When naturalist George-Louis Leclerc Buffon espoused his “theory of degeneracy,” he raised a few eyebrows and hurt the feelings of more than a few. His theory was that all species — including humans — living in the American colonies suffered because of the miserable conditions. As a result, all living things in the New World were weak, feeble, and degenerate.
Among those who took issue with Buffon’s conclusions was Thomas Jefferson. In his book, Notes on the State of Virginia, he devoted the largest portion to disproving Buffon’s claims. When Jefferson was appointed as Minister to France, he took the occasion to meet with Buffon to personally convince him of the error of his thinking.
When logic and reason failed to change Buffon’s mind, Jefferson showed him the skin of a panther as well as the bones of a mastodon. When that didn’t work, Jefferson presented Buffon with a special gift, to illustrate just how weak and feeble America’s wildlife could be. The gift was a seven-foot-tall stuffed moose. Reportedly, Buffon was unconvinced, making a moot point out of the moose.
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Categories: Animals, Biology, History, Nature, Presidents, Science, US History
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