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Thomas Jefferson Sent A Stuffed Moose To Paris To Prove America Had "Superior" Animals

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Jack Dunhill

Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer

clockJun 24 2021, 17:33 UTC
Thomas Jefferson Sent An Entire 7-Foot Moose To Paris To Prove America Had The Largest Animals

Does this look like an inferior animal to you? Image Credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock.com

The human race is an inherently competitive bunch, and the loftiest members of society are often the worst culprits. Leaders of great superpowers compete over the most menial things, after all, to concede would be to admit they are not the absolute greatest. 

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So, when Thomas Jefferson was informed that the rest of the world thought something of his was the smallest, it certainly struck a blow to the great American's ego. And by that, we mean the size of his wild animals. 

See, during the mid-18th century and beyond, the great minds of European biology held a misguided belief that the American climate only permitted animals and vegetation to grow to just a modest height, far smaller than those found in Europe. This belief was founded by famous French nobleman and naturalist, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Compte de Buffon, who looked across at the States and thought that something wasn’t quite right. At this point, America had been flourishing for 200 years, perfectly long enough – in his eyes – to produce great and famous people. Yet, Benjamin Franklin was one of the only names that made it to Europe’s ears. Attempting to understand their strange "lack of success", Buffon hatched a theory – the environment was too swampy.  

With Europe being such an international powerhouse, Buffon concluded that America was simply an inferior version of Europe. Plagued by swampish odors and dense forest, it was of course impossible that anything of good size and stature could arise from such conditions, and therefore both the people and the animals must be smaller. 

Thomas Jefferson, a science-lover and proud American, strongly disagreed. He had seen moose that towered above humans and elk of far greater size than that of an English stag – these were not inferior animals by any means, to his mind. 

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Of course, the aloof Europeans would not take the word of an ‘underdeveloped’ American. Jefferson therefore devised a plan to convince them – if seeing is believing, he would bring the animals to them. 

Writing to John Sullivan of New Hampshire in 1786, Jefferson requested that he send the "skin, the skeleton, and the horns of the Moose, the Caribou, and the Orignal or Elk ... but most especially those of the moose" off to Paris. The animal was to be left in the skin, the horns attached to the head, and the belly and neck was to be sewn up. Certainly a strange request for anyone to receive, but Jefferson expressed that the package was of great importance, and Sullivan obliged.  

The year following, a rather large package arrived in the natural history center of Paris. Within it lied the remains of a bull moose, with almost all of the required specifications as per Jefferson’s request. Admittedly, the head bones weren’t quite there and the horns might not have been from that exact moose, but Sullivan was satisfied he had fulfilled the brief.  

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Buffon was impressed, and according to Daniel Webster, changed his view of America’s wildlife entirely. Jefferson wished for the moose to be displayed in the museum, and although it is not confirmed whether this happened, Buffon did ensure a letter was sent back to Jefferson to thank him for his contributions to science. The Frenchman was unable to include the new findings in his last book, as he died before it was complete, but this eccentric and bold display from Jefferson may have changed the views of naturalists forever. 

[H/T: Monticello]

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