The Eagle Map of the United States

Joseph Churchman, Eagle Map of the USA (1833). OS-1833-20

Joseph Churchman, The Eagle Map of the United States, engraved by Isaac W. Moore and copyrighted in 1832, from Churchman's Rudiments of National Knowledge, Presented to the Youth of the United States, and to Enquiring Foreigners (Philadelphia: E. L. Carey & A. Hart, 1833).

This wonderful map was prepared by Joseph Churchman (1767–1837) for his 1833 geographical, historical, and political account of the United States. In addition to the map itself, Churchman included in his book a detailed explanation of the origin of his conceit that the United States is indeed shaped like an eagle and of the several dimensions of the symbology. He was especially aware that the whole country-as-eagle conceit depended on the exclusion of the state of Maine from the eagle, but he sought to apologize to Mainers by suggesting that the state forms the eagle's "liberty cap." Ultimately, Churchman argued that, as an eagle, the USA was a naturally whole entity that could not be divided without ending everything that the eagle stood for. Churchman's prose is very purple, even by the standards of the time, but it makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in the political character of the antebellum USA.

The map was discussed by Eliza Berman in Slate for August 5th, 2014. The remainder of this commentary gives full content of Churchman's account of the map (pages 244–48).

Matthew Edney

September 2014



On presenting to the public a map upon the construction here imperfectly exhibited, if an apology be not necessary, perhaps at least, some notice of the origin of the idea, and some of the reflections of the author upon it, may not be misplaced.

The first sudden impress of the form of the figure upon his attention, was under a combination of peculiar circumstances. A map of the United States happened to hang upon the wall of his apartment, upon which a dim lamp light was reflected. The effect of the light, in the particular position in which it was accidentally placed, seemed, as reflected from the various colourings of the map, to cast a shade over the state of Maine, and to mark a kind of separation between it and the adjoining territory. The close connexion of this state, as, always, under a common view, necessarily combined with the great general ground plan of the Union, he conceives to be the principal reason why the notion of the figure has not before been apprehended.

On its first presentation, he was disposed to discard the idea, as merely a sportive play of the imagination, unworthy of notice. The figure, however, once impressed, could not be effaced from the imagination; but was ever afterward in view when his eye happened to glance on a map, till he was at length induced to give the subject a share of consideration, regarding its possible usefulness and moral bearing.

Arguments which presented in favor of constructing a map embracing the plan of the figure, appeared conclusive with relation to the youth engaged in the


study of the geography of our country. Those arguments were founded upon an apprehension of the increased facility with which lessons may be impressed and retained upon the youthful memory, when the aid of figure, adapted with a tolerable degree of accuracy to the subject of study, can be resorted to. To this opinion it is presumed teachers in general will readily yield their accord, without further remark upon the questions of Why? or Wherefore?

When extending his reflections further, the recollection was of course present, that the figure of the eagle was the figure adopted by our national councils, as our national badge. In this point of view, the coincidence appeared as a circumstance peculiarly striking. A further singular and surprising coincidence presented itself, in the circumstance that the bird is placed in a position perfectly correct, with respect to a correspondence with the lines of latitude and longitude; no variation from the common principles of constructing maps being required, to place it in a natural position.

As the subject has occasionally occupied a further extension of thought, a variety of serious moral reflections have occurred to the mind of the author, in which he is not disposed to anticipate his intelligent readers, who are altogether capable of reflecting for themselves. He will, therefore, under this head, content himself with offering a supposition of a single example, illustrative of the manner in which visible objects, as they stand associated in the mind with ideas of order or deformity, may possibly be more or less productive of moral effects.

If, from a selfish, or misguided policy, the citizens of any one state, should propose to separate their interests from the interests of the Union, and claim a right to withdraw from the general connexion, the ugly chasm which would be produced by carrying their design into effect, would be aptly represented by supposing a line of separation drawn round the seceding state, and admitting its whole internal declinations, and even its very name, to be blotted out


from the eagle map of the United States,—the signs and notices, of all the delightful alternations of river, mountain, hill, and plain—of cities, the seats of commerce and refinement—of villages, the abodes of industry and social enjoyment—of the rural residences of friends whom we love—all shrouded, in a shade of gloomy, impenetrable darkness—and then observing the distortion which would be thus effected, in the beautiful figure before us. Thus, might not a moral repugnance be strengthened, against the open or insidious attempts, of artful, designing men, who might, for some ignoble or selfish end, be disposed, by deceiving their fellow citizens, to attempt a disorganization of the republic?

In the common representations of the eagle as the American ensign, an allusion seems to be generally intended to a martial spirit; and it is therefore represented with an aspect of fierceness, and in an attitude prepared for war. Here, on the contrary, having possession of the whole country, and no enemy to contend with, it is designed to appear as the placid representative of national liberty, and national independence; with an aspect of beneficent mildness, and in an attitude of peace.

It is therefore to be conceived of, as having become wearied and disgusted, with the oppressions, perpetual discords, and tyrannizing of power over right, prevailing from age to age in the old world, and as having, in consequence thereof, taken its flight cross the western ocean, in search of a resting place; where its administration of equal rights might be duly appreciated and respected.

Having arrived at 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 raised 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.

Thus it appears as overshadowing the whole extent of the United States and territories, excepting the state of Maine, and the home of the natives in the distant regions of the west. The citizens of Maine, it is presumed, will not be offended at the impossibility of comprehending their department in the Union, within the regular form of the figure, when we assign to it the appellation of the cap of liberty, attached to the eagle’s head.

The present small map, is supposed to be sufficient, in its internal delineations, to serve the purposes of illustrating the subjects of the volume which it accompanies. It may also serve to impart a fair general idea of the design of the figure. Yet it has not the least pretension to showing a specimen of the elegance, with which the combined circumstances of coincidence of figure, and geographical utility, are capable of being represented. By an enlargement of the scale alone, the proportions of the figure would be presented to the eye, with a general aspect greatly improved.

It is contemplated to issue, simultaneously with the present volume, proposals for publishing by subscription, an eagle map of the United States, upon a large and liberal scale; to be executed by the ablest artists in a superior style; and intended to furnish an appropriate ornament, to decorate our halls of legislation, judicature, literature, and science, with the library of the retired gentleman, the office of the lawyer, and the retreats of the farmer, manufacturer, and merchant. It is conceived that the ornament would be likely to be viewed with peculiar interest and gratification, because of the circumstance of containing, jn correct proportion, a representation of our beloved country.

In the large map proposed, much of the common minutia will be omitted in the engraving, in order to show the figure with greater advantage and beauty.


All the most important items, will, however, be retained, and the place of the smaller supplied by a neatly printed and bound accompanying volume of references; so arranged, as to render all the usual purposes of a map of the United States complete. In exchange for the omitted minutia, will be engraved, the regions of our different mineral andvegetable productions, with various other interesting and ornamental delineations, never heretofore presented in similar works.