Thomas Jefferson’s Olive Passion

“The olive tree is surely the richest gift of Heaven.”

                                                                                                                     Thomas Jefferson

Olive Branch on Great Seal

Olive Branch on Great Seal

 What do Thomas Jefferson and Rare Lynx have in common? Most people know of Thomas Jefferson’s passion for botany, but did you know that the olive tree was at the top of Jefferson’s lists of most valuable plants? Long before his presidency and after, Jefferson was enamored of the olive tree and the nourishing oil produced from its fruit. His admiration for the olive tree is reflected in his effusive writings, when he says it is “…the most interesting plant in existence.”, “…one of the most precious productions of nature”, and “…contributes most to the happiness of mankind.” 

Gardens at Monticello

Gardens at Monticello

It was during Jefferson’s three month  journey of 1787 through the Mediterranean and Alpine regions of Europe that his passionate inspiration to develop an olive colony in the United States was born. In his list of most significant contributions to the nation in 1800, his introduction of the olive tree to the United States came just under his sweeping revision of Virginia laws. In fact he had such regard for the olive tree that he insisted that the olive branch be included on the Great Seal.

Here are some interesting facts about the inclusion of the olive branch on the Great Seal. First of all notice that the olive branch is in the right talon of the eagle representing peace, which counterbalances the arrows indicating might in the left. The eagle always faces towards the olive branch. Jefferson being the great mediator that he was, wanted this to show that the United States was willing to offer the hand of peace first, and force when needed.  It is also worth noting that there are 13 leaves and 13 olives, representing the 13 original colonies in the Union.

Monticello

Monticello

Though his extensive efforts over 30 years failed, due to the inhospitable climate of the south, primarily due to humidity, he elevated olive oil to the exclusive company of wine and books as a “necessary of life.” We could not agree with him more! Until his death he imported olive oil from France, Italy, and according to Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University, barrels of it from Portugal.

And there you have it!

Footnotes:

1. www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/mediterranean-journey-1787

2. http://stevegarfield.blogs.com/videoblog/2007/08/olive-oil-and-t.html

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