Here’s How the Bald Eagle Almost Wasn’t the National Bird
The bald eagle is an American national symbol but there were some crazy other options.
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams failed to come up with an official seal
When three of the Founding Fathers failed to come up with something Congress liked, it seemed the nation would forgo an official seal. Two other committees also failed to come up with something acceptable. Here are 10 other fun American flag facts.
Franklin wasn’t crazy about it
The popular story surrounding Ben Franklin and the eagle is that he wanted the turkey instead. That’s not entirely true. He never voiced any displeasure with Congress about having an eagle as the national bird. Instead, he lamented to his daughter in a 1784 letter that he felt like the eagle looked like a turkey and further opined that the turkey might in fact have more moral character than the eagle. This is the incredible history behind every state flag in the United States.
Franklin actually proposed the rattlesnake
In 1775, Franklin proposed the country use a rattlesnake as the national symbol in a letter later attributed to him that was published in the Pennsylvania Journal. Franklin, after all, is the one who came up with the snake divided into eight sections with the words, “Join or Die” underneath. Franklin explained that part of his thinking in choosing the rattlesnake was because it wasn’t found outside of America.
The eagle was small
The eagle design Franklin criticized was created by Pennsylvania lawyer William Barton. Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, replaced it with an American bald eagle.
The competition was fierce
Among the other birds under consideration were a two-headed eagle, a rooster, a dove and a phoenix in flames, which really isn’t a bird. The debate of the Great Seal goes back to 1776 and Congress didn’t adopted a seal until 1782. The bald eagle wasn’t officially chosen as the national bird until 1789. These are the 16 history questions everyone gets wrong.
A real debate
Keep Smiling Photography/Shutterstock
Franklin suggested a Biblical scene of Moses and Pharaoh. Jefferson suggested a scene of children of Israel and Anglo-Saxon figures. Adams wanted Hercules. Eventually, elements from each of the three committees were combined to create the Great Seal and it included the bald eagle.
Golden eagle was considered
Vladimir Kogan Michael/Shutterstock
As the Founding Fathers set about determining the national bird, the discussion turned toward using a golden eagle, but as a new nation made up of former Europeans who saw several other countries use the golden eagle, they gave up the notion. Next, check out the 15 amazing facts about American you never learned in school.