I now return you the inclosed with many thanks for the opportunity of perusing it, which I have done with great satisfaction. I had before observed that Faujas & Cuvier were rather at war. Cuvier is attached to artificial classification. Faujas thinks with Buffon … Accept my friendly salutations & assurances of great esteem & respect.
Thomas Jefferson to David Vaughn, August 15, 1805
In March, 2020, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, I interrupted my review of Jefferson’s presidential correspondence, to focus on his writings about the yellow fever from 1793 on. That project is now complete, and I return to 1805.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even very busy leaders make time for their pet projects.
Vaughn had forwarded to the President a scientific paper from Europe, on the classification of a large animal, the megalonix, believed to be a ferocious beast. Its bones had been discovered in America. Jefferson loved the large animals which roamed this continent, past and present. He had an ongoing friendly feud with European authorities who thought such animals could not exist here.
That’s not the point of this post. The point is the first sentence, Jefferson declaring he had avidly read and appreciated the scientific paper Vaughn sent. Countless presidential replies thanked people who sent him things to read. He declined to read most, citing the press of official business which left him with no time to peruse whatever they sent. Not this time. Jefferson the scientist loved this type of debate and would gladly make time for a keen personal interest.
The animal in question was later determined to be, not a fierce predator, but a giant sloth. Caspar Wistar, a famous naturalist and Jefferson contemporary, suggested in 1822 that it be named Megalonyx jeffersonii.