, 540–41.

17 Laughlin Harry H., American History in Terms of Human Migration: Extracts from Hearings before the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, House of Representatives, Seventieth Congress, First Session, March 7, 1928, Statement of Dr. Harry H. Laughlin, (With Three Appendices), Part of Hearing No. 70.1.5 (Washington, 1928), 10, 14.

18 Dawley, Changing the World, 291.

19 Stoddard Lothrop, The Rising Tide of Color against White World-Supremacy (New York, 1920); Michaels Walter Benn, Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism (Durham, NC, 1995), 2329; Guterl Matthew Pratt, The Color of Race in America, 1900–1940 (Cambridge, MA, 2001), 5354, 60–61; Mezzano Michael, “The Progressive Origins of Eugenics Critics: Raymond Pearl, Herbert S. Jennings, and the Defense of Scientific Inquiry,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4 (Jan. 2005): 8397.

20 Degen Marie L., The History of the Woman's Peace Party (Baltimore, 1939); Peterson Horace C. and Fite Gilbert C., Opponents of War, 1917–1918 (Madison, 1957); Kuehl Warren F., Hamilton Holt: Journalist, Internationalist, Educator (Gainesville, FL, 1960); Filene Peter, “The World Peace Foundation and Progressivism, 1910–1918,” New England Quarterly 36 (Dec. 1963): 484501; Randall Mercedes M., Improper Bostonian: Emily Greene Balch, Nobel Peace Laureate, 1946 (New York, 1965); Farrell John, Beloved Lady: A History of Jane Addams' Ideas on Reform and Peace (Baltimore, 1967); Michael A. Lutzker, “The ‘Practical’ Peace Advocates: An Interpretation of the American Peace Movement, 1898–1917” (PhD diss., Rutgers University, 1969); Herman Sondra R., Eleven against War: Studies in American Internationalist Thought, 1898–1921 (Stanford, 1969); Patterson David S., “Andrew Carnegie's Quest for World Peace,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 114 (Oct. 20, 1970): 371–83; Kraft Barbara S., “Peacemaking in the Progressive Era: A Prestigious and Proper Calling,” Maryland Historian 1 (Fall 1970): 122–44; Blanche Wiesen Cook, “Woodrow Wilson and the Antimilitarists, 1914–1917” (PhD diss., John Hopkins University, 1970); Thompson J. A., “American Progressive Publicists and the First World War, 1914–1917,” Journal of American History 58 (Sept. 1971): 364–83; Lutzker Michael A., “The Formation of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: A Study of the Establishment-Centered Peace Movement, 1910–1914” in Building the Organizational Society: Essays on Associational Activities in Modern America, ed. Israel Jerry (New York, 1972), 143–62; Marchand C. Roland, The American Peace Movement and Social Reform, 1898–1918 (Princeton, 1972); Cook Blanche Wiesen, “Democracy in Wartime: Antimilitarism in England and the United States, 1914–1918” in Peace Movements in America, ed. Chatfield Charles (New York, 1973), 3956; Davis Allen F., American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams (New York, 1973); David Katz, “Carrie Chapman Catt and the Struggle for Peace” (PhD diss., Syracuse University 1973); Giffin Frederick C., Six Who Protested: Radical Opposition to the First World War (Port Washington, NY, 1977); Howlett Charles F., Troubled Philosopher: John Dewey and the Struggle for World Peace (Port Washington, NY, 1977); Steinson Barbara J., American Women's Activism in World War I (New York, 1982); Lutzker Michael A., “Themes and Contradictions in the American Peace Movement, 1895–1917” in The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective, ed. Dyke Harvey L. (Toronto, 1996), 322–40; Schott Linda K., Reconstructing Women's Thoughts: The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Before World War II (Stanford, 1997).

21 Bartlett Ruhl J., The League to Enforce Peace (Chapel Hill, 1944); Kuehl Warren F., Seeking World Order: The United States and International Organization to 1920 (Nashville, 1969); Herman, Eleven Against War.

