When Francis Galton first coined the term "eugenics" in his 1883 book, Inquiries into Human Faculty and Development, he intended it to describe his theories concerning the importance of "good breeding" in shaping human development. A cousin of Charles Darwin, Galton drew upon evolutionary theory and
his own observations in animal breeding to propose that ability was shaped almost exclusively by heredity.In an earlier work, Hereditary Genius, Galton traced the ancestries of eminent Englishmen and concluded that almost all of them could be traced to a small number of interrelated families.
In forming his conclusions about heredity, Galton dismissed social and economic conditions and stated that "eminence" could not be affected by environmental factors and that; "no social hindrances" could keep a genius from rising to prominence while no amount of social advantage could enable someone of moderate ability to become prominent. Galton was unashamedly elitist in his views and wrote that, "I am sure that no one who has had the privilege of mixing in the society of the abler men of any great capital, or who is acquainted with the biographies of the heroes of history,can doubt the existence of grand human animals, of natures pre-eminently noble, of individuals born to be kings of men."
If Galton was elitist in his views on individual differences, his views on racial differences were even more pronounced. He was hardly unique there considering that idea of European supremacy was common in many scientific papers of the time. Paul Broca's research into brain measurement and anthropology often stressed the inferiority of non-white brains. Other researchers, including Robert Knox and Samuel George Morton, also weighed in with their own findings on the superior cranial capacity of white skulls over non-white ones (with African and Native American skulls typically falling at the bottom). Despite later debunking of these early racist researchers, their conclusions helped shaped social and economic policy for generations afterward.
For Galton, there was no question that racial differences in intelligence were linked to heredity. While he acknowledge the existence of occasional Africans of high intelligence, he stated that, "he average intellectual standard of the negro race, is some two grades below our own."; He added that great numbers of Negroes were "half-witted" and that visitors to Africa rarely met tribal chiefs who could be regarded as their intellectual equals. Galton's pronouncements weren't limited to non-whites however. He blamed Europe's decline on earlier Church practices such as celibacy which prevented the most intelligent people from breeding as well as for the persecution of heretics who were often "the most fearless, truthseeking and intelligent". Galton argued that, as a result, Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain lost their cultural prominence. He concluded that, "the wonder is that enough good remained in the veins of Europeans to enable their race to rise to its present, very moderate level of natural ability."
As for Charles Darwin himself, he was never a major supporter of eugenics (he knew his own family's genetic shortcomings too well to accept his cousin's views on hereditary fitness). He viewed intelligence and character as being environmental in nature but, in later years, openly despaired of the less capable members of society outbreeding what he termed "the better class of men". Darwin still spoke out against forced selective breeding however. Some cures were worse than the disease.
Regardless of Darwin's personal opinions, the eugenics movement flourished across Europe and North America. Spurred on by early heredity studies such as Dugdale's 1877 paper on the Juke family and by psychologists such as James Mark Baldwin (who coined the term organic selection), the eugenicists began to favour active intervention to encourage "fit" individuals to have more children while discouraging the "unfit" from reproducing at all. By the time of Galton's death in 1911 (he died childless by the way, make of that what you will), eugenics societies had chapters in almost every major country. Prominent eugenics supporters included George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Leonard Darwin (Charles' son), and H.G. Wells. In the U.S., Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, and Woodrow Wilson were supporters as well.
It was Wilson who helped bring in the first compulsory sterilization law in Indiana in 1907. Another 29 states would bring in similar legislation and, after the U.S. Supreme Court Carrie Buck decision in 1927, sterilization of those deemed genetically unfit would continue for decades afterward.Although the U.K. never brought in formal eugenics legislation, other countries such as Canada and Germany certainly did. The practice of sterilization was helped along by the timely development of intelligence testing which eugenicists eagerly drew upon to identify likely candidates for their selective breeding policies.; Social scientists such as Henry Goddard (who became famous through his Kallikak study) and Paul Popenoe helped foster the development of eugenics legislation by publishing research that showed the positive results of weeding out genetic defectives. Such research would have far-reaching influence, both in the U.S. and in countries around the world.