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Darwin’s Sacred Cause

Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins

There has always been a mystery surrounding Darwin: How did this quiet, respectable gentleman come to beget one of the most radical ideas in the history of human thought? It is difficult to overstate what Darwin was risking in publishing his theory of evolution. So it must have been something very powerful—a moral fire, as Desmond and Moore put it—that helped propel him. That moral fire, they argue, was a passionate hatred of slavery.

In opposition to the apologists for slavery who argued that blacks and whites had originated as separate species, Darwin believed the races belonged to the same human family. Slavery was a “sin,” and abolishing it became his “sacred cause.” By extending the abolitionists’ idea of human brotherhood to all life, Darwin developed our modern view of evolution.

Drawing on a wealth of fresh manuscripts, family letters, diaries, and even ships’ logs, Desmond and Moore argue that only by acknowledging Darwin’s abolitionist heritage can we fully understand the development of his groundbreaking ideas.


528 pages | 30 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Biography and Letters

History: History of Ideas

History of Science

Table of Contents

Illustrations 
Acknowledgments 
Introduction: Unshackling Creation

1. The Intimate ‘Blackamoor’ 
2. Racial Numb-Skulls 
3. All Nations of One Blood 
4. Living in Slave Countries 
5. Common Descent: From the Father of Man to the Father of All Mammals 
6. Hybridizing Humans 
7. This Odious Deadly Subject 
8. Domestic Animals and Domestic Institutions 
9. Oh for Shame Agassiz!  
10.  The Contamination of Negro Blood 
11. The Secret Science Drifts from Its Sacred Cause 
12. Cannibals and the Confederacy in London 
13. The Descent of the Races 

Notes 
Bibliography 
Index

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