Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind

January 3rd, 1913. Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt writes to the founder of the Eugenics Record Office, prominent eugenicist Charles Davenport, and offers his views on eugenics; a highly controversial movement whose aim – essentially the eradication of “defective” humans in society by way of selective breeding – gained much attention in the 1930/40s when more than 400’000 Germans were sterilised against their will, and over 70’000 others killed, as part of Adolf Hitler‘s quest to rid the country of “life unworthy of life.”

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Eugenics Archive.


The Outlook
287 Fourth Avenue
New York Lawrence

January 3rd 1913.

My dear Mr. Davenport:

I am greatly interested in the two memoirs you have sent me. They are very instructive, and, from the standpoint of our country, very ominous. You say that these people are not themselves responsible, that it is “society” that is responsible. I agree with you if you mean, as I suppose you do, that society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind. It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. Yet we fail to understand that such conduct is rational compared to the conduct of a nation which permits unlimited breeding from the worst stocks, physically and morally, while it encourages or connives at the cold selfishness or the twisted sentimentality as a result of which the men and women ought to marry, and if married have large families, remain celebates or have no children or only one or two. Some day we will realize that the prime duty – the inescapable duty – of the good citizen of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type. at all.

Faithfully yours,

(Signed, ‘Theodore Roosevelt’)

Charles B. Davenport, Esq.,
Cold Spring Harbor, L.I.