Thirty-Seven-Pound Frogs and Patagonian Giants

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:
Thirty-Seven-Pound Frogs and Patagonian Giants

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On July 4, 1826, fifty years after signing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson died. During his eulogy for the former president, New York senator Samuel Latham Mitchill, an ardent natural historian who himself mythologized the American mastodon to rebuke Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon's ideas on American inferiority, referred to Jefferson's campaign against degeneracy as the equivalent of proclaiming independence for a second time. Mitchill's comments give the impression that the degeneracy theory died at the hands of Jefferson. While Jefferson took a series of calculated risks in his point-by-point refutation of Buffon's degeneracy claim in Notes on the State of Virginia, the idea that life in the New World was inferior survived Jefferson's passionate refutation. In Europe, it continued to be promulgated in one form or another by such men as Antoine-Joseph Pernety, a French Benedictine monk who used two very interesting cases against Cornelius de Pauw's degeneracy argument: mythical Patagonian giants—a huge race of South American humans—and giant frogs.

Keywords: degeneracy; Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon; Thomas Jefferson; New World; giant frogs; Patagonian giants; Europe; Antoine-Joseph Pernety; Cornelius de Pauw

Chapter.  6058 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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