The Passing of the
Great Race

By Madison Grant
Part I - Race, Language, And Nationality

Chapter III
Race and Habitat

THE laws which govern the distribution of the various races of man and their evolution through selection are substantially the same as those controlling the evolution and distribution of the larger mammals.

Man, however, with his superior mentality, has freed himself from many of the elements which impose restraint upon the expansion of animals. In his case selection through disease and social and economic competition has replaced selection through adjustment to the limitations of food supply.

Man is the most cosmopolitan of animals, and in one form or another thrives in the tropics and in the arctics, at sea level and on high plateaux, in the desert and in the reeking forests of the equator. Nevertheless, the various races of Europe with which we deal in this book have, each of them, a certain natural habitat in which each achieves its highest development.


The Nordics appear in their present centre of distribution, the basin of the Baltic, at the close

of the Paleolithic, as soon as the retreating glaciers left habitable land. This race was probably at that time in possession of its fundamental characters, and its extension in the Teutonic group from the plains of Russia to Scandinavia was not in the nature of a radical change of environment. The race in consequence is now and always has been, probably always will be, adjusted to certain environmental conditions, chief of which is protection from a tropical sun. The actinic rays of the sun at the same latitude are uniform in strength the world over, and continuous sunlight affects adversely the delicate nervous organization of the Nordics. The fogs and long winter nights of the North serve as a protection from too much sun, and from its too direct rays.

Scarcely less important is the presence of a large amount of moisture, but above all a constant variety of temperature is needed. Sharp contrast between night and day temperature, and between summer and winter are necessary to maintain the vigor of the blond race at a high pitch. Uniform weather, if long continued, lessens its energy. Too great extremes, as in midwinter or midsummer in New England, are injurious. Limited but constant alternations of heat and cold, of moisture and dryness, of sun and clouds, of calm and cyclonic storms, offer the ideal surroundings for the Nordic race.

Men of the Nordic race may not enjoy the fogs and snows of the North, the endless changes of weather, and the violent fluctuations of the thermometer, and they may seek the sunny southern isles, but under the former conditions they flourish, do their work, and raise their families. In the south they grow listless and cease to breed.

In the lower classes the increasing proportion of poor whites and "crackers" are symptoms of lack of climatic adjustment. The whites in Georgia, the Bahamas, and above all the Barbadoes are excellent examples of the deleterious effects of residence outside the natural habitat of the Nordic race.

The poor whites of the Cumberland Mountains in Kentucky and Tennessee present a more difficult problem, because here the altitude, even though small, should modify the effects of latitude, and the climate of these mountains cannot be particularly unfavorable to men of Nordic breed. There are probably other hereditary forces at work here as yet little understood.

No doubt bad food and economic conditions, prolonged inbreeding, and the loss through emigration of the best elements have played a large part in the degeneration of these poor whites. They represent to a large extent the offspring of bond servants brought over by the rich planters in early Colonial times. Their names indicate that, many of them are the descendants of the old borderers along the Scotch and English frontier, and the persistence with which family feuds are maintained certainly points to such an origin. The physical type is typically Nordic, for the most part pure Saxon or Anglian, and the whole mountain population show somewhat aberrant but very pronounced physical, moral, and mental characteristics which would repay scientific investigation. The problem is too complex to be disposed of by reference to the hookworm, illiteracy, or competition with negroes.

This type played a very large part in the settlement of the Middle West, by way of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. Thence they passed both up the Missouri River and down the Santa Fe trail, and contributed rather more than their share of the train robbers horse thieves, and bad men of the West.

Scotland and the Bahamas are inhabited by men of precisely the same race, but the vigor of the English in the Bahamas is gone, and the beauty of their women has faded. The fact that they were not in competition with an autochthonous race better adjusted to climatic conditions has enabled them to survive, but the type could not have persisted, even during the last two hundred years, if they had been compelled to compete on terms of equality with a native and acclimated population.

Another element entering into racial degeneration on many other islands, and for that matter in many New England villages, is the loss through emigration of the more vigorous and energetic individuals, leaving behind the less efficient to continue the race at home.

