This 1833 'Eagle Map of the United States' soars

November 22, 2017, 9:13 a.m.
A map of the United States in 1833 drawn as if it were an eagle
Photo: Joseph Churchman/Library of Congress

Oh, sweet land of liberty and eagles, I sing of thee.

Illustrated for an atlas entitled "Rudiments of National Knowledge, Presented to the Youth of the United States, and to Enquiring Foreigners" and published in 1833, this map of the United States with an eagle superimposed on top was the brainchild of mapmaker Joseph Churchman. Churchman intended the atlas to be a sort of study guide for students and immigrants, and this map was part of that goal.

Churchman even crafted an elaborate backstory for the eagle:

It is therefore to be conceived of, as having become wearied and disgusted, with the oppression, perpetual discords, and tyrannizing of power over right, prevailing from age to age in the wold world, and as having, in consequence thereof, taken its flight across the western ocean, in search of a resting place; where its administration of equal rights might be duly appreciated and respected.
Having arrived the shores of this western world, and taken its aerial circuits with the continent under review, it appears as though arresting its flight — its wings raises with a graceful, natural, and easy curve, as relinquishing their hold on the buoyant atmosphere — and its feet extended, as in the act of gently settling on the rocks of the Florida reef, to exercise a benign presidence over a territory equal to the length and breadth of its own shadow.

Sadly, Maine doesn't quite make the cut, and Churchman hoped its residents wouldn't be too upset. He suggested that the state be seen as a "cap of liberty" resting atop the eagle's head. (How the eagle got the cap is left out of Churchman's narrative.)

The map had a second purpose, one beyond educating folks about the geographical arrangement of the country. Churchman saw the eagle as a way to illustrate the united aspect of the United States and to warn against any desires of secession. Such an act, Churchman argued, would create an "ugly chasm" of "gloomy, impenetrable darkness" that would ruin the eagle and thus the country.

Naturally, the map became outdated fairly quickly. In 1833, the U.S.'s western borders didn't extend past Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. By 1845, Texas had been annexed, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 expanded the U.S. border all the way to California and included land that would become New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah and tracts of land that would eventually be parts of Wyoming and Colorado.

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