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John Quincy Adams, for his part, couldn’t recommend that the United States adopt a measurement system that nearly vanished after the demise of the French Empire. A new wave of revolutions in the 1830s would see France and Belgium re-adopt the system, while the second half of the 19th century would see it become a truly international system. Italy and Germany were unified out of dozens of statelets, duchies, and principalities, and a neutral system of measurement helped soothe parochial jealousies.
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Our yardsticks are marked in feet and inches, measures that are unfathomable to foreigners, nearly all of whom have been brought up in a decimals-only environment. My generation of schoolkids was told a switch to the metric system was imminent.
The popular narrative holds that this 1970s conversion movement failed, and that Americans have never gone metric because we are too obstinate or patriotic or just plain stupid to do so. The United States metric, or at least more metric than most of us realize.
Jefferson rejected the metric system, however, because in origin he found it to be too French—which was saying something coming from the nation’s foremost Francophile.
His beef was that the meter was conceived as a portion of a survey of France, which could only be measured in French territory.
As our first secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson was charged with deciding which set of measures would be best for the country.