Truths that America’s founding fathers had held to be self-evident – that all men were created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights – were now scorned as gross sentimentalities that had been overtaken by Darwinian science. Within a decade the self-styled “scientific racialists” had begun to classify other groups as genetically inferior. Immigrants from Spain and Italy were held to be a threat to the quality of the American gene pool and spurious scientific evidence was adduced to “prove” that Jewish immigrants were near-imbeciles whose admission in large numbers might lead to a lowering of the average level of intelligence of the American people. In fact, this cohort of Jewish immigrants would go on to supply more Nobel Prize winners than any other immigrant group. But in the early Twenties it was the voice of the genetic-alarmists in the science establishment that prevailed and the US Congress imposed strict quotas on the admission of Jewish and south European immigrants. One unforeseen consequence of the quotas was that many Jews seeking to escape Nazi persecution in the Thirties found the doors to the United States barred to them.
I have no interest in defending Charles Darwin as a 21st century humanitarian liberal, or his intellectual successors up until World War II. The author is above recounting an incident where a Congolese Pygmy was placed in the “Monkey House” to show the progression of human evolution. But it seems much to refer to the founding fathers as paragons of human egalitarianism in comparison to the eugenicists of the early 20th century. After all, many of the founders were slave-holders, and even those who objected to the moral acceptability of slavery conceded the reality that ~20% of the American population was to be held as property and accounted as 3/5 of a human in electoral allocations.
The past is complex. Children are often taught history in cut-outs because they easily see the world as heroic and villainous. Intellectuals who attempt to do the same do a disservice to their audience, as they are unable help us move past our baser tribal natures. Rather, they are seek to profit from it. I am personally uncomfortable with the hagiography around Charles Darwin, though I understand that that is generally a response to his singular vilification as the prophet of all the abominations of the 20th century. Those who wish to point to the past moral failings of science in its applied sense might wish to uphold a higher standard of objective analysis themselves if they aim to maintain their credibility.
Note: I’m not a major critic of the Founding Fathers because I’m a temporal moral relativist. Judge not the past too harshly lest ye be judged by the future by standards yet unknown!