Inspired by the controversy, in 1796 Cuvier wrote a landmark paper, Note on the Species of Living and Fossil Elephants, in which he put forward for the first time a formal theory of extinctions. His belief was that from time to time the Earth experienced global catastrophes in which groups of creatures were wiped out.
For religious people, including Cuvier himself, the idea raised uncomfortable implications since it suggested an unaccountable casualness on the part of Providence. To what end would God create species only to wipe them out later? The notion was contrary to the belief in the Great Chain of Being, which held that the world was carefully ordered and that every living thing within it had a place and purpose, and always had and always would. Jefferson for one couldn't abide the thought that whole species would ever be permitted to vanish (or, come to that, to evolve).
So when it was put to him that there might be scientific and political value in sending a party to explore the interior of America beyond the Mississippi he leapt at the idea, hoping the intrepid adventurers would find herds of healthy mastodons and other outsized creatures grazing on the bounteous plains. Jefferson's personal secretary and trusted friend Meriwether Lewis was chosen co-leader and chief naturalist for the expedition. The person selected to advise him on what to look out for with regard to animals living and deceased was none other than Caspar Wistar.