This week marks an interesting anniversary in U.S. historythe first known appearance of a huge loaf of bread at the White House, as a tribute to an equally giant, politically charged cheese wheel that symbolized the First Amendment.
The Cheshire Cheese Monument.
The bread was called the Mammoth Loaf, and it was made by the U.S. Navy for President Thomas Jefferson, to be eaten at a party in the Senate on March 26, 1804.
The bread was made to honor The Mammoth Cheesea 1,200-pound cheese wheel sent to Jefferson two years earlier as a political statement about religious freedom.
The Mammoth Cheese was conceived by Elder John Leland, a Jefferson supporter in the Federalist hotbed of Massachusetts. (Jefferson belonged to the rival Democratic-Republican party.)
Leland enlisted the ladies of his Baptist congregation to concoct the giant cheese. He reportedly barred milk from Federalist cows from being used in the cheesemaking process. Using milk from 900 Republican cows, they used a large cider press to form the cheese. Leland also carefully ensured that no slaves were used to make the cheese.
Lelands followers were Baptists in the decidedly non-Baptist New England, and the cheese was seen as a symbol of religious freedom and diversity. The cheese was engraved with the motto Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.
The Federalist newspapers werent amused by the stunt, and they called it mammoth as an insult.
The controversy of the word mammoth was linked to Jefferson and Charles Willson Peale, the painter and naturalist who had displayed mammoth bones found in America at his Philadelphia museum. Jefferson contributed to Peales mammoth research, which the Federalists thought was a waste of funds. Jefferson used the mammoth as a symbol to counter the claims of the French scientist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, who said that Europe had bigger animals than the Americas and that therefore Europes residents were superior to Americans. The American people sided with Jefferson on the mammoth issue, and his supporters started using the word to describe various things related to Jefferson.
The Mammoth Loaf arrived in March 1804 on Capitol Hill as the Mammoth Cheese was two years old and past its prime.
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A tale of a giant cheese, a loaf of bread and the First Amendment