They settled on the idea that the original “native” American settlers were descended from “the tribes that met under the oak-trees of old Germany to make laws and choose chieftains,” as Francis Walker put it in The Atlantic in 1893, and that the new immigrants lacked the biological aptitude for democracy. Anglo-Saxon was a way to distinguish genteel old-money types, such as nativist Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, from members of inferior races who had names such as, well, McCarthy. The influential eugenicist Madison Grant insisted that the Irish possessed an “unstable temperament” and a “lack of coordinating and reasoning power.”
“By making the simple (and in fact traditional) assumption that northern European nationalities shared much of the Anglo-Saxon’s inherited traits, a racial nativist could now understand why immigration had just now become a problem,” the historian John Higham wrote in Strangers in the Land. “Also, the cultural remoteness of southern and eastern European ‘races’ suggested to him that the foreign danger involved much more than an inherited incapacity for self-government: the new immigration was racially impervious to the whole of American civilization!”
This belief that America’s “original” population was Anglo-Saxon, and that the American way of life was threatened by the presence not just of nonwhite people but of inferior, non-Anglo-Saxon (or “Nordic”) white people, shaped the racist immigration-restriction laws of the early 20th century. As historians have documented, it also influenced the ideology of Nazi Germany. Translated into law, it produced such horrifying artifacts as Virginia’s 1924 anti-miscegenation act, passed with the aid of the eugenicist Anglo-Saxon Clubs. The law required all babies to be classified as “white” or “colored” and made it a felony to “misrepresent” your racial background. The Nazi jurists studying American race laws in the 1930s thought such “one drop” rules were a bit too strict.
Adam Serwer: The cruelty is the point
The Anglo-Saxon Clubs naturally denied any racist intent, as the historian Edwin Black writes in War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race. “‘One drop of negro blood makes the negro’ is no longer a theory based on race pride or color prejudice, but a logically induced, scientific fact,” the groups claimed, adding that their objective was to maintain “the supremacy of the white race in the United States of America, without racial prejudice or hatred.” Got that?
Despite McCarthy’s effort to distance the GOP from the America First Caucus document, it’s clear that prominent Trumpist officials and intellectuals, some of them descended from the very immigrant groups Anglo-Saxon was intended to vilify, agree with some of the presumptions of Anglo-Saxonism. The echo of the notion that, as Francis Walker wrote, non-Anglo-Saxons are biologically incapable of “self-care and self-government” can be heard regularly on outlets such as Fox News, where hosts like Tucker Carlson argue that Democrats wish to “replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World.” This is biological determinism, but it’s also simply false. The Republican Party is now led by the descendants of the people Walker decried as incapable of self-government, people with surnames like Giuliani and Pompeo, even as it launches these old calumnies at a new generation of immigrants.