Blood Will Tell: Scientific Racism and the Legal Prohibition Against Miscegenation

Blood Will Tell: Scientific Racism and the Legal Prohibition Against Miscegenation

Michigan Journal of Race & Law
University of Michigan Law School
Volume 5, Issue 2 (Spring 2000)
pages 560-609

Keith Edward Sealing, Dean of Students
Widener Law School, Widener University

Laws banning miscegenation endured in the colonies and the United States for more than 300 years. When the Supreme Court declared all such laws unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, sixteen such statutes and constitutional provisions were still in effect. Scientific racism determined a hierarchy within the White race that placed the Teutonic at the top, the Anglo-Saxon as the heir to the Teuton, and the American as the current leading branch of that line. Prior to the Darwinian revolution, two competing scientific theories, monogenism and polygenism, were applied to justify miscegenation statutes. The “monogenists” believed that all men descended from a single ancestor and were of the same species. This theory comported with the Bible and the story of Ham, as interpreted literally by the fundamentalists. The “polygenists” saw Blacks as a separate and inferior species descended from a different “Adam,” and, thus, saw slavery as qualitatively no different from the ownership of a horse, and miscegenation as approaching bestiality. These beliefs and attitudes endured well into the Twentieth Century, supported after 1900 by the eugenics movement. This article focuses on anti-miscegenation statutes as applied to former slaves and others of African descent, particularly in the South. This article first examines the miscegenation paradigm in terms of a seven-point conceptual framework that not merely allowed but practically demanded anti-miscegenation laws, then looks at the legal arguments state courts used to justify the constitutionality of such laws through 1967. Next, it analyzes the Biblical argument, which in its own right justified miscegenation, but also had a major influence on the development of the three major strands of scientific racism: monogenism, polygenism and Darwinian theory. It then probes the concept upon which the entire edifice is constructed—race—and discusses the continuing vitality of this construct. Next, this article turns to the major strands of scientific racism and briefly develops more modern theories that continued the racist tradition well into the Twentieth Century. The article then looks at the effects of scientific racism on the thoughts and actions of the founding fathers and the Reconstruction-era Congress before turning to the long line of state cases upholding miscegenation statutes, in part by relying on scientific racism. Finally, it discusses the cases that questioned the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation statutes, Perez v. Lippold and Loving v. Virginia.

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