22 Ferrell Robert H., Peace in Their Time: The Origins of the Kellogg-Briand Pact (New Haven, 1952); Vinson J. Chalmers, The Parchment Peace: The United States Senate and the Washington Conference, 1921–1922 (Athens, GA, 1955); Robert Accinelli, “The United States and the World Court, 1920–1927” (PhD diss., Univ. of California-Berkeley, 1968); Buckley Thomas H., The United States and the Washington Conference, 1921–22 (Knoxville, 1970).

23 Divine Robert A., Second Chance: The Triumph of Internationalism in America during World War II (New York, 1969); Yoder Jon A., “The United World Federalists: Liberals for Law and Order” in Peace Movements in America, ed. Chatfield; Josephson Harold, James T. Shotwell and the Rise of Internationalism in America (Rutherford, NJ, 1975); Accinelli Robert, “Militant Internationalists: The League of Nations Association, the Peace Movement and U.S. Foreign Policy, 1934–1938,” Diplomatic History 4 (Jan. 1980): 1938; John Frank Bantell, “Perpetual Peace through World Law: The United World Federalists and the Movement for Limited World Government, 1945–1951” (PhD diss., University of Connecticut, 1980); Joseph Preston Baratta, “Bygone ‘One World’: The Origin and Opportunity of the World Government Movement, 1937–1947” (PhD diss., Boston University, 1982); Kuehl Warren F. and Dunn Lynne K., Keeping the Covenant: American Internationalists and the League of Nations, 1920–1939 (Kent, OH, 1997).

24 Curti Merle, Peace or War: The American Struggle, 1636–1936 (New York, 1936); Patterson David S., Toward a Warless World: The Travail of the American Peace Movement, 1887–1914 (Bloomington, IN, 1976); DeBenedetti Charles, Origins of the Modern American Peace Movement, 1915–1929 (Millwood, NY, 1978); Kuehl and Dunn, Keeping the Covenant.

25 Curti, Peace or War; Patterson, Toward a Warless World; Lutzker Michael A., “The Pacifist as Militarist: A Critique of the American Peace Movement, 1898–1914,” Societas 5 (Spring 1975): 87104.

26 Kuhlman Erika A., Petticoats and White Feathers: Gender Conformity, Race, the Progressive Peace Movement, and the Debate over War, 1895–1919 (Westport, CT, 1997).

27 Ibid.; Kuhlman Erika, Reconstructing Patriarchy after the Great War: Women, Gender, and Postwar Reconciliation between Nations (New York, 2008).

28 Marchand, American Peace Movement.

29 Ibid.

30 Laughlin Harry H., “Rating the Several Sovereign Nations on a Basis Equitable for the Allotment of Representatitives to a World Parliament,” Scientific Monthly 3 (Dec. 1916): 579–84.

31 Ibid., 580.

32 Ibid.

33 Harry H. Laughlin, “Principles and Materials for Working Out the Allotment of Representatives to a World Parliament on an Equitable, Statistical and Impersonal Basis,” [1919], 6–8, file B5-3B-10, Laughlin Papers.

34 Harry H. Laughlin to E. Parmalee Prentice, Jan. 19, 1918, file B5-1B-5, Laughlin Papers.

35 Laughlin, “Repairing Our Ship of State,” 3.

36 Harry H. Laughlin, “Our Faith in the Federal Idea and World Government,” [ca. 1918], 2, 6, file B5-1B-8, Laughlin Papers.

37 Harry H. Laughlin, “Continental Free Trade Regions and the World Government,” [1918], file B5-2B-2; the Editor, North American Review, to Laughlin, Apr. 19, 1918, file D2-1-5, Laughlin Papers.

38 Harry H. Laughlin, “The Common Government of the World: A Draft of a Political Constitution for Regulating the Major Aspects of International Contact, Drawn in Accordance with Proven Federal and Democratic Principles, Logically Applicable to the World as a Political Unit,” [ca. 1923], file D2-1-3, Laughlin Papers.

