H. Laughlin's Influence On Nazi Sterilization Law

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Harry H. Laughlin’s Influence on Nazi Sterilization Law

Harry H. Laughlin was a leading eugenicist in the eugenics movement of the United States, the first major eugenics movement in the world. However, the idea of eugenics has been around since ancient times. In his Republic, Plato suggested the idea of selective mating to strengthen the guardian (upper) class of the time, but it was in Great Britain that ‘eugenics’ was created. Sir Francis Galton, cousin to Charles Darwin, first coined the term eugenics in his book Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development, taking it from the Greek word eugenes, meaning “good in stock.” Galton encouraged the bettering of the human race through selective breeding, regulating marriages so people
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Positive eugenics aimed to encourage selective breeding of the elite, often through financial incentive and imploring desirables with their ethical duty to reproduce. Galton both preferred and encouraged this form of eugenics, taking into consideration three things: physique, ability, and character. Each was very important to an elite person, and inferiority in one aspect outweighed superiority in the other two. He did note that negative eugenics were also vital, however, setting out to “curtail the fertility of the undesirables.” These people generally consisted of the lower class, as well as mentally disabled people, criminals, and alcoholics. Galton believed affirmative action should be taken against these “drags on humanity,” which resulted in two separate manifestations of negative eugenics. Abstinence advocacy, promotion of contraceptives, voluntary sterilization, and voluntary abortions were all considered negative eugenics but were a passive form through the spread of information and offering of services. On the other hand, there was a more belligerent way, through forced sterilization and things like the “Denver Dollar-a-day” program, offering monetary incentive for teenage mothers to not become pregnant again. As the idea of eugenics became more popular, the more coercive methods of negative eugenics were highlighted. In the United States and across Europe forced sterilization became…show more content…
The concepts of eugenics and inferiority were not new to America though, a country that included inequality into its constitution through the three-fifths compromise. With scientific backing behind the idea of inferiority, though, the movement bloomed in the United States. One of the early leaders of this movement was Charles Davenport, a prominent biologist of the time. He is considered the first eugenic thinker in the United States and was important to the development of the modern genetic theory. Davenport was a man born into a deeply Puritan family, having descended from the Reverend John Davenport, who led Puritans to the New World in the 1600s. His father, Amzi, was a religious fanatic, completely devoted to Christ. Amzi also believed his ancestry was remarkable, and after dedicated research on his lineage, he published History and Genealogy of the Davenport Family, tracing back to England in 1086. This is likely one of the factors that lead to Charles’ later interest in eugenics, the idea of an ‘extraordinary stock.’ Despite Amzi’s complete devotion to his faith, as Charles grew, he strayed from his father’s beliefs and became immersed in the world of natural science. He attended Harvard and in 1892 earned his Ph.D. in biology. He later taught zoology there from 1891-1899, and was the first American scholar to teach the findings of Gregor Mendel, an
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