There are many things we do not learn in public schools that I feel are very important to know and truly understand. With states now having the freedom to elect not to require civics or government courses for graduation fewer graduates will understand the great country they live in and the workings of its government.
Today I want to give you a bit of background on where, and from whom, our founding father’s received the inspiration for our Constitution as my contribution to the thinking in this election year.
Ben Franklin was heavily influenced by the Iroquois nation which was comprised of five nations, tribes although he was not the only one who participated in meetings with the Iroquois Nations. It has been reported that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson also met with the leaders but it was through Franklin’s printing press where he published pamphlets extolling the Constitution of the Iroquois nations that the connections between Franklin and the Iroquois is cemented in history. They had a constitution called The Constitution of the Iroquois Nataions: The Great Binding Law, Gayanashagowa.
- freedom of speech,
- freedom of religion,
- the right of women to participate in government,
- separation of powers,
- checks and balances within government.
- a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,”
- three branches of government: two houses and a grand counsel,
- a Women’s Council, which is the Iroquois equivalent of our Supreme Court –settling disputes and judging legal violations.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
The central idea underlying Iroquois political philosophy is that peace is the will of the Creator, and the ultimate spiritual goal and natural order among humans.
The following are a few of what I feel are important to know and see the connection between the two constitutions.
We place at the top of the Tree of the Long Leaves an Eagle who is able to see afar. If he sees in the distance any evil approaching or any danger threatening he will at once warn the people of the Confederacy
Here we see the introduction of the eagle, the symbol of the United States, and the reason the Iroquois chose the Eagle as their symbol of peace. Also note the use of the word Confederacy.
You, Adodarhoh, and your thirteen cousin Lords
The mention of the number 13 corresponds to the number of states making up the original colonies (and the number of stars on our first flag). This sets up the governing of each colonial state by it’s own government by our founding fathers who would establish a federal government with the plan that the states had the freedom to govern themselves leaving the federal government to then step in when problems arose between states. This was exactly how the Iroquois nations were run. Each tribe was free to create rules of their own and the Iroquois governing body intervened when problems arose between the tribes.
The Council of the Mohawk shall be divided into three parties…. The third party is to listen only to the discussion of the first and second parties and if an error is made or the proceeding is irregular they are to call attention to it, and when the case is right and properly decided by the two parties they shall confirm the decision of the two parties and refer the case to the Seneca Lords for their decision.
The mention of the council being made up of three parts (the three branches of our government) and the third party being the party of mediator corresponds to our third branch of government, the Supreme Court.
If at any time it shall be manifest that a Confederate Lord has not in mind the welfare of the people or disobeys the rules of this Great Law, the men or women of the Confederacy, or both jointly, shall come to the Council and upbraid the erring Lord through his War Chief…..The women will then select another of their sons as a candidate and the Lords shall elect him.
While power was passed down through the female founding father’s rejected a female society but continued to find insight in other parts of the constitution such as the removal of a Confederate Lord when one did not obey the laws of the land or put the interests and welfare of the people first. It should be noted here that the female branch of government was the equivalent of our Supreme Court.
If a Lord of the Confederacy should become seriously ill and be thought near death, the women who are heirs of his title shall go to his house and lift his crown of deer antlers, the emblem of his Lordship, and place them at one side. If the Creator spares him and he rises from his bed of sickness he may rise with the antlers on his brow.
This clause played a role in making sure we had continuity of government even when a President might be incapacitated. For example,when the President of the United States is under anesthesia for surgery, the Vice President is sworn into office. Once the President is conscious and ready to resume his duties the power is transferred back to him.
Five arrows shall be bound together very strong and each arrow shall represent one nation As the five arrows are strongly bound this shall symbolize the complete union of the nations. Thus are the Five Nations united completely and enfolded together, united into one head, one body and one mind. Therefore they shall labor, legislate and council together for the interest of future generations.
We borrowed the five arrows as part of our emblem as well, but more on that in a minute.
Whenever a specially important matter or a great emergency is presented before the Confederate Council and the nature of the matter affects the entire body of the Five Nations, threatening their utter ruin, then the Lords of the Confederacy must submit the matter to the decision of their people and the decision of the people shall affect the decision of the Confederate Council. This decision shall be a confirmation of the voice of the people.
This clause is the equivalent of our states rights and reserving the federal government to handling disputes between the states versus having more power than the states, which is what we’ve evolved into, unfortunately.
Another similarity to the governing of the United States can be seen in the mentioning of elected delegates. The Sachems would be the representatives we elect to congress.
Under the Iroquois Constitution, known as the Great Binding Law or Great Law of Peace, each nation elected delegates, or sachems, who dealt with internal
Under the title of Religious Ceremonies Protected we find the following:
The rites and festivals of each nation shall remain undisturbed and shall continue as before because they were given by the people of old times as useful and necessary for the good of men.
The Iroquois nation had in it’s constitution rules for emigrating, immigration, funeral procedures for the Lords and much more. You can read the entire constitution here.
The basis of our knowledge of the Iroquois’ impact on Ben Franklin is duly recorded. In 1744, envoys from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia met in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with delegates of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Indians. During the discussion the Iroquois leader, Canassatego, advocated the federal union of the American Colonies. He is quoted as:
Our wise forefathers established a union and amity between the [original] Five Nations. This has made us formidable. This has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken you will acquire much strength and power; therefore, whatever befalls you, do not fall out with one another.
Several years later, Franklin wrote the following to his printing partner:
It would be a very strange Thing, if six Nations of Ignorant Savages should be capable of forming a Scheme for such an Union, and be able to execute it in such a Manner, as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble; and yet that a like Union should be impracticable for ten or a Dozen English Colonies, to whom it is more necessary, and must be more advantageous; and who cannot be supposed to want an equal Understanding of their Interests.
The symbolism of the Iroquois was also incorporated into the symbolism of the United States:
The Peacemaker designated The Tree of Peace as a symbol of the Great Law of Peace — a great white pine tree whose branches spread out to shelter all nations who commit themselves to Peace. (Note: I was unable to find an accurate image of the Iroquois emblem of which the details of are as follows):
- Beneath the tree the Five Nations buried their weapons of war.
- Atop the tree is the Eagle-that-sees-far.
- There is a bundle of five arrows tied together to represent strength of five tribes bound together in peace.
- Four long roots stretch out in the four sacred directions—the “white roots of peace.”
Thomas Jefferson adopted the symbols of the Peacemaker legend.
- The Tree of Peace became the Liberty Tree displayed on colonial flags.
- Eagle-that-sees-far became the American Eagle, still a symbol of American government.
- On the U.S. Great Seal, the American Eagle clutches a bundle of thirteen arrows, representing the original colonies.
- Our eagle also holds an olive branch symbolizing that the United States of America has “a strong desire for peace, but will always be ready for war.”
I find it sad that we aren’t taught where the principles of our constitution originated or that the Constitution of the Iroquois was designed to prevent wars between Native nations. They put great emphasis on peace followed by doing what was right for the individual people of their nations, not the will of the leaders. I wonder what both our founding fathers and the Iroquois leaders would think of our country today which is now an oligarchy (run by, and for, the interests of businesses) instead of the democracy it was intended.