Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The Bald Eagle is a grand and beautiful bird of prey that once frequently soared majestically through the skies of the American wilderness. It is also very important in American Indian culture (See: The Bald Eagle is a sacred bird in some North American cultures.) I had always assumed these were the reasons it was chosen as the USA's national bird, and appears on many American coins, seals, stamps, etc. See: The Bald Eagle is the national bird of the United States of America:

The Bald Eagle is the national bird of the United States of America...the Bald Eagle appears on most official seals of the U.S. government, including the Seal of the President of the United States and the Presidential Flag, and in many U.S. federal agency logos

Similar to my idea (but put far more eloquently...) we find this quotation, attributed to President John F. Kennedy: Why Is the Bald Eagle America's National Bird:

President John F. Kennedy added to the list of noble descriptors when he wrote to Charles Callison of the National Audubon Society on July 18, 1961: "The founding fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem of the nation . The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America."

I also found this, along similar lines: The Eagle, Our National Emblem

The bald eagle was chosen June 20, 1782 as the emblem of the United States of American, because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks, and also because it was then believed to exist only on this continent.

But we also find this: The bald eagle on the above mentioned page:

The bald eagle was chosen because of its association with authority and statehood in fact, the eagle had been used as a symbol of governmental power since Roman times.

Granted: This does not contradict what is also quoted there in the name of JFK: JFK only commented why the eagle was an appropriate choice, not on the actual reason for its choice. That is attributed to the bald eagle's "association with authority and statehood."

Also in Wiki (unsourced with regard to reason for the eagle) I found the following: The Bald Eagle is the national bird of the United States of America...

The Bald Eagle is the national bird of the United States of America. The founders of the United States were fond of comparing their new republic with the Roman Republic, in which eagle imagery (usually involving the Golden Eagle) was prominent. On June 20, 1782, the Continental Congress adopted the still-current design for the Great Seal of the United States including a Bald Eagle grasping 13 arrows and a 13-leaf olive branch with its talons.

Wiki seems to claim that the sole reason for choosing the eagle was because the Romans use eagle imagery, while blithely ignoring the contradiction mentioned there: The Romans used the *Golden Eagle, which is also common in the USA!* See: The Golden Eagle is one of the most extensively studied species of raptor in the world in some parts of its range, such as the Western United States...

I suspect a bit of anti-American editorializing on the part of the Wikipedia writers (who are neither particularly unbiased nor consistenly reliable, and I believe I detect a slightly condescending tone in that sentence...) - they preferred to omit the more direct, aesthetic and patriotic reasons for choosing the Bald Eagle as the national bird of the USA, but I'm not sure.

In addition, in one of wiki's references :Charles Thomson put together the final design for the Great Seal in June 1782 we also find this:

Although not specifically mentioned, clearly the American Eagle on the Great Seal represents liberty and freedom, a theme central to all three preliminary designs. Thomson underscored how the imagery symbolizes "Independence" by explaining that the shield is "born on the breast of an American Eagle without any other supporters, to denote that the United States of America ought to rely on their own Virtue."

Which again, Wiki chose to blithely ignore...

Do we have some definitive historical evidence that explains why the Bald Eagle was chosen as the USA's national bird? What is it? Is there any good reason why Wiki would choose to ignore the other reasons stated, and rely only on a vague and unsubstantiated allusion to the Roman Republic?

share|improve this question
2  
Unexplained downvotes are not constructive. Please state your reason - perhaps the question (and the site at large) can be improved thereby. If I fail to accept an answer, it is simply because it has not answered the question. –  Vector Sep 1 '13 at 1:15
    
I have no idea if this could be the case or not, seeing as I'm not an expert on American politics (although, I do know more than the average Brit), but would it not be possible that the reason you are looking for could be found in congressional records/archives? –  Kobunite Sep 2 '13 at 14:51
    
@Kobunite: It's history, not politics. Still, your suggestion would good, but the eagle was (apparently) instituted during the American Revolution, before compilation of formal Congressional records began. The bald eagle was chosen June 20, 1782 It was the period of the Continental Congress. According to Wiki there, they didn't even meet in 1782... Today's US Congress is mandated by the US Constitution, only ratified in 1791. –  Vector Sep 2 '13 at 17:05
    
ah ok. It was just an idea I had while having a coffee - I've found a few good answers from congressional records so I thought I'd give it a mention. –  Kobunite Sep 2 '13 at 17:54
1  
@Kobunite - Congressional records are certainly an excellent source and are readily available. Another good resource is the Federal Register, which is issued daily! See: Federal Register –  Vector Sep 3 '13 at 1:47
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.