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USA 1968 "Thomas Jefferson third president of the United State"

Issue Date 12.01.1968
ID Michel: 940 Scott: 1278 Stanley Gibbons: Yvert: UPU: N/A Category: Co
Stamps in set 1
Value 1c - Thomas Jefferson
Size (width x height)
Layout 50 stamps per sheet
Products FDC x 1
Perforation 11.25x10.5
Print Technique


Printed by
Issuing Authority U.S. Postal Servic
Thomas Jefferson on stamp of USA 1968

Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, was probably our most accomplished man in public life as well as the most versatile. President John F. Kennedy, while entertaining a group of Nobel Laureates, quipped that this was probably the greatest gathering of intellect in the White House since Jefferson dined there alone.

During his lifetime, Jefferson was an infallible oracle to half the population and a dangerous demagogue to the other half, but was universally recognized as a man of science. A fine mathematician and astronomer, he could reckon latitude and longitude as well as a ship captain. He calculated the eclipse of 1778 with great accuracy and was able to make suggestions for the improvement of almanacs on the equation of time. Jefferson was considered expert in anatomy, civil engineering, physics, mechanics, meteorology, architecture, and botany. He was able to read and write Greek, Latin, French, Spanish and Italian. He was recognized as a pioneer in ethnology, geography, anthropology and our subject paleontology. Because of his wide range of knowledge, Jefferson was ahead of his time in several lines of inquiry and advanced of contemporary scientists. Even so, Jefferson never failed to acknowledge that in science he was "an amateur."

One of the first glimpses of Jefferson's interest in paleontology can be found in his Notes on the State of Virginia. It is his most impressive

Thomas Jefferson on stamp of USA 1856
Thomas Jefferson, USA 1856
scientific achievement, in which he recorded his observations of flora, fauna, mountains, rivers, climate, population, laws, politics, customs
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon on stamp of France 1949
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, France 1949
and fossils of his native state. In Notes Jefferson, also, refuted the contentions of Count de Buffon that the animals common to both old world and new are smaller in the new. One of the reasons Jefferson wrote and published Notes was to refute a claim by the eminent naturalist, the Comte de Buffon, that human and animal life in America was degenerative and therefore inferior to the life forms in Europe. Buffon believed, Jefferson wrote in his Notes,"that nature is less active, less energetic on one side of the globe than she is on the other." Jefferson added with more than a hint of sarcasm, "as if both sides were not warmed by the same genial sun," and launched into a lengthy refutation of Buffon's hypothesis with convincing evidence that animals are actually larger in America than in Europe. The mastodon, or mammoth,was his clincher; Europe had produced no animal to match this behemoth...his shipment of mastodon fossils to Paris, therefore, was not entirely Enlightenment altruism; it was also a final salvo in a scientific war. Buffon's suggestion that infant America was nature's retardate drove him to collect the ancient bones of the mammoth...When he received his fossils, he catalogued them carefully and precisely, as was his habit, sending them off to Philadelphia for admiration, and to Paris for edification. He kept a few choice specimens, however, for his Monticello museum--trophies of a sort in commemoration of his private victory in the battle of New World versus Old.

The entry room at Monticello had been turned by Jefferson into a natural history museum which showed his great interest in fossils. George Ticknor, when a young man, visited Jefferson in 1815 and describes the entry hall:

On one side hang the head and horns of an elk, a deer, and a buffalo; another is covered with curiosities which Lewis and Clark found in their wild and perilous expedition. On the third, among many other striking matters, was the head of a mammoth, or, as Cuvier calls it, a mastodon, containing only os frontis, Mr. Jefferson tells me, that has yet been found. (Letter by George Ticknor, 1818 as cited in Rosenberger, 1953). These fossils were from the famous cache at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky. Jefferson had commissioned William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the site, at his own expense. He kept the above mentioned specimens "for a special kind of Cabinet I have at Monticello." Jefferson's was particularly proud do this collection and considered them the prize of his natural history collection. The majority of the bones he sent on to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

This interest in paleontology often brought him the ridicule and wrath of his political opponents to whom scientific investigation meant neglect of his proper duties. This was particularly true in 1808 when the excitement over the embargo of commerce and the complications with Great Britain were at it height, he had a wagon load of specimens sent to the White House. Here he laid them out in the unfinished East Room, nicknamed the "Bone or Mastodon Room."  "Mr. Mammoth" as Jefferson was nicknamed was also roasted in poem for his delight in fossils.

Paleontology seems to have been Jefferson's main interest in a pure science. Some such as Frederick Lucas and Henry Osborn have dubbed him the "Father of Paleontology". They felt that Jefferson laid the foundations of the science with his refutation of Buffon's degeneracy theory, his invention of "stratigraphical" observation which established the fundamental principle of scientific excavation and his work on the Megalonyx.

There are some though, who feel that Jefferson does not deserve the title. They argue that the entire basis of his beliefs about paleontology were mistaken since he denied that any animal species could ever become extinct. "Such is the economy of nature, that in no instance can be produced her having permitted any race of her animals to become extinct."  It is this reasoning which allowed Jefferson to put forth the theory that there was a large herd of mammoths wandering wild in the Mississippi Valley and one of the reasons he sponsored expeditions to the West.

Perhaps Jefferson's greatest contribution to paleontology is that while President he helped to make it a respectable pursuit and was largely responsible through the American Philosophical Society for bringing together the materials necessary for its advancement. As the first citizen of the young nation, Jefferson's passion brought prestige and respectability to the young science.

Related stamps:
USA 1954 - "Thomas Jefferson third president of the United State"
USA 1955 - "150th Anniversary of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts" 



Thomas Jefferson third president of the United State on FDC from 1968 Thomas Jefferson third president of the United State on FDC from 1968
Used Cover Stripe with stamps without perforation on top and button sides
Thomas Jefferson third president of the United State on used cover from 1968 Thomas Jefferson third president of the United State on stamps from 1968

References:     Early America



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