Appendix 43 - Drapetomania

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

"Psychiatry is ahistoric in many ways," one psychiatrist writes, "especially in ignoring the history of its traditions and errors."[473] Benjamin Rush - signer of the Declaration of Independence, Physician General of the Continental Army, Dean of the Medical School at the University of Pennsylvania - is considered the undisputed "Father of American Psychiatry"; his portrait adorns the official seal of the American Psychiatric Association.[474] Many people at the time Benjamin Rush lived were unhappy with the political structure of the United States - slavery, voting restricted to white property-owning men, etc. In response to this insurgence, Rush coined an interesting diagnosis called "anarchia," a "form of insanity" he used to label those who sought a more democratic society.[475]

Rush also had interesting ideas for novel therapies. "Terror," he wrote, "acts powerfully upon the body, through the medium of the mind, and should be employed in the cure of madness."[476] So Rush used what he called "ducking," which consisted of immersing a patient in water and telling her that she will be drowned.

Rush's racial theory was that the Negro suffered from some congenital leprosy which, "appeared in so mild a form that excess pigmentation was its only symptom."[477] Around the same time, Samuel Cartwright coined the term, "drapetomania." Many African slaves were diagnosed with this psychosis, defined as, "An irrestrainable propensity to run away." For slaves with drapetomania, it was reported, a simple procedure - amputation of the toes - was used.[478]

"Negroes" were also the only people to contract "dyaesthesia aethiopica," which caused such pathology as, "pay[ing] no attention to property."[479]

Maggot Morality

Famous European psychiatrist Carl Jung, speaking before the Second Psychoanalytic Congress in 1910, explained that, "Living together with barbaric [lower] races [especially with Negroes] exerts a suggestive effect on the laboriously tamed instinct of the white race and tends to pull it down."[480]

Issue 1, volume 1 of the American Journal of Psychiatry (1921):

Less than three hundred years ago the alien ancestors of most of the families of this [Negro] race were savages or cannibals in the jungles of Central Africa. From this very primitive level they were unwillingly brought to these shores and into an environment of higher civilization for which the biological development of the race had not made adequate preparation.... Instinctively the Negro turned to the ways of the white man... and has made an effort to compensate for psychic inferiority by imitating the superior race.... Efforts to imitate his white neighbors... are often overwrought and ludicrous, but sometimes sufficiently exact to delude the uninitiated into the belief that the mental level of the Negro is only slightly inferior to that of the Caucasian.[481]

A 1903 article entitled "The Negro Problem from the Physician's Point of View": "[The Negro brain is a thousand years] behind that of the white man's brain in its evolutionary data."[482] Another article, same year entitled "Genital Peculiarities of the Negro" spoke of the, "stallion-like passion and entire willingness to run any risk and brave any peril for the gratification of his frenetic lust [making the Negro a menace to the Caucasian race]."[483] From the Detroit journal Medicine: "A classical education for a Negro whose proper vocation is the raising of rice or cotton... is as much out of place as a piano in a Hottentot's tent."[484] From the Transcriptions of the Medical Society of Virginia: "Morality was a joke among Negro society.... They are just as devoid of ethical sentiment or consciousness as the fly and the maggot."[485]



[473] Szasz, T. The Manufacture of Madness A Comparative Study of the Inquisition & the Mental Health Movement Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997:138.

[474] Ibid.

[475] Brown, P. "The Name Game." Journal of Mind and Behavior 11(1990):385-406.

[476] Shem, S. Mount Misery New York : Ivy Books, Jan. 1998.

[477] Szasz, T. The Manufacture of Madness A Comparative Study of the Inquisition & the Mental Health Movement Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997:138.

[478] Human Behavior Magazine 1974(September):64.

[479] Brown, P. "The Name Game." Journal of Mind and Behavior 11(1990):385-406.

[480] Thomas, A. Racism & Psychiatry Carol Publishing Group, 1974.

[481] Bevis, WM. "Psychological Traits of the Southern Negro with Observations as to some of his Psychoses." American Journal of Psychiatry 1(1921):69-78.

[482] English, WT. "The Negro Problem from the Physician's Point of View." Atlanta Journal Medical Record 5(1903):462.

[483] "Genital Peculiarities of the Negro" Atlanta Journal Medical Record 4(1903):842,844.

[484] Bacon, CS. "The Race Problem." Medicine 9(1903):342.

[485] Murrell, TW. "Syphilis and the American Negro." Transcriptions of the Medical Society of Virginia 1909:169.



Reader's Comments

As a student of C.G. Jung's works, I would add to the quoted material that one of Jung's central theses was that to go "down" was essential for growth. When asked "why do people not reach the heights anymore?" He replied, "because no one is willing to stoop that low." James Hillman, a modern Jungian, wrote "voluntary descent into Hades produces culture, denying it til it breaks through produces barbarism." Again, Jung: "the way to the heights is down."

-- Matt Fair, April 28, 2003
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