1968 "Thomas Jefferson third president of the United State"
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||1c - Thomas Jefferson
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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
Thomas Jefferson, USA 1856
It is his most impressive scientific achievement, in which he recorded his observations of flora,
fauna, mountains, rivers, climate, population, laws, politics, customs
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.
USA 1954 - "Thomas Jefferson third
president of the United State"
USA 1955 - "150th Anniversary of
the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts"
with stamps without perforation on top and button sides
Latest update 10.01.2018
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