In his thoughtful and critical essay on Richard Hofstadter (“The many misunderstandings of Richard Hofstadter,” February 2014), Fred Siegel makes a good case that in his early years the historian absorbed H. L. Mencken’s disdain for American democracy in general and William Jennings Bryan in particular. However, Siegel is wrong in his unqualified description of Mencken as “a eugenicist.” The truth is complicated. On the one hand, Mencken took great (and humorous) pleasure in invoking racial and ethnic stereotypes and passing Olympian judgments on the inferiority of groups (and individuals such as Bryan). In these pronouncements one hears an occasional eugenicist note struck. On the other hand, Mencken...


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