“Not a Sprig of Grass That Shoots Uninteresting”

in Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2009 | ISBN: 9780226169149
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226169194 | DOI:
“Not a Sprig of Grass That Shoots Uninteresting”

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Claims about Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon's theory of degeneracy and North America were well known to the founding fathers, and these accusations could not go unanswered. So offensive was the notion of degeneracy that Thomas Jefferson, the most vociferous Francophile of all the founders, took it upon himself to refute Buffon and his supporters. From the early 1780s onward, this became one of Jefferson's great obsessions. The only book he ever wrote—Notes on the State of Virginia—is, in part, a treatise discrediting the idea of degeneracy. Jefferson was not the only founding father who worried about Buffon's claims of degeneracy. Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams all weighed in on this issue, albeit to different extents, and in a variety of manners. However, only Jefferson was willing and able to challenge Buffon in any large-scale, coordinated manner. He would issue his challenge in the most direct way possible in Notes on the State of Virginia—by providing his own natural history data to debunk degeneracy.

Keywords: degeneracy; Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon; North America; Thomas Jefferson; natural history; founding fathers; Benjamin Franklin; James Madison; John Adams

Chapter.  5858 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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