In subtropical countries, when the energy of the Nordics is at a low ebb, it would appear that the racial inheritance of physical strength and mental vigor were suppressed and recessive rather than destroyed. Many individuals who were born in unfavorable climatic surroundings, but who move back to the original habitat of their race in the north, recover their full quota of energy and vigor. New York and other Northern cities have many Southerners who are fully as efficient as pure Northerners.

This blond race can exist outside of its native environment as land owning aristocrats who are not required to do manual labor in the fields under a blazing sun. As such an aristocracy it continues to exist under Italian skies, but as a field laborer the man of Nordic blood could not compete with his Alpine or Mediterranean rival. It is not to be supposed that the Teutonic armies which for a thousand years after the fall of Rome poured down from the Alps like the glaciers to melt in the southern sun, were composed solely of knights and gentlemen who became the landed nobility of Italy. The man in the ranks also took up his land and work in Italy, but he had to compete directly with the native under climatic conditions which were unfavorable to his race. In this competition the blue eyed Nordic giant died, and the native survived. His officer, however, lived in the castle and directed the labor of his bondsmen without other preoccupation than the chase and war, and he long maintained his vigor.

The same thing happened in our South before the Civil War. There the white men did not work in the fields or in the factory. The heavy work under the blazing sun was performed by negro slaves, and the planter was spared exposure to an unfavorable environment. Under these conditions he was able to retain much of his vigor. When slavery was abolished, and the white man had to plough his own fields or work in the factory, deterioration began.

The change in the type of men who are now sent by the Southern States to represent them in the Federal Government from their predecessors in ante-bellum times is partly due to these causes, but in a greater degree it is to be attributed to the fact that a very large portion of the best racial strains in the South were killed off during the Civil War. In addition the war shattered the aristocratic traditions which formerly secured the selection of the best men as rulers. The new democratic ideals with universal suffrage in free operation among the whites result in the choice of representatives who lack the distinction and ability of the leaders of the Old South.

A race may be thoroughly adjusted to a certain country at one stage of its development and be at a disadvantage when an economic change occurs, such as was experienced in England a century ago when the nation changed from an agricultural to a manufacturing community. The type of man that flourishes in the fields is not the type of man that thrives in the factory, just as the type of man required for the crew of a sailing ship is not the type useful as stokers on a modern steamer.


The environment of the Alpine race seems to have always been the mountainous country of central and eastern Europe, as well as western Asia. This type has never flourished in the deserts of Arabia or the Sahara, nor has it succeeded in maintaining its colonies in the north of Europe within the domain of the Nordic long heads. It is, however, a sturdy and persistent stock, and, while much of it may not be overrefined or cultured, undoubtedly possesses great potentialities for future development.

The Alpines in the west of Europe, especially in Switzerland and the districts immediately surrounding, have been so thoroughly Nordicized, and so saturated with the culture of the adjoining nations, that they stand in sharp contrast to backward Alpines of Slavic speech in the Balkans and east of Europe.

The Mediterranean race, on the other hand, is clearly a southern type with eastern affinities. It is a type that did not flourish in the north of Europe under old agricultural conditions, nor is it suitable to the farming districts and frontiers of America and Canada. It is adjusted to subtropical and tropical countries better than any other European type, and will flourish in our Southern States and around the coasts of the Spanish Main. In France it is well known that members of the Mediterranean race are better adapted for colonization in Algeria than are French Alpines or Nordics. This subspecies of man is notoriously intolerant of extreme cold, owing to its sensibility to diseases of the lungs, and it shrinks from the blasts of the northern winter in which the Nordics revel.

The brunet Mediterranean element in the native American seems to be increasing at the expense of the blond Nordic element generally throughout the Southern States, and probably also in the large cities. This type of man, however, is scarce on our frontiers. In the Northwest, and in Alaska in the days of the gold rush, it was in the mining camps a matter of comment if a man turned up with dark eyes, so universal were blue and gray eyes among the American pioneers.

Continue on to Chapter 4 - The Competition of Races