About Samuel George Morton
Samuel George Morton (1799–1851) was an American physician and natural scientist. Morton, reared a Quaker but became Episcopalian in midlife, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1820. After earning an advanced degree from Edinburgh University in Scotland, he began practice at Philadelphia in 1824. From 1839 to 1843, he was the professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania.
Morton was a prolific writer of books on various subjects from 1823 to 1851. He wrote Geological Observations in 1828, and both Synopsis of the Organic Remains of the Cretaceous Group of the United States and Illustrations of Pulmonary Consumption in 1834. His first medical essay, on the user of cornine in intermittent fever, in 1825 was published in the Philadelphia Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences. His bibliography includes Hybridity in Animals and Plants (1847), Additional Observation on Hybridity (1851), and An Illustrated System of Human Anatomy (1849).
"American School" ethnography
Samuel George Morton is often thought of as the originator of "American School" ethnography, a school of thought in antebellum American science that claimed the difference between humans was one of species rather than variety and is seen by some as the origin of scientific racism.
Morton argued against the single creation story of the Bible (monogenism) and instead supported a theory of multiple racial creations (polygenism). Morton claimed the Bible supported polygenism, and within working in a biblical framework his theory held that each race had been created separately and each was given specific, irrevocable characteristics.
After inspecting three mummies from ancient Egyptian catacombs, Morton concluded that Caucasians and Negroes were already distinct three thousand years ago. Since the Bible indicated that Noah's Ark had washed up on Mount Ararat, only a thousand years ago before this, Morton claimed that Noah's sons could not possibly account for every race on earth. According to Morton's theory of polygenesis, races have been separate since the start.
Morton claimed that he could define the intellectual ability of a race by the skull capacity. A large volume meant a large brain and high intellectual capacity, and a small skull indicated a small brain and decreased intellectual capacity. He was reputed to hold the largest collection of skulls, on which he based his research. He claimed that each race had a separate origin, and that a descending order of intelligence could be discerned that placed White people at the pinnacle and Negroes at the lowest point, with various other race groups in between. Morton had many skulls from ancient Egypt, and concluded that the ancient Egyptians were not African, but were White. His results were published in three volumes between 1839 and 1849: the Crania Americana, An Inquiry into the Distinctive Characteristics of the Aboriginal Race of America and Crania Aegyptiaca.
Morton's theories were very popular in his day, and he was a highly respected physician and scientist. The anthropologist Aleš Hrdlička called Morton "the father of American physical anthropology". Crispin Bates has noted that Morton's "systematic justification" for the separation of races, along with the work of Louis Agassiz, was also used by those who favoured slavery in the US, with the Charleston Medical Journal noting at his death that "We of the South should consider him as our benefactor for aiding most materially in giving to the negro his true position as an inferior race."
Morton claimed in his Crania Americana that the Caucasians had the biggest brains, averaging 87 cubic inches (1,426 cc), Indians were in the middle with an average of 82 cubic inches (1,344 cc) and Negroes had the smallest brains with an average of 78 cubic inches (1,278 cc). Morton believed that the skulls of each race were so different that a wise creator from the beginning had created each race and positioned them in separate homelands to dwell in.
Morton's followers, particularly Josiah C. Nott and George Gliddon in their monumental tribute to Morton's work, Types of Mankind (1854), carried Morton's ideas further and backed up his findings which supported the notion of polygenism – the premise that the different races were separately created by God. The publication of Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species in 1859 changed the nature of the scholarly debate and, according to Bates,
undermined the position of both monogenists and polygenists, but at the same time as affirming the essential unity of the human species, evolutionism, by establishing extraordinarily long time scales as the basis for human development, allowed for the conception of far greater variety than had previously been thought.
Classification of races in Crania Americana
In Crania Americana Morton divides humankind primarily into four races with the following characteristics:
"The Caucasian Race is characterized by a naturally fair skin, susceptible of every tint; hair fine, long and curling, and of various colors. The skull is large and oval, and its anterior portion full and elevated. The face is small in proportion to the head, of an oval form, with well-proportioned features. ... This race is distinguished for the facility with which it attains the highest intellectual endowments. ... The spontaneous fertility of [the Caucasus] has rendered it the hive of many nations, which extending their migrations in every direction, have peopled the finest portions of the earth, and given birth to its fairest inhabitants."
"This great division of the human species is characterized by a sallow or olive colored skin, which appears to be drawn tight over the bones of the face; long black straight hair, and thin beard. The nose is broad, and short; the eyes are small, black, and obliquely placed, and the eyebrows are arched and linear; the lips are turned, the cheek bones broad and flat. ... In their intellectual character the Mongolians are ingenious, imitative, and highly susceptible of cultivation [i.e. learning]. ... So versatile are their feelings and actions, that they have been compared to the monkey race, whose attention is perpetually changing from one object to another."
"The American Race is marked by a brown complexion; long, black, lank hair; and deficient beard. The eyes are black and deep set, the brow low, the cheekbones high, the nose large and aquiline, the mouth large, and the lips tumid [swollen] and compressed. In their mental character the Americans are averse to cultivation, and slow in acquiring knowledge; restless, revengeful, and fond of war, and wholly destitute of maritime adventure. They are crafty, sensual, ungrateful, obstinate and unfeeling, and much of their affection for their children may be traced to purely selfish motives. They devour the most disgusting [foods] uncooked and uncleaned, and seem to have no idea beyond providing for the present moment. ... Their mental faculties, from infancy to old age, present a continued childhood. ... [Indians] are not only averse to the restraints of education, but for the most part are incapable of a continued process of reasoning on abstract subjects."
"Characterized by a black complexion, and black, woolly hair; the eyes are large and prominent, the nose broad and flat, the lips thick, and the mouth wide; the head is long and narrow, the forehead low, the cheekbones prominent, the jaws protruding, and the chin small. In disposition the Negro is joyous, flexible, and indolent; while the many nations which compose this race present a singular diversity of intellectual character, of which the far extreme is the lowest grade of humanity. ... The moral and intellectual character of the Africans is widely different in different nations. The Negroes are proverbially fond of their amusements, in which they engage with great exuberance of spirit; and a day of toil is with them no bar to a night of revelry. Like most other barbarous nations their institutions are not infrequently characterized by superstition and cruelty. They appear to be fond of warlike enterprises, and are not deficient in personal courage; but, once overcome, they yield to their destiny, and accommodate themselves with amazing facility to every change of circumstance. The Negroes have little invention, but strong powers of imitation, so that they readily acquire mechanic arts. They have a great talent for music, and all their external senses are remarkably acute."
Allegations of data manipulation
In a 1978 paper and later in The Mismeasure of Man (1981), Stephen J. Gould asserted that Morton had selectively reported data, manipulated sample compositions, made analytical errors, and mismeasured skulls in order to support his prejudicial views on intelligence differences between different populations. A new paper, "The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias" six anthropologists agree that there was bias—but that the bias came from Gould, who failed to examine, let alone remeasure, the crania to determine Morton's level of accuracy. Two separate studies, one conducted in 1988 and the other in 2011, show that Morton's work was accurate.
Crania Americana; or, A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America: To which is Prefixed An Essay on the Varieties of the Human Species. Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839.
Crania Aegyptiaca; or, Observations on Egyptian ethnography, derived from anatomy, history, and the monuments. Philadelphia: J. Penington, 1844.
Samuel George Morton's Timeline