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What Your History Class Won't Tell You About Why Americans Headed West

All thanks to Thomas Jefferson, president/paleontologist/sloth-rider.

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This is Horace Greeley.

He's famous for his quote: "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country!"

Which is an example of something called "manifest destiny."

Which is the belief that Americans were destined to expand westward, and that it was God's will that our nation stretch from coast to coast. (We're not such big fans of manifest destiny, in hindsight.)
en.wikipedia.org

Which is the belief that Americans were destined to expand westward, and that it was God's will that our nation stretch from coast to coast. (We're not such big fans of manifest destiny, in hindsight.)

You've probably heard a lot about how manifest destiny is the reason America expanded to the West. It's not...

(Or, at least not the only reason.)
commons.wikimedia.org

(Or, at least not the only reason.)

This is Thomas Jefferson.

He was the third president of the United States. He was also a paleontologist.
National Archives / Getty Images

He was the third president of the United States. He was also a paleontologist.

This is a giant sloth. (Or at least what's left of one.)

The fossils of giant sloths, or Megalonyx jeffersonii, were actually found across most of North America. When it was fully grown, it "was about the size of an ox."
Paris Natural History Museum / Via dinosaurs.about.com

The fossils of giant sloths, or Megalonyx jeffersonii, were actually found across most of North America. When it was fully grown, it "was about the size of an ox."

This is Thomas Jefferson next to a giant ground sloth (more or less).

See, Thomas Jefferson believed that creatures such as the giant ground sloth and the mastodon were still out roaming his country in 1804.
Tom Dunne / americanscientist.org

See, Thomas Jefferson believed that creatures such as the giant ground sloth and the mastodon were still out roaming his country in 1804.

This is Meriweather Lewis and William Clark.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Mpi / Getty Images

They're responsible for "discovering" a lot of America and expanding the country westward with their notorious expedition.

Jefferson "hoped the travelers would find mastodons still living in America's newly acquired territory."

He didn't exactly believe in extinction and thought that such badass animals would surely still exist. So, when he said they could move forward with their expedition, he told Lewis and Clark to keep an eye out for mastodons and giant sloths.
National Archives / Getty Images

He didn't exactly believe in extinction and thought that such badass animals would surely still exist. So, when he said they could move forward with their expedition, he told Lewis and Clark to keep an eye out for mastodons and giant sloths.

To reiterate, Thomas Jefferson, who was president of the United States at the time, sent a team of explorers in search of these:

Presumably so he could do something like this:

These are modern-day, not giant, sloths.

Sadly, they're all we have left. Turns out, extinction IS real and Jefferson's giant ground sloths probably died out about 10,000 years before he sent Lewis and Clark looking for them. Oh well. At least we have California to show for it.

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