Benjamin Franklin wasn’t particularly impressed by the choice of a bald eagle as the symbol of America. He favoured a rattlesnake or, in a more light-hearted moment, a wild turkey. Here’s an excerpt taken from a letter to his daughter in January 1784, just a year and a half after Congress adopted the Great Seal with the eagle as its centrepiece.
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America [a society of revolutionary war officers] who have driven all the King birds from our Country…”