Extracting the “Tapeworm of Europe” from Our Brain

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:
Extracting the “Tapeworm of Europe” from Our Brain

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Arguments often take on a life of their own, and that is what happened with the degeneracy argument. After Thomas Jefferson made his case, and for the next seventy years, other Americans—from those publishing textbooks for schoolchildren (such as those of the Reverend Jedidiah Morse), to poets and writers such as Washington Irving, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson—would not only denounce the insidious idea of degeneracy, but would use it in ways that would have made Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, Cornelius de Pauw, and Guillaume-Thomas Raynal cringe. For what happened was this: in countering the idea of New World inferiority, these writers and poets created a novel self-image for the United States and its inhabitants—America as a beautiful, vast, resource-rich region, and its inhabitants as healthy, hardworking people in tune with nature.

Keywords: Thomas Jefferson; degeneracy; textbooks; Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon; Washington Irving; Jedidiah Morse; America; poets; Henry David Thoreau; Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chapter.  4800 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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