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Our National Bird – Pic of the Week

Like millions of Americans, I spent yesterday baking and eating all sorts of food which is traditional to Thanksgiving.  I have always loved the cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, I enjoy the pumpkin pie with lots of whipped cream, but for me the pièce de résistance is the turkey.  However, if Congress had heeded Benjamin Franklin, we would probably not be eating turkey at Thanksgiving.

The story begins in July 1776 when the second Continental Congress appointed a committee composed of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to design an official seal for our new nation.  Although the committee submitted a design by August of that year which included 13 shields each with a state name, the eye of Providence, and the motto “E Pluribus Unum,” Congress did not approve this seal.  Rather they appointed subsequent committees in 1780 and 1782 to design a seal.  There were a vast variety of proposed symbols including various goddesses, Roman soldiers and Indian warriors.  The final design was assembled by Charles Thomson, secretary of Congress, from pieces put forth by all three committees.  It was Thomson who inserted a native American bald eagle into the design, replacing the proposed imperial eagle suggested by the 1782 committee.  Thomson thought that the U.S. seal should include something uniquely American and saw the bald eagle as a symbol of freedom, liberty and independence.

Franklin, however, thought otherwise.  In a letter to his daughter in January 1776, he characterized the bald eagle as a bird of “bad, moral character” and “a rank coward.”  He also argued that the turkey was

…a true original Native of America. Eagles have been found in all Countries, but the Turkey was peculiar to ours, the first of the Species seen in Europe being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada, and serv’d up at the Wedding Table of Charles the ninth. He is besides, tho’ a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

However, Franklin in his encomium on the turkey, hit on an important point – the turkey makes for good eating.  Fit for a king in fact!  Had the turkey been chosen as the national symbol, it is very unlikely we eat turkey on any occasion.  I, for one, am glad that we still honor the native turkey on Thanksgiving, rejoicing in its flavor.  And even if the bald eagle has a bad character, he still looks magnificent perching in a tree, or posing on our seal.

Bald Eagle / Photograph by Andrew Weber

Bald Eagle Recently Spotted in Washington, DC / Photograph by Andrew Weber

Legal Aspects of Unmanned Systems – Part 2: Lethal Autonomous Weapons

In my August post, Legal Aspects of Unmanned Systems – Part 1: Civilian Uses, I highlighted legal concerns associated with the application of unmanned systems in civilian settings, including the potential impact of their use on safety, security, privacy, and property rights, as well as the possible application of criminal laws regarding their use. This […]

Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit–Pic of the Week

As a member of the Legislative and External Relations Office in the Law Library of Congress, I have the exciting opportunity to plan public events that celebrate law related observances such as Law Day and Constitution Day. I also have the pleasure of coordinating program visits for legal professionals and students from all over the world who want […]

FALQs: Danish and Swedish Response to the Current Refugee Crisis—Part II

The following is a guest post by Elin Hofverberg. Elin is a foreign law research consultant who covers Scandinavian countries at the Law Library of Congress. Elin has previously written for In Custodia Legis on diverse topics including What’s in an Icelandic (Legal) Name?, Glad Syttonde Mai! Celebration of the Bicentenary of the Norwegian Constitution, Happy National Sami […]

Law Library Will Mark Human Rights Day with a Discussion Centered on Islamic Law

On Tuesday, December 8, 2015, the Law Library of Congress and the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division will recognize Human Rights Day with a panel discussion centered on Islamic law. The discussion, “Perspectives on Islamic Law Reform,” will feature a panel of distinguished Islamic scholars. The panelists include Sherman Jackson, King Faisal Chair of […]

FALQs: Danish and Swedish Response to the Current Refugee Crisis– Part I

The following is a guest post by Elin Hofverberg, a foreign law research consultant who covers Scandinavian countries at the Law Library of Congress. Elin is a prolific writer and has previously written for In Custodia Legis on diverse topics including What’s in an Icelandic (Legal) Name?, Glad Syttonde Mai! Celebration of the Bicentenary of the […]

On This Day: Congress Moves to Washington, D.C.

On this day, 215 years ago, Congress met in the Capitol Building for the first time.  The Sixth Congress established the residence of the Congress and seat of the United States government in Washington, D.C. with the move on November 17, 1800.   The newly established United States had nine capitals between 1776 and 1800: Philadelphia, […]

On This Day: Desegregation of South African Beaches

On this day in 1989, the South African president, F. W. de Klerk, soon after assuming the presidency, ordered the desegregation of the country’s beaches.  He promised that the repeal of the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953, which segregated beaches and many other public facilities, would soon follow. The Reservation of Separate Amenities […]

The Indiana State House – Pic of the Week

On a trip back home to Indiana, I stopped in at the Indiana State House. I always enjoy visiting buildings with a dome (the U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress Jefferson Building, and the Hoosier Dome), so it is no surprise that I think the Indiana State House is a beautiful building. The Indiana Supreme […]

Political Philosopher Michael Sandel Delivers the 2015 Kellogg Biennial Lecture on Jurisprudence

Harvard professor and political philosopher, Michael J. Sandel is well known for his thought-provoking lectures on justice, ethics, democracy and markets. In fact, his course, “Justice,” which tackles some of the most complex ethical questions of our times, was the first Harvard course made freely available online and on television. Yet, despite his own commitment […]