Northern society before the war was decidedly segregationist, as opposed to an integrated Southern society where blacks were found in daily interaction with whites, including in churches. Noteworthy is Frederick Douglass, in his “Douglass Monthly” of February 1862, writing that “there is not perhaps anywhere to be found a city in which prejudice against color is more rampant than Philadelphia.” Additionally, the Republican Party of Lincoln was anti-slavery in respect to confining black people within the Southern States, and forbidding emigration into the territories where European immigrants were settling, and Northeastern business interests were profiting. The immigrants wanted no cheap labor to compete against — Jim Crow laws originated in the North.
It is not difficult to see the direct line from Northern anthropometrics to later eugenics programs which sterilized poor and disabled people determined to be unproductive in society.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Northern Science and Racial Inferiority
“The Civil War in America stands as a watershed in nineteenth-century anthropometric developments. The body measurements collected during the war years marked the culmination of efforts to measure the various “races” or “species” of man and derive a semblance of understanding as to specific race types.
Both the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau and the United States Sanitary Commission, a semi-official organization made up of “predominantly upper class . . . patrician elements which had been vainly seeking a function in American society” during the Civil War, became the pioneer forces in the wide scale measurement of the soldier during the war years.
The war marks a watershed . . . because nearly all subsequent nineteenth-century institutionalized attitudes of racial inferiority focused on the war anthropometry as a basis for their belief. Ironically, the war which freed the slave also helped to justify racial attitudes of nineteenth-century society.
[A situation] which became extremely important to the anthropometric section of the Sanitary Commission, grew out of the July 17, 1862, Congressional authorization for Lincoln “to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of the Rebellion.” The Act permitted Lincoln to use the Negroes in “any military or naval service that they may be found competent.” Eventually over 180,000 Negroes were inducted into the Federal service.
The instruments used by the Commission – andrometer, spirometer, dynamometer, facial angle, platform balance, and measuring tape – were intended to include “the most important physical dimensions and personal characteristics.”
During the second phase of examination, which lasted to the end of the war, a staff of twelve examiners drew statistics from 15,900 [soldiers and prisoners] . . . The examination of Indians, mostly Iroquois, was made while they were held for a time as prisoners of war near Rock Island, Illinois.
Those [doctors] who did offer remarks gave surprisingly similar conclusions [about Negro recruits]. The Negro in America, because of his contact with higher civilization, had lost most of his “grosser peculiarities.” This factor, along with his good physical endowment, made him a capable soldier. Though a good soldier, and perhaps a good citizen, wrote Dr. E.S. Barrows of Iowa, the Negro “never can be as well qualified as he who by nature possesses greater physical perfection and greater mental endowments.”
(Civil War Anthropometry: The Making of a Racial Ideology; John S. Haller, Civil War History, A Journal of the Middle Period, John T. Hubbell, editor, Kent State University Press, Vol. XVI, No. IV, December 1970, excerpts pp. 309-315)