Racial Rhetoric

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Josiah Nott, Samuel Cartwright (not pictured), Charles Caldwell, Samuel Morton, and their colleagues provided a scientific rationale for American racism. Their ideas, circulated widely throughout the South, heavily informed pro-slavery rhetoric. In Types of Mankind, Nott wrote, “Nations and races, like individuals, have each an especial destiny: some are born to rule, and others to be ruled. No two distinctly-marked races can dwell together on equal terms.” Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, referenced the ideas espoused by Morton and his colleagues in his infamous “Cornerstone Speech,” delivered in 1861:

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Alexander Stephens
Confederacy Vice President


“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea;

its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.

This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Penn’s Medical school cannot be made accountable for the beliefs, publications, and actions of every one of its alumni. Nevertheless, we can acknowledge that Penn’s influence and prestige as a Medical school depended in large measure on its reputation as the home of the American School of scientific racism and on its graduates becoming some of the most vocal advocates of race science. The publications of its graduates, considered collectively, represent the most influential and widely-circulated works of ethnographic scientific racism during the antebellum period. Medical degrees from Penn rendered the “science” of these physicians credible, and their medical education made their practices possible. Their works were circulated widely throughout the South, and their views ultimately became fodder for pro-slavery arguments and the perpetuation of racist medicine after emancipation.

~ Carson Eckhard