39 Harry H. Laughlin, “Draft of a Fundamental Instrument for the Common Government of the World,” (1932), file B5-3B-5, Laughlin Papers. Laughlin to James R. Angell, Dec. 22, 1931; Angell to Laughlin, Dec. 28, 1931; Laughlin to George Parmly Day, Jan. 16, 1932; Eugene A. Davidson to Laughlin, Jan. 25, 1932; Laughlin to Oxford University Press, Sept. 13, 1932; Hamilton J. Smith to Laughlin, Sept. 24, 1932; Ellen F. Shippen to Laughlin, Oct. 3, 8, 1932; Laughlin to Princeton University Press, Oct. 18, 1932; Paul G. Tomlinson to Laughlin, Oct. 25, 1932, all in file B5-1B-5, Laughlin Papers.

40 Davenport Charles B., “Harry Hamilton Laughlin,” Science 97 (Feb. 26, 1943): 195.

41 Laughlin, “Common Government of the World,” 25.

42 Harry H. Laughlin to Esther Everett Lape, Dec. 15, 1926, file B5-1B-13, Laughlin Papers.

43 Harry H. Laughlin to Edward M. House, Apr. 5, 1932, file B5-1B-5, Laughlin Papers.

44 Harry H. Laughlin to Emerson McMillin, Apr. 19, 1919, file E2-5-18, Laughlin Papers.

45 Harry H. Laughlin to Princeton University Press, Oct. 18, 1932, file B5-1B-5, Laughlin Papers.

46 Burns Edward M., David Starr Jordan: Prophet of Freedom (Stanford, 1953); Abrahamson James L., “David Starr Jordan and American Antimilitarism,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 67 (Apr. 1976): 7687. In 1914, Laughlin discussed with Jordan the subject of apportioning seats in a future world assembly. According to Laughlin, Jordan agreed with the proposition that the nation's main peace and internationalist organizations should devise their own formulae tables and submit these to subsequent peace conferences. Harry H. Laughlin to Edwin Slosson, Sept. 1, 1915, file D2-1-5, Laughlin Papers; Laughlin, “Rating the Several Sovereign Nations,” 583–84.

47 Laughlin, “Principles and Materials,” 5.

48 Ibid.

49 Harry H. Laughlin to Madison Grant, June 13, 1932, file B5-2B-6, Laughlin Papers.

50 Mayer Arno, Political Origins of the New Diplomacy, 1917–1918 (New Haven, 1959).

51 Manela Erez, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (New York, 2007), 5962.

52 Herman, Eleven Against War.

53 Harry H. Laughlin, “World Government: The Structure and Functioning of a Feasible Civil Government of the Earth,” (n.d.), [iii], file B5-1-10, Laughlin Papers.

54 Laughlin, “Our Faith in the Federal Idea,” 1.

55 Ibid., 2.

56 Ibid., 3.

57 Ibid., 6.

58 Ibid., 3–4.

59 Dawley, Changing the World, 27, cited in Tyrrell Ian, “The Scholarly Odyssey of an Activist Historian: Alan Dawley in Historiography,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 8 (Jan. 2009): 44.

60 Tyrrell, “Scholarly Odyssey,” 44.

61 Dawley, Changing the World, 277–78.

62 Schott, Reconstructing Women's Thoughts, 78, 112; Dawley, Changing the World, 299, 305.

63 Curti Merle, “Jane Addams on Human Nature,” Journal of the History of Ideas 22 (Apr.–June 1961): 240–53; Brown Victoria Bissell, The Education of Jane Addams (Philadelphia, 2004).

64 Laughlin, “Our Faith in the Federal Idea,” 4.

65 Laughlin, “World Government: The Structure and Functioning of a Feasible Civil Government of the Earth,” 4–5.

66 Ibid., 5.

67 Laughlin Harry H., “The Consummation of Pan American Independence,” South American 6 (July 1918): 512, 16–17; Laughlin, “The Political and Territorial Destiny of Pan America,” South American 7 (Jan. 1919): 1319, 21–22.

68 Laughlin, “Political and Territorial Destiny”; “The Six Natural Primary Territorial Subdivisions of the World,” map, (n.d.), file E2-6-22, Laughlin Papers; “The United States of North America,” map (ca. 1919), file B5-3B-7, Laughlin Papers.

69 “Map of Continents Showing Continental Capitals,” (n.d.), file B5-3B-1, Laughlin Papers.

