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LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

The Eagle Has Landed

To the Editors:

In "Beauty Is Only Feather Deep" (Macroscope, September-October), Catherine Raven incorrectly states that Thomas Jefferson appointed the bald eagle as our national emblem. Although Jefferson, John Adams and Franklin initially held the responsibility of designing a seal in 1776, very few of their ideas appealed to Congress. The use of the motto "E pluribus unum" is one of the few exceptions; however, these words are attributed to a consultant to the original committee, Pierre Du Simitiere.

No bald eagle is proposed in the report to Congress in 1776. Nor did the second committee assigned to the charge in 1780 recommend a bald eagle. It was not until after the third committee sought outside help in 1782 that the bald eagle made its way into our national seal. Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress, and William Barton, heraldry consultant from Philadelphia, share the fame (or blame for those who think it a bad choice) for the incorporation of the bald eagle into the final design. The bald eagle is unique to the North American continent and thus received preference over other eagles in representing the newly formed United States of America.

Although Franklin commented on the poor character of the bald eagle versus the honest and respectable turkey in a letter to his daughter in 1784, his remarks are perceived as cheeky and non-argumentative, as Congress had already approved the emblem years earlier while he resided in France. I must admit, however, that I actually rather enjoy the common misconception that Franklin actively fought for the noble turkey to be our national bird; it always makes for interesting dinner conversation at Thanksgiving!

Christy C. Visaggi
University of North Carolina
Wilmington, NC

 

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