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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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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.)


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

Tom Dunne /

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


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

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.