70 Laughlin to Grant, June 13, 1932.

71 Ibid.

72 Laughlin, “Our Faith in the Federal Idea,” 6.

73 Laughlin, “World Government: The Structure and Functioning of a Feasible Civil Government,” 17–18.

74 Harry H. Laughlin, “The Definition of an American,” (n.d.), file D-5-4:10, Laughlin Papers, 5–6.

75 Ibid., 5.

76 Davenport, “Harry Hamilton Laughlin,” 195; “Headquarters of the Cold Spring Harbor Home Defense Reserve,” (n.d.), file E1-3-10, Laughlin Papers.

77 Laughlin, “Repairing Our Ship of State,” 2–3; Harry H. Laughlin, “Correct Americanism: Federal Defense and State Police,” file C2-4-5, Laughlin Papers.

78 Laughlin, “Repairing Our Ship of State,” 1.

79 Laughlin to Angell, Dec. 22, 1931.

80 Moorfield Storey to Harry H. Laughlin, Mar. 7, 1919, file D4-6-9, Laughlin Papers.

81 Storey Moorfield, Problems of To-Day (Boston, 1920), 224.

82 Ibid., 214–15.

83 Ibid., 219, 221, 223–24.

84 Storey to Laughlin, Mar. 7, 1919.

85 Storey, Problems of To-Day, 227–28.

86 Storey to Laughlin, Mar. 7, 1919.

87 Oscar Newfang to Harry H. Laughlin, Nov. 27, 1918, file E2-5-5, Laughlin Papers.

88 Storey to Laughlin, Mar. 7, 1919.

89 Storey, Problems of To-Day, 139–44, 148.

90 Tyrrell Ian, Reforming the World: The Creation of America's Moral Empire (Princeton, 2010).

91 Storey, Problems of To-Day, 217.

92 Newfang Oscar, The United States of the World: A Comparison between the League of Nations and the United States of America (New York, 1930). Also Newfang, World Federation (New York, 1939), 33, 77, 87; Newfang, World Government (New York, 1942), 90, 97, 127. Newfang also came to share Laughlin's view about the inevitability of continental-sized political entities emerging. During World War II, he stated that “it seems probable that the world would be divided into five great political continents, the British Empire, Pan-America, Pan Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Far East.” Newfang, World Government, 110.

93 Emerson McMillin to Harry H. Laughlin, Apr. 8, 1919, file E2-5-18, Laughlin Papers.

94 James G. McDonald to Harry H. Laughlin, Apr. 15, 1919, file E2-5-18, Laughlin Papers.

95 Edward Cummings to Harry H. Laughlin, Mar. 7, 1919, file D4-6-9, Laughlin Papers.

96 The Editor, Atlantic Monthly, to Harry H. Laughlin, May 8, 1920, file E2-5-17, Laughlin Papers.

97 Robert Goldsmith to Harry H. Laughlin, Dec. 12, 1917; Laughlin to Goldsmith, Jan. 12, 1918; Laughlin to William H. Wadhams, Jan. 12, Feb. 1, Apr. 22, 1918; Wadhams to Laughlin, July 13, 1918, all in file E2-5-5, Laughlin Papers.

98 Harry H. Laughlin to William H. Wadhams, June 4, 1921; Wadhams to Laughlin, June 8, 22, 1921, file E2-5-5, Laughlin Papers.

99 Laughlin to Wadhams, Jan. 12, 1918.

100 Edward M. House to Harry H. Laughlin, Apr. 11, 1932, file B5-1B-5, Laughlin Papers.

101 White Thomas Raeburn, “The League Program” in Enforced Peace: Proceedings of the First Annual National Assemblage the League to Enforce Peace, Washington, May 26–27, 1916, League to Enforce Peace (New York, 1916), 18.

102 Talcott Williams, “Entangling Alliances Now, and in Washington's Day” in ibid., 82, 84.

103 Ibid., 83.

104 Ibid., 84.

105 Laughlin to Grant, June 13, 1932.

106 Ibid.

1 I would like to thank Hena Ahmed, Marc Becker, and Dan Mandell, all at Truman State University, Julio Decker at the University of Leeds, Kendrick Oliver, University of Southampton, and the journal's anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. I also thank archivists Amanda Langendoerfer and Jane Monson at Truman State University for assistance locating documents and